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Friday, August 12, 2022

Tattoo artist always evolving, never does same design twice

<p>Mike Salay and his wife, Samantha, took over ownership of Anthem Tattoo Parlor on Sept. 2.</p>

Mike Salay and his wife, Samantha, took over ownership of Anthem Tattoo Parlor on Sept. 2.

As a kid growing up in Virginia, Mike Salay always thought if you wanted to be a good skateboarder, you had to have lots of tattoos.

He was often in trouble with his parents for drawing skulls on his arms and the backs of his hands with marker, which was hard to scrub off before church on Sunday.

Salay, 36, the new co-owner of Anthem Tattoo Parlor with his wife, Samantha, didn't grow up to be a famous skater, but he is covered in tattoos.

Designs of all kinds start at his wrists and nearly obscure his skin up to the elbows. Both arms, his chest and one leg serve as a canvas for tattoos he put on himself and those he let other people put on him in his lust for permanent body art.

In his 10 years as a tattoo artist, he's seen it all.

A tough guy will be sitting in a chair while getting an arm or a back piece, head propped on his free arm, when suddenly his head droops and he's slumped in the chair, unconscious, Salay said.

Four or five years ago, while he was working at Bodytech, one of Salay's clients fainted and soiled himself while having a cross tattooed in the middle of his back.

Nothing shocks him anymore.

"People come in here, they're like, ‘Hey, I want to get my wiener tattooed.' And I'm like, ‘OK, a hundred bucks,'" he said.

But Salay said he has also made is fair share of mistakes when it comes to tattoos.

Shortly after high school, Salay went to the first inexpensive tattoo artist he found and offered up his wrist as the permanent resting place for a black butterfly the size of a quarter, "which I paid way too much for - $75."

Some time after that, he heard that a tattoo artist he was acquainted with was looking for an apprentice, so he jumped on it.

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The job consisted of setting up the tattoo machine.

Another friend helped him get some tattooing materials from a pawn shop. As soon as he got home, he tattooed a small star on the inside of his left ankle. He tattooed the top of his right thigh after work the same day. They were the first tattoos he'd put on anyone.

For the next three years, he tattooed in his living room.

Salay didn't get any formal tattooing training at the apprenticeship, so he said he didn't know what needles to use or how to stretch the skin properly while doing a tattoo.

"I made a lot of people really ugly in the beginning," he said.

For those questionable works of art, Salay said he mainly operated on the barter system.

Now, he charges $100 an hour for large, multiple-appointment tattoos, although he still does plenty of little ones for Anthem's shop minimum of $50.

"I try not to do the same tattoo twice," he said.

On a recent Wednesday, Salay could be found in the shop, taking a fresh disposable razor to the inside of a client's left bicep.

"This is my favorite part of tattooing: shaving other dudes," he said.

With Rob DeCespedes, the client, watching in a full-length mirror, Salay meticulously positioned and re-positioned the tattoo design - symbols from video games Galaga and Super Mario Brothers - on the man's arm, ensuring perfect placement.

That design was completed in an hour, but some of the most labor-intensive pieces Salay's done have taken up to 20 hours to finish.

One such piece was a full-sleeve tattoo of a blue koi on Salay's friend Sean Garrity.

Salay did it in several sittings, each three or four hours long. At a minimum, he guessed the whole tattoo took 15 hours to complete.

He does great work, but he's humble about it, Garrity said.

"He's in a continual stage of progression," he said.

"He's one of the best in Gainesville, as far as I'm concerned."

Mike Salay and his wife, Samantha, took over ownership of Anthem Tattoo Parlor on Sept. 2.

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