GALESBURG -- Brandie Roberts is a colorful woman, used to getting lots of ink. The owner of Monsters Ink, 714 E. Main St., has opened her own business while serving as an inspiration to those who know her as she battles breast cancer.
Roberts opened the business Feb. 1.
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"It's hard to believe this used to be a cycle shop," her husband, Shane, said. There were still places on the floor where oil stains could be seen when the couple leased the building.
Brandie Roberts was a glass blower for eight years, owning her own studio, Meadow Sky Designs, a business named after her daughter.
"She was my little sidekick, then she went to school," Roberts said of daughter Meadow.
The tattoo artist also sewed, crocheted and painted, a true artist. Tattooing, though, always meant something special to her.
"Tattooing was one of those things to me growing up, it sounds corny, they were like mini-gods," Roberts said. "I didn't know (as a child) it was possible to be one."
Once she decided that was the path she's follow, the took the non-traditional route.
"The traditional way is to do an apprenticeship," Roberts said. "You start out as a shop girl and move up from there."
Shop girls mop floors, sweep up and do about everything, as needed, while gradually learning the business from the bottom up. An apprenticeship can take from six months to two years, said Roberts, who sports colorful tattoos on both arms, blue hair, a Teenage Mutant Ninja T-shirt and a bubbly personality that flits like a butterfly from one subject to another.
"I went out to New York and I trained with a lady out there," she said. "It's really hard to get into this industry."
One thing no one is likely to see on TV shows such as "Miami Ink" is how a tattoo artist learns her craft.
"I started practicing on fruit," she laughed, and on her husband. "A.J. Marty (of Galesburg's Phoenix Tattoos) saw my work on my husband and she offered me a position. Not traditional by any means; I wish I had had that. I'm lucky I have some natural talent."
Asked what she thinks is the appeal of tattoos, which she said are now more mainstream than ever, Roberts asked, "Why have normal colored skin when you can decorate your body and show how individual you are, however normal the rest of your life is?
"It is the ultimate art form," she said. "You don't get any more intense than that. You put something on someone that is going to be on them for the rest of their life. It's a lot of stress."
Roberts explained she can't misspell a word, or use the wrong colors for a dragon. She said she goes so far as to counsel a customer who wants her boyfriend's name on her arm after a very short relationship. Roberts explains to them how difficult it is to remove a tattoo.
The definition of a people person, her customers are friends, even those she didn't know before they walked through the door of her shop.
"Most of my clients, I totally fall in love with," Roberts said. "There's a connection there."
So much so that on the day of the interview last week, she said she spent much of the morning texting with a female customer she calls "The Awesome One."
Phoenix Tattoos, where Roberts used to work, and Hawk's Tattoos are the other shops in town.
"I think that all the shops in town do good, clean work," she said, adding that Hawk posted on her Facebook page, "There's always room for another good artist in town."
Piercings are done by a woman named Heaven.
"My piercer's a really wonderful girl," Roberts said. "I want that to grow."
Brandie and Shane went all in to get the shop ready, including putting in a new floor.
"This is a huge risk," she admitted.
It says a lot about how the couple approaches it, though, that both have tattoos that read, "But I guess we'll go down together."
She expects the business to continue to thrive, though -- she's booked up through April -- "if I work hard and do what I need to do."