For roughly three years, Wade Byrd hung out on the couches of various tattoo shops in the Flathead Valley, watching his mentors closely as they designed and worked on clients, creating permanent works of body art with ink.
After much persistence and dedication, Byrd finally earned a spot in the unorthodox apprenticeship program of the tattoo industry, quickly progressing to open his own shop, Artifaction Tattoo Studio, in Kalispell in 2017.
“I remember I woke up one day in my apprenticeship and realized, ‘I’ve tattooed every day for six months straight,'” Byrd said.
After five years as a professional tattoo artist, Byrd relocated his shop from the corner of Sixth Avenue West and West Center Street to downtown Kalispell on Second Street East in December and now has two other artists working for him, including an apprentice, with one more he recently hired. He also has participated in three tattoo conventions in Las Vegas, Eugene, Oregon, and Detroit, which he describes as “gun shows for the tattoo industry,” and has worked with Ryan Ashley, a renowned tattoo artist.
Before Byrd began his career, he already had a passion for drawing, and he remembers spending most of his time in high school drawing with a pencil and paper during class time. After an introduction to tattoos in his early 20s, he began using his artistic talent to draw tattoo designs. But once a mentor showed him how to design in Photoshop, he shifted from hand drawings to designing with photography.
Using Photoshop, Byrd uses both a black and gray and color realism style to portray realistic images on bodies, with designs ranging from portraits of Kobe Bryant to life-like tiger images.
“Once I found a computer, I just do all digital creations,” he said. “I like to tattoo things that portray emotion and I collage them together using Photoshop, superimpose the design over the person’s body to see what it looks like, and I use a lot of skin tone to blend the images together.”
Before he discovered Photoshop, Byrd designed illustrative tattoos, which he still does from time to time.
“It’s always changing,” Byrd said. “I feel like it evolved from more simple designs into challenging things like realism.”
On average, Byrd spends about five to eight hours a day tattooing. And while he has many of his own tattoos, he says once someone has enough covering the body, the number of tattoo hours becomes the best way to quantify instead of the number of tattoos. Byrd estimates he has about 75 hours of tattoos on his own body.
“I don’t feel an addiction to it, but art is fun to be involved in,” Byrd said. “I think what’s really addicting, if anything, is the self expression.”
Since Byrd first started his career as a tattoo artist about five years ago, he’s noticed a spike in tattoo interest. Between workplace acceptance of tattoos and the industry’s exposure on social media, he’s seen a change in demographics, including more workplace professionals getting tattoos.
Byrd’s downtown shops offers a larger storefront and a better location that can accommodate an ideal number of employees, but Byrd says he had a hard time finding a space before securing the Second Street East spot, with many landlords who wouldn’t allow a tattoo shop.
“I knew I wanted to get back to a bigger downtown location,” he said. “And pick up where my dream left off.”
Byrd currently has an artist and an apprentice working at the shop, Emilio Crispin and Emily Messerschmidt. Byrd recruited Messerschmidt over the summer while she was visiting from the East Coast and calls her a “name to remember,” as she quickly progresses.
A third artist, Mike Woods, is also on the way as he relocates from Texas. Woods was a guest artist at Byrd’s shop earlier this month, and soon afterward he decided to leave his 10-artist shop in Austin to work for Byrd.
Byrd says his background in bartending and construction work helped shape his work ethic for his tattoo artist career, and his dedication has helped him progress.
“I never took anything for granted,” Byrd said. “I was always the hardest worker in the room and I will not let anyone work harder than me.
For more information, visit www.artifactiontattoo.com or look Byrd up on Instagram.
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