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.
Liz Cook is a tattoo artist, but not in the traditional sense. She doesn't tattoo tribal designs or Old English lettering. A dagger driven through the heart or “Born to Ride” emblazoned on a banner is not the kind of ink she's slinging at Rebel Muse, a small tattoo studio that she and her husband, Cookie, operate in Lewisville.
Cook is a natural skin artist. But she doesn't have a name for her art form. She says it's a high color, high saturation version of realism, a combination of techniques that she picked up from art school and other tattooers over the years. It's an art form that she's been perfecting for nearly a decade now.
“It was hard from the standpoint that I knew what I could do on paper,” Cook says. “It was very frustrating when you can't just do that.”
She figured out a way to transfer the art that she created on paper onto the skin of her customers. Now she's one of the most sought after tattoo artists in the nation. She creates art, and hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide follow her social media pages. Cook's tattoo designs have appeared in dozens of tattoo magazines, including Tattoo Revolution, Inked and Custom Tattooz. She's tattooed ravens that looked as if their feathers were ruffling on the skin.
Last year, Cook tattooed at nine tattoo conventions across the country. The year before that, she attended 10 of them. This year, Liz and Cookie were scheduled for 12 or 13. She just canceled one and plans to cancel another one. The conventions, she says, keep them away from home for too long. They just returned from a convention at the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs.
“It was definitely a party convention,” Cook says. “But when I'm doing conventions, I'm so just focused. It's really hard for me to chill. [At the end of the night] I'm just like, 'I need to go to bed.' But I've got designs to get ready.”
Cook didn't always want to be a tattoo artist. She wasn't sure what she wanted to be when she graduated with her Studio Painting and Drawing degree from the University of North Texas in 2007. She was working as a cocktail waitress at a “night restaurant” when she met Cookie, an Australian motorcross rider who had stopped at the bar on his way back from a race in Jacksonville.
She saw him from across the room. He was forced to remove his ball cap, and she thought he looked cute with his crazy “Sonic the Hedgehog” haircut. “He just had this big ol' watermelon grin when we first met,” she says. It was love at first sight, they both say.
Cookie had only been in America for a few months. He'd saved up $30,000 and flown over from Australia. “It's true what they say about America,” he says. “It's the land of opportunity. There's nothing that you can't do here.” One of the first things that he accomplished was getting his first tattoo on Venice Beach. The whole experience — the ocean breeze, the beach, a cool tattoo artist — inspired Cookie to learn the art of tattooing.
“Cookie was actually a big motivator for me,” she says of her desire to sling ink, and she followed him back to Australia about three months later.
A year later, Cook began apprenticing at an old biker tattoo shop in Australia. She learned to tattoo everything from tribal to Old English lettering, a lot of Southern crosses and kangaroos and lots of nocturnal stars. She was so good that she was staying booked out two weeks in advance.
“The rule was like, don't tattoo anything that you're going to fuck up,” she says. “And if you're going to fuck it up, make sure they know.”
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Liz and Cookie returned to Texas approximately eight months later. They both continued perfecting their tattooing skills. Cook continued to push the art form, testing various techniques and paying attention to other artists, like Mike DeVries, who applied realism in their tattoo art.
In October 2009, Liz and Cookie were married by Elvis in Las Vegas. She wore a red dress, and they both sang "Viva Las Vegas" down the aisle. Then they began to travel internationally, bouncing around different tattoo shops.
A few years later, they decided to open Rebel Muse in Lewisville, an area not heavily saturated by tattoo shops. They felt it was a good place because they wouldn't be ruining another tattoo shop. Most of their clientele comes from social media, word of mouth and tattoo magazines where Cook's art appears.
“Tattoos are a collaboration,” she says. “A lot of times, I try to get the feel for it to understand that personality and be able to push the piece past what was requested.”