Tale of the tats: Destin residents, artists explain significance of body art

Laura Hall, Under the Radar
Sandy Dixon, a senior artist and manager at Cool Ink.

Love it, hate it, want a tattoo, will never have a tattoo. The world of body art is filled with strong emotions.  Many tattoos serve as religious or spiritual recognition, decoration for bravery, adversity, pledges of love, talismans and protection. The reasons for a tattoo are as diverse as stars in the Milky Way. 

I look up the art of tattooing to see if I can understand exactly what goes on here. Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skins dermis (under the epidermis). The most common method today is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a single needle or a group of needles. These needles are attached to an oscillating unit that rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually at 80 to 150 times a second.

I enter Cool Ink in Destin and talk with Sandy Dixon, senior artist and manager. This shop has now been open for 12 years and she works with her brother Andrew Dixon. I ask Sandy to describe how it feels to get a tattoo.  “It feels like a hot burning sensation, very annoying, but tolerable. Nothing quite compares with this, it’s a unique sensation. Anybody can take the needle work for an hour.”

I mosey on down Harbor Boulevard to Just Do It Tattoos and Body Piercings. In this shop I meet Stevo and Chris (no last names needed).  Stevo is noted for his fine line photo realism and portrait work.  Chris does more colorful, bold line, new school. 

I ask Chris what brought him to the world of tattooing.

“In my earlier years in Texas, my buddy and I were into doing a lot of illegal graffiti,” he said. “I woke up one morning after a busy graffiti night and the cops were at the door to arrest me.  After this, my buddy offered to teach me how to be a tattoo artist where you make money and stay out of trouble.  I took him up on it and here I am today.”

Chris has a memorial piece on his arm for his older brother who passed away in 2001. The tattoo illustrates his initials DSP across the top with two swallows crying and red roses interspersed.  Behind it is a cloud  with the birth and death date and a star for his grandfather who was in the Air Force.  Across Chris’ neck I see “stguohT evitisoP” with a light bulb underneath.  This is mirror writing and what he sees in the mirror every morning should be evident.

I track down a muscular 32-year-old, Don Domke, of Destin who has interesting “sleeve” work with big swirling letters FAMILIA SUPER OMNIA meaning “family above all else.”  Above this, a big green frog holding a pair of dice.  The frog symbolizes his father, Federal Retired Old Guy and the dice for his mom, Alma, who loves to play in casinos.  The pilot wing symbol with dog tags is for his brother, Phil. His top shoulder shows bright yellow, orange and red flames with a firefighter crest.  This shows Don’s firefighting training and hopes for his future career.

I hear there are several guys at Coyote Ugly that have some outstanding tattoos, so I make an appointment to meet with Billy Caine, the operating partner there.  His left arm exhibits an electric bright, memorial piece in remembrance of his father who died in 2002.  There is a checkered race flag, big number 13, the race car his father drove in dirt track figure 8 and demolition derbies, and a wrench to symbolize that he was also a truck driver and mechanic. 

The memorial was well done but nothing compared to the phenomenal rendering on Billy’s back.  This tattoo was so intricate and beautifully done, it took my breath away.  Billy stated, “I had always wanted to do my back and I decided on black and red colors. A Cuban artist, Esben Rey, residing in Tampa, worked 45 hours on this artistic Japanese Samurai piece.” 

I’m curious about the meaning of this tattoo so Billy explains,  “In the background a village has been destroyed by the dragon. The Samurai intervenes and he will do whatever it takes to stop this dragon. This is overcoming adversity. The dragon is traditional. When something comes at you, you have got to meet it head on and defeat it.”

I didn’t push about the adversity thing.  I think that belongs only to Billy.

Laura Hall is a longtime Destin resident.  She writes about area gardens and other local topics of interest, sometimes with her dog Annie in tow.  Got a good topic? Contact her at llhall4386@gmail.com