Hidden gem, definition: An expression which means something which is extremely outstanding and not many people may know about.
Amazing discoveries can be found in some of the most interesting places. Tattoo shops, frequently found off the beaten path, have loyal and dedicated clients who know the value of talented tattoo artists.
These are Hidden Gems.
Welcome to the first in the Hidden Gem Series presented by Ink Defense Tattoo Care.
Back40 Tattoos, located in Molalla, Oregon, is by no means a ‘typical’ tattoo shop. You are greeted with a sense of comfort from the moment you enter the shop. Bright walls make the shop feel crisp and clean. Artists stations reflect their personal style. As shop owner and Ink Defense Pro-team member, Nicolette “Nic” Lee says, “We want clients to feel as if they belong here and we bond with our clients''. This all-women shop offers a full variety of tattoo styles. The artists are as unique as the many styles of tattooing
Nicolette “Nic” Lee, founder of Back40 Tattoos
Nic’s path of tattoo artist and owner for Back 40 Tattoos is an unusual and interesting one. Looking for a dramatic life change, the career opportunity sort of fell into her lap. Nic seized the chance for this unusual and artistic venture. She opened Back40 with just herself and within a year she added two more artists; Savannah and Hayli, her OGs. That was over seven years ago. Now the shop has 7 artists plus a nail technician and amazing support staff.
For Nic, this isn’t working, it is a passion for the craft. Offering something to clients, especially female clients, is important. As a Mom, Nic understood that women often need to have a place they feel comfortable in and feel taken care of. That is the exact vibe of Back40 Tattoos – welcoming, caring, and understanding. Back40 also takes great pride in supporting the local community; like the efforts through the late summer wildfires that devastated the region. It isn’t just getting a tattoo; it is an experience with bonding and building connection
For Hayli, as a career tattoo artist, she has found her home at Back40. She learned from a hard-core artist in a very traditional, less-than-welcoming environment. She says “I have the most amazing job at Back40; working with a bunch of misfits that found unity in each other, as a family”. The shop environment is bright with clean white walls and stations are all designed by each artist to reflect their own personality. No dark, dingy walls at Back40.
When we spoke with Hayli, the client in her chair first came to her when she was 18 years old. They have become good friends; their kids even share the same birthdate. This is what Back40 prides itself on, shared connections.
Hayli specializes in realism, natural elements. Contact: email@example.com
Always an artist, Savanna entered the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts located in Portland, OR. She graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s in fine arts. Savannah points out she has learned more about art since becoming a tattoo artist resulting in explosive growth of her own craft.. At Back40, they are always open to new styles. It is kind of a ‘try-it-and-see” approach. Savanna says “it creates a healthy competition to grow and show progress. We may challenge each other, but we always support each other. Our shop is family; we share life accomplishments, and even defeats.”
Savannah specializes in photo realism and Japanese traditional styles. She likes to take on challenges in her work as a tattoo artist. Contact: Savannajfirstname.lastname@example.org
NIkki wanted a tattoo for her 18th birthday. She called Back40 and got an appointment. Little did she realize that getting her first tattoo and meeting Nic would change her life. Nikki liked art but never put it together with tattooing. Nic offered to teach her about tattooing and Nikki took the offer. After learning the details, the set-up, safety and more from Nic, the challenge came when Nic said to Nikki “ok tattoo me.” Nikki was stunned; and she did it! A few days later, Nikki had her first client. Nikki says “after that first client, I knew this was meant for me; I was hooked”. About Back40, Nikki says “I love this work and this shop. It is like they let you start out in the nursery with extra support and encouragement from everyone. We support each other like a big family. And Nic helped me feel confident, by helping me get out of my head.”
Nikki specializes in black and grey with emphasis on shading. Contact: email@example.com
Getting her first tattoo at age 30 was a coming-of-age, of sorts for Stephany. Having been a mom, she wanted something just for herself. Working as an ICU nurse for 20 years, she was at a crossroads with her career as well. She was being groomed for management but as a people-person she just couldn’t see herself in that role. So, it was time for a change. Stephany says “I tried cosmetic tattooing, but I am a hippie. But the idea of doing art on someone’s body, I was excited. So, I went off to tattooing school. With all the skin and needles I was ready for this. Nic offered to help me get my tattooing career off the ground, and that was over 4 years ago. Our shop is special because we take care of each other.”
Stephany specializes in floral illustrative and botanical work, black and grey. Contact: Stephanystuckey@gmail.com
Lanea has been tattooing over 11 years, with the last 3 years at Back40. Tattooing has been a passion since she was 12. Lanea says “I love how much art heals people. It isn’t about money or fame; it is about my clients and healing.” Lanea says it feels more like a family and Nic is a mom to us with a professional vibe and great business skills. The caring vibe of the shop is important. Lanea noted that one client from Germany was very impressed with the shop; they noticed the amount of care put into the clients, listening to what clients want and doing what clients want.
Sharing personal experiences, heartbreak, and fun, is part of this shop.
Lanea specializes in nature, flowers, animals, and jewels. She enjoys doing coverups to allow people to be comfortable with art on their skin. Contact: Laneaappleink@gmail.com
Nic’s first-born, apprenticed for over a year at Back40 but she didn’t start off in tattooing, Francesca grew up around Back40, she worked the front desk after high school before heading off to college. At college, she changed her major, but also took art classes. Nic noticed Francesca’s talent and suggested that she try tattooing. Francesca took the leap and fell in love with tattooing. Now Mother-and-Daughter, Teacher-and-Apprentice, and Artist-Shop Owner, these two women have forged a bond of family, business, and passion. Now with love and support, Francesca is Nic’s retirement plan.
Francesca is figuring out her specialties so for now she is willing to try any style of art. Contact: Francescas.firstname.lastname@example.org
Nichol, Nail Tech
So how does a nail tech end up in a tattoo shop? Nichol explains, “I had just had a bizarre day at my old shop. I was Nic’s first client of the day and I was sharing the story with her. She mentioned there was open space here at Back40; and well that was it.” Nichol notes that Back40 doesn’t have the drama for all of the women that work together. Nichol says “actually, it is eye opening for my clients to see the people who get tattooed, men and women. The nail art I do is highly artistic, but being here, my clients are exposed to new art. I have an 80-year-old client who recently got her first tattoo here at Back40. I believe it has changed my clients’ attitudes about tattooing and more.”
Heather, Amazing Support Staff
The person who greets you when you arrive or the bubbly voice on the other end of the shop phone, that is Heather. Heather is the organized energy behind Back40. While Heather runs the front desk, she manages many other aspects to keep the shop running smoothly, in other words lots of behind-the-scenes work. And Nic says “Heather organizes my life.” Heather says the atmosphere and how they mesh as a team is energizing. The commitment to the community is so important. Being part of a small town and creating permanent art, Heather and the team strive to provide a positive and memorable experience.
Back40 Tattoos is a shop filled with talented and passionate artists who make a great team and space for clients. If you are looking for a great experience with extra attention, consider Back40 for your first or your next tattoo. You won’t be disappointed.