Every tattoo is different. This art form is permanent and personal, especially for the people who create it. On a mission to ink our own skin, we researched and tracked down some of the best tattoo artists in Dallas for an ongoing series.
Clint Cummings doesn't need the title of Ink Master to know that he does bad ass tattoos in everything from portrait to traditional tattoos. He's been slinging ink for 10 years, and he's won dozens of tattoo awards for his creative and technical skills. His skill with a gun even landed him a spot on the second season of Ink Master, a tattoo competition judged by Miami Ink cast member Chris Núñez and local legend Oliver Peck from Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas.
“I was hesitant at first,” Cummings says. “I didn't want to come off as an arrogant prick, and I didn't want to seem like a sellout. I didn't know what I was really walk into. But I learned that I'm really good at reality TV.”
Cummings beat out 10,000 other tattoo artists for a spot on the TV show. Although he didn't make the final cut, he was one of the most popular characters on the show. Tattoos covering his arms, head, neck and face, he sported a Mohawk and no nonsense attitude. His appearance eventually led to other spots on reality-based tattoo shows like Tattoo Nightmares in Miami as well as Ink Master and an Ink Masters Special. He also produces and stars in his own YouTube series called “Needleboys.”
But Cummings isn't just a reality TV star. He's also a local celebrity because, several years ago, he convinced the Mansfield City Council to lift the ban on tattoo shops. Cummings says he spent six months attending city council meetings to explain that he wouldn't be “selling crack at his shop” and that the multi-billion dollar tattoo industry was important to a growing city. He opened his shop Sparrows in 2007.
“The city has been behind me since day one,” Cummings says. “[City leaders] have been very supportive.”
Last year, Cummings moved Sparrows to a new 4,000 square foot location in north Mansfield. The new location itself is a work of art with dozens of framed contemporary artwork and photos with notable tattoo celebrities displayed throughout the tattoo studio. Tattoo trophies and awards are also on display inside the shop as well as collectable comic books, painted skateboards and art straight from the crypt keeper's nightmares.
The larger space allows for private rooms for Sparrow's nine other tattoo artists, some of whom are Cummings' former mentors, coworkers and childhood friends. Each room is decorated according to the artists' tastes. Cummings' private room showcases dozens of superheroes statues and action figures such as Todd McFarlane's Spawn and Marvel's Spiderman and Venom. A guitar, a pirate ship and a giant Fender guitar pick are just some of the numerous, unusual memorabilia covering the walls.
“I tell the boys that there's a big difference in a tattooists and tattoo artists,” Cummings says. “Tattooists just take something off the wall and put it on the skin. The tattoo artists is given the freedom, the chance to create art for somebody and that makes a world difference.”
Cummings delved into the art of tattooing at 15 years old when his father first bought him a tattoo machine. His father built motorcycles with a friend who was a tattoo artist, and Cummings spent the day learning the tattooing basics from the old tattoo artist.
But Cummings says that back in those days, aspiring tattoo artists didn't have rubber skin to practice on. He had to tattoo fruit to learn what pressure was needed to apply skin art without scaring the client. He also practiced on his younger brother.
“Back then, these tattoos were awesome,” Cummings says. “But I look at them now, and I'm like put on some jeans.”
He later attended the Art Institute of Dallas for animation but eventually realized that he was earning more money as a tattoo artist. He started hanging out with other tattoo artists like Hector Ortega and Caesar Aragonez, who both worked at Skin Art Gallery. He'd pick their brains and watch how they tattooed. He also started working at an old tattoo shop called “Nemo's” where he met another artist named Greg Sullivan who showed him a few techniques.
As the years passed, Cummings perfected his art at different shops. He started tattooing at tattoo conventions and making a name for himself. It was his dedication that led the producers of Ink Masters to seek him out back in 2012 to appear on season 2 of the television series.
When he appeared on the show, Cummings didn't know what to think, but he soon learned that the process wasn't like what appears on TV. “It was a pain in the ass,” he says. “I learned reality TV is fabricated. It's not like they just set cameras up. There is a method to it. But it's educational to a lot of people.... and turning everybody into experts.”
The problem is, he says, that some people who have watched the series will come into his shop and expect the artist to complete a tattoo sleeve in one day. They are shocked when they learn that the sleeve will take 40 hours to complete.
But he doesn't see those people too often because not many people realize that he's tattooing in Mansfield.
“They're like, 'What are you doing here?'” Cummings says and laughs. “Yeah, people freak out.”
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Over the years, Cummings has watched the tattoo industry become more main stream, and he's been part of this movement by appearing on shows such as Ink Masters. He says people used to come into the tattoo study and “buy tattoos like they would buy shoes, but now that's frowned upon.”
Cummings believes that it's important that people remember that a tattoo is a “visual memory” because you can look at one and remember the person you were when you first received it.
“Tattoos are little time capsules,” Cummings says.
And Cummings is one of the best tattoo artists in North Texas to capture that memory.