The six artists at Screaming Aces Tattoo spend much of their time together – planning canoe trips, taking vacations and even cooking holiday dinners. To them, the shop is family.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them," says Corey Bailey, 29, with a smile. "There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for me. We just got each other's backs. We’re family. No one leaves without saying, ‘love ya’ll. Be safe.’”
In the nine years since the shop opened, the bond employees feel with one another has turned Screaming Aces into a thriving business along Main Street. The increased business, though, has not altered the atmosphere of a home, with artists popping in on one another to say hello, check in or look at the work being done. These interactions motivate everyone at the shop, says artist Robbie Dufresne, 40. “We are always trying to learn from each other to do better.”
This bond stretches beyond colleague camaraderie: customers are treated with the same love and respect. “For us, our clients are our family, too,” says Corey.
The informal atmosphere can put off some people, Corey admits. “I don’t want to say it’s unprofessional, but it feels more like you went over to somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner to get a tattoo.”
For artist Aimee Smith, 35, the familial environment in the shop is what she loves about her job. Aimee, a mother of three, spends a lot of time in the shop. She also lives in the apartment above the business. If it weren’t for the love she feels for the other artists at the shop, Smith says, she would feel differently about how much she works.
“One of things I love about this job, I can actually spend time with my kids while I’m working,” Aimee says. “I don’t have to worry about missing them grow up. Not only that, but my kids have become a part of all the guys’ lives, too.”
The welcoming environment has made the shop a meeting place for young people in town, cementing Screaming Aces’ position as a fixture in Mt. Sterling. "To go from where I started nine years ago to where we are now," says Corey, "it’s like, ‘How did we make it?’ ‘When did it happen?’"
Corey relaxes in between clients with girlfriend Taylor McCoy. "It's relaxing to spend time here in the shop," Taylor says. "They're like a family to me. There aren't a lot of people in my life that I'm this close with."
Robbie Dufresne works on a client's neck tattoo. "I'm an old-school tattooer," he says. "But I'm always striving to push myself to be more realistic in my designs."
"It's a continuous thing to keep trying to get better and better at drawing tattoos," says Darrell Shepherd, 30, one of the six artists at the shop. "Even the most renowned artists still strive to get better and better. It's never-ending, but that's what I like: that I always can push myself to improve."
Corey and Taylor examine the markups on Aimee's son Ashton's arm outside the shop. Aimee's children are regular figures in the shop, adding to the family atmosphere at Screaming Aces.
Aimee works on a client as daughter Ashleigh looks on. Being able to have her family around the shop is what Aimee cherishes most about life at Screaming Aces. "I can actually spend time with my kids,” she says. “I don't have to worry about missing them grow up."
Jo Fyffee, a friend of all the artists, catches Aimee's daughter Alliegh in the front of the shop.
Corey works on a client in his booth while friend and colleague, Robbie Dufrense, 40, looks on. The artists are watching each other at work, discussing technique and observing each artist's craft.
Aimee Smith, 35, and her boyfriend, Michael, share a moment as Corey Bailey, 29, and his client take a break from their session. Screaming Aces is often the liveliest stretch of Main Street, with artists, clients and passersby mingling in the afternoon sun.