Sell Out to Your Creativity A Profile on Defining Skin Tattoo Shop

Defining Skin from Drew Ndengabaganizi on Vimeo.

Last week I was lucky enough to sit down with Mike, Mat and Mary Ann from Defining Skin tattoo shop here in Columbus Ohio and we sat and talked about their journey as creative entrepreneurs in the Greater Columbus area. I am grateful to them for taking the time out of their busy schedule to sit down with me, but I am also grateful because I got the opportunity to meet people who epitomize what this blog is about. Real creatives doing what they love for a living. People whose creativity serves as the foundation of their shop to such an extent, that when you step inside the place it oozes with the essence of their very ethos. A group whose past experiences show that whether you finally decided to kick down those cubicle walls and fully sell out to your creative dreams. Or if you’re the art grad who did not even look at tattooing as a viable option for a traditionally trained artist. With perseverance you can find yourself stable and happy doing what you love.

Mike a lifetime artist wanted to be an art teacher growing up but when his parents weren’t on bored he decided to get a business degree instead. After graduating he spent the next 8 years in a cubicle equipped with pocket square, stapler and all. Finding himself miserable he began getting tattoos as a release from all the stress. One day he talked to his tattoo artist about learning the trade; with guidance from his mentor and his leg as his first canvas one of Ohio’s premiere tattoo artists was born. Soon after he quite his job sold all his stuff and jumped head first into the world of tattoo artistry. Mike and MaryAnnEventually he would meet his now wife Marry Ann who at the time was a freelance web designer and is responsible for the marketing, web and graphic design for the shop. Playing a huge part in the popularity of both the Westerville and Downtown Columbus locations.

Mat took the traditional side of the non traditional artistic path and went to art school at the university of Miami Ohio. Thereafter he began work as a commercial artist designing album art, posters, and painting. He never even considered tattooing as an option for a classically trained artist.

“I didn’t know tattooing was an option”.


Mateventually he went from teaching a painting class for Mike and Marry Ann to being one of Defining Skins sought after tattoo artists.Together all three balance out the wants and needs of there ever-expanding business which now includes a one of a kind tattoo school that will take on the responsibility of helping guide a community of burgeoning artists.

Balancing on the line where business and creativity meet can be very difficult for any entrepreneur. Business and artistic fulfillment can be counter balancing entities though in some cases they can fuel each other, not counting economically of course. Mike pointed out that deadlines though dreaded by most but necessary for any business to run can be a great tool for teaching artists to let go.

“If you were to give us a project and an infinite deadline we would probably take an infinite amount of time to finish it and make it perfect, because art is never done you eventually have to abandon every artistic project.”-Mike

That resonates with me like you wouldn’t believe and  I plan on writing a separate post on that topic alone.

What everyone at the table also emphasized was the importance of teamwork. tattoo armsEach person takes on a different but important aspect of the business. Mary Ann handles the marketing and web design as well as the administrative roles in the school. Even though both Mike and Matt are both tattoo artist their different styles and approach sing to customers in different ways allowing an artistic balance of sorts. There different approaches to the art is also evident in the classroom. I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on one of their classes and it was great seeing their perspective on art create a perfect dynamic for helping students understand how to get their artistic talents out onto paper. Being there to support one another is much better then everyone butting heads or one person micromanaging everyone else. Having a trust in each other and having someone to lean on when need be is essential. This also extends to the community that your business resides in. Mary Ann brought up the importance of the connections they have made with local art directors as well as being involved in events like the urban scrawl that have had an impact on how the shop connects with the community. Developing a group that can trust each other is huge and it’s really cool to see that in these guys. People doing what they love with like-minded people.

A bit of advice they gave to burgeoning entrepreneurs is to be focused, proactive and committed. Forget about all the things that may or may not be holding you back and sell out to your creativity. Though there will be rough patches stay committed to your creative potential and you’ll be fine even during your roughest times which will come.

mat mike tattoo“In every city I would go to people would be like,”man I’m so jealous of you” and I’m like are you fucking kidding me your eating fillet right now, you have a dog, and a baller apartment, I sleep on your floor and your jealous of what I’m doing.”-Mat

Even in your roughest patches the nature in people will be able to recognize the rewards of riotously following your own path. If your ever in the greater Columbus area make sure to check them out you can also find them on Defining Skin

Thanks for listening,

Drew Ndengabaganizi


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