By Jessica Groover
When Central Cabarrus High School senior Heather Ferrell, 18, decided what to do for her mandatory graduation project, she picked a topic that was less about her future career and more about what she enjoys. As a result, Ferrell, who hopes to be doctor, has now designed 15 original tattoos.
“As much as I hated the project, I’m glad I chose this,” Ferrell said. “It’s really interesting. I’ve been interested in medical stuff, but I’ve taken art classes since the seventh grade.”
Ferrell has since completed her graduation project, but she is one of about seven students in Cabarrus County who have chosen to go to The Tattoo Shop in Concord for their project. This year was the first time the shop had students work on graduation projects there.
Ferrell began her project by completing the required paper. She researched and wrote about the history and application of tattoos.
“I think the most interesting thing is the history,” Ferrell said. “There are reasons for it, like beautification, and I think that rings true today.”
After completing the paper, Ferrell spent about six to eight of the 15 required hours in the shop watching people get tattoos and examining designs. She spent the rest of her time designing 15 original tattoos, which each took about 45 minutes to an hour.
Her designs included flat tattoos with no shading, traditional tattoos, which have some shading, fine line tattoos, which are very detailed, tribal tattoos, with bold lines and flat designs, and black and grey tattoos.
At the end of her design phase, Ferrell then showed her tattoos to her mentor, Terry Garmon, tattoo artist and co-owner of the shop. Upon his advice, she then fixed some of the lines in her tattoos before presenting them to her panel of judges.
Even though her project is over, Ferrell still returns to the shop because her friend, Doug Wilson, 18, a senior at Jay M. Robinson High School, is now working on his graduation project at The Tattoo Shop.
Like Ferrell, Wilson wrote a paper on the history of tattoos, but he also focused on the removal of them, something that he learned a lot about.
“Getting a tattoo removed is worse than getting a tattoo,” Wilson said. “The lasers for removal can get up to 700 degrees.”
While at The Tattoo Shop, Wilson has spent his time looking at designs with David Lowder, tattoo artist and co-owner of the shop. Besides learning more about the designs, Wilson has learned some of the differences between practicing art on paper or a canvas and on skin.
“You have to take into account the color of skin,” Wilson said. “You can’t put a tattoo on freckles and moles.”
Like Wilson, Tyler Starnes, 17, a senior at Mount Pleasant High School, is also working on his graduation project at the shop. Starnes has spent his hours drawing flash designs, which are tattoos already drawn, and learning about the machines for applying tattoos.
For his presentation, Starnes will not just design original tattoos like Ferrell and Wilson. He will also apply them to practice skin, which is a thin rubber material that people attach to their or someone else’s arm with a rubber band to practice applying a tattoo.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel compared to drawing on paper,” Starnes said.
Starnes’ experience at The Tattoo Shop will help him in the future because he hopes to become a tattoo artist after he finishes high school. After the graduation project, Starnes said he will need to do an apprenticeship and practice as much as possible.
Practice is the best way to learn, Garmon said. He and Lowder also told the students how different it is to design for skin.
“(Everybody’s) skin is different,” Lowder said. “It’s like having different textures of canvas, although the paper doesn’t move.”
• Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.