It’s usually at 10 years old when kids start daydreaming about what it’s like to be a teenager.
They just can’t wait for the milestone marking the first time to finally be able to say they’re 13.
But for UW-Whitewater junior Skye Shaffer, turning 13 was about more than just the number. Turning 13 for Shaffer meant she was finally able to practice the art of tattooing.
“It’s been what I’ve wanted to do since I could talk,” Shaffer said.
All her life, Shaffer has been surrounded by people and places that are all about tattoos. Since she was a child, Shaffer said she has accompanied her parents to tattoo conventions all over the country.
“A lot of her life experiences have made her more mature than others her age,” said Shaffer’s dad, Chuck “Cherokee Chuck” Shaffer .
Her parents, Chuck and Chris Shaffer were the ones who introduce their daughter to the tattooing world, and they even let her tattoo for the first time on each of them when she was 13 years old. when Skye was just about to tattoo the number “13” on her father after years of practicing and sketching, her father said he was not nervous about it at all.
“Ever since she was little she would ask ‘Daddy, when can I start doing too-toos?,’” Chuck said. “[The first time she tattooed] I was quite proud and excited about it.”
Chuck and Chris are the owners of Chuck’s Body Art on East Milwaukee Street in Whitewater. they are also co-owners of the Gypsy Tour tattooing studio in Sturgis, S.D., along with Gypsy Tour members J. Brown and Mike Powell.
The Gypsy Tour, founded in 1979 by legendary tattoo artist RJ Rosini (1940-2003), is a group of tattoo artists from all over who come together for different conventions and motorcycle rallies and tattoo all across the country. one rally in particular, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Races, is one of the group’s busiest, most exciting times. The group usually has 13 members at one point in time, but has had hundreds of past members.
“It’s not just people who work together, but actually a family of tattoo artists,” Skye said.
Every artist on the tour has a tattoo of the family stamp on his hand created by Rosini himself. although the stamp will now be retired in memory of Rosini, the group will design a new stamp for members to be added in the future.
Although Skye has six years of tattooing under her belt and a blood-relative on the tour, she said she still has a lot of learning to do to be considered a member.
“I can’t ask to be a part of it,” Skye said. “They have to invite me.”
Her dad was invited into the tour by Rosini in 1993.
“That was kind of like my audition,” Chuck said. “And I now see Sturgis as the pinnacle of my career.”
The current members include tattoo artists Cherokee Chuck, J. Brown, Mike Powell, Bengt Cenatiempo, Sean Fairbanks, Jered Yarber, Izzy LaPlante, Tom “Webb” Rivard, Todd Evans, Wayne Kendrick, Jeremy Hogan and Gabe Smith. Skye’s mother Chris is also a member and manages the paperwork, budget and appointment scheduling for all 12 artists.
“They’re all like my uncles,” Skye said. “I’ve learned so much just sitting there and watching these guys tattoo.”
If Skye does become a member of the group in the future, she will be the first female tattoo artist ever to join the tour in its 31 years of existence.
In her six years of tattooing, Skye said she lost count of how many tattoos she has done after she hit the 100 benchmark.
“My dad told me people would ask me how many tattoos I’ve done and I tried to keep count, but I just lost track,” Skye said.
An art major at UW-Whitewater, Skye said she feels like she would probably be fine without a college degree, but feels like she has learned a lot of fundamentals about art and design that have been useful in her work.
“I think it’s important for her,” Chuck said. “She’s very, very talented at what she does, and [a college degree] will be another thing she can put on her résumé.”
Skye has been learning the art of tattooing in a hands-on way that not many people can say they have experienced. at the age of 19, Skye has learned how to tattoo from a very young age, she has experienced the real-world tattoo industry and she has met people whom many tattoo artists would envy.
“Her being a second-generation artist speaks volumes,” Chuck said. “There aren’t many of her kind.”
Thanks to the one-of-a-kind life she lives, she is now known to the tattoo world as “Skyface”. What makes her story even more interesting is the fact that her life and legend as a tattoo artist have only just begun.