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updated: 11/29/2013 11:12 AM

Moving Picture: Elgin tattoo artist tells visual stories

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Tattoo Artist

  • Artist Erik Thvedt of Top Notch Tattoos in Elgin works on the outline of a koi fish for Kyle Richardson of Bartlett. It's Richardson's first tattoo in 20 years so he didn't mind waiting the six months for an appointment with Thvedt.

       Artist Erik Thvedt of Top Notch Tattoos in Elgin works on the outline of a koi fish for Kyle Richardson of Bartlett. It's Richardson's first tattoo in 20 years so he didn't mind waiting the six months for an appointment with Thvedt.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Tattoo artist Erik Thvedt of West Dundee laughs with a co-worker while preparing for his next appointment. Thvedt has a four to six month waiting list to get an appointment.

       Tattoo artist Erik Thvedt of West Dundee laughs with a co-worker while preparing for his next appointment. Thvedt has a four to six month waiting list to get an appointment.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Thvedt works on a sketch for a client.

       Thvedt works on a sketch for a client.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Tattoo artist Erik Thvedt pulls back to take a look at his work.

       Tattoo artist Erik Thvedt pulls back to take a look at his work.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Thvedt lines up pieces of transfer paper that will create an outline on a client's arm that he will tattoo.

       Thvedt lines up pieces of transfer paper that will create an outline on a client's arm that he will tattoo.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Julio Suarez of Elgin gives a thumbs-up to Thvedt to say he's ready for more work on a half sleeve he's having done. Suarez has been a client of Thvedt for 14 years.

       Julio Suarez of Elgin gives a thumbs-up to Thvedt to say he's ready for more work on a half sleeve he's having done. Suarez has been a client of Thvedt for 14 years.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Everyone has a story to tell.

Erik Thvedt wants to help them tell it.

He listens to his clients, takes their ideas and conceptualizes them. Then he puts them on paper, and then on their skin. And there they stay forever. Each image a chapter in the storybook of their lives.

Thvedt, of West Dundee, has been a tattoo artist for about 14 years, but he's not sure exactly how long it's been.

"When you're first starting out you tell everyone that you've been doing it for a couple of years," he jokes. He's worked at Top Notch Tattoos in Elgin under a couple of different owners for about 12 years.

It was a career that came to him partly out of necessity. An avid snowboarder, Thvedt was fooling around with a snowboard on a trampoline, getting ready for the next season, when he had an accident and messed up his ACL and MCL.

He had been working construction since high school, but now he lacked mobility.

"I needed a job where I could sit on my butt and make money," he says.

He hadn't been a fan of tattoos until he saw some that emphasized the artistic possibilities of the medium.

"I liked drawing my whole life, but I never thought I'd do anything with it for a career," Thvedt says.

He took an apprenticeship and 14 years later, more or less, he has a waiting list of clients that books out six months in advance.

Over those 14 years, a style has emerged. But, in the beginning, it wasn't emerging fast enough for him.

"The thing about developing a style is that when you're trying for it, you can't get it," he says.

He says just listening to his clients and trying to interpret their ideas in a visual way was the key to finding his own unique technique.

"People come in and give you all the trust in the world to let you create what they're going to show people as a representation of who they are and experiences they've had," Thvedt says. "It's a pretty awesome thing."

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