Photos by Emily Sobecki
With clear thick glasses and a well-trimmed beard, Eric Wiesinger tattoos the arm of a man who he did not plan to see walk into South Bend’s Bicycle Tattoo and Piercing.
“I work faster than most of the people here, so I usually have more time open,” Eric says, “and I tattoo the majority of the walk-ins.”
A scroll through his Instagram and one will see bold tattoos he has done for clients. His tattoos mostly use green, red, some occasional yellow and a ton of black. On one man’s chest, Eric designed an angry black bull with red eyes. The bull is standing next to a large red rose. Next, on a woman’s arm, he tattooed an intricately designed cobra with sharp fangs and its tongue sticking out.
On his Instagram, there are also simple designs like two red cherries connected at the stem.
Eric has been a tattoo artist for about two years. His journey and decision to enter the industry happened suddenly and at a time when he was getting tired of the 9 to 5 office life.
At the beginning of 2017, Eric was getting tattooed by an artist who, at the time, worked at Bicycle. The artist told him he was going to be leaving at the end of the year, and on a whim, Eric asked him to take him on as an apprentice.
“I’d always daydreamed about it and never really had the courage to do it,” Eric says. “Then my wife and I had a daughter, and I didn’t want to raise my kids and tell them to ‘follow your dreams’ and then not do that myself.”
The former Bicycle Tattoo artist agreed and Eric quickly began to work as an apprentice after he got off from his job as a graphic designer. He would stay at the shop until 7 p.m. and then go home and work on his designs all night. The next morning he would do it all over again.
Without any experience, he started taking his friends and family friends as clients. They got a free tattoo and he got the opportunity to develop his craft.
His apprenticeship lasted for about a year.
“There’s a lot of sacrifices for that first year of my apprenticeship,” he said. “But it was totally worth it.”
He specializes in American Traditional Tattoos, which is a style with bold lines, heavy shading and bright colors. For simple designs, he can branch outside of his preferred style.
“The way our shop is set up is unique to the area in that everybody here has a different style that they specialize in,” Eric says. “This allows each artist to fine tune their specific style, as opposed to stretching themselves too thin to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
Other artist specialized styles at Bicycle Tattoo are realism (realistic tattooing), blackwork, Japanese and illustrative.
Even with the longer hours, Eric is happy with the choice he made three years ago.
“We had a lot of like larger corporate clients like Hard Rock, Coca Cola [when he did graphic design], and I enjoyed the work I was doing, but it wasn’t really fulfilling all of my creative needs,” he says. “I would do a design and it would go to a committee and get picked apart and take a year before it even got to the shelves.
“It was very disheartening to work really hard on something and then 70 percent of the stuff I was doing just was never getting seen.”
As a tattoo artist, almost all of the designs he does for clients get done in a short period of time. He usually meets with a client, draws something up, makes an appoint and then pretty soon they are at Bicycle getting their tattoo.
Eric also has a line drawing book full of his designs that he would like to do one day, so potential clients can come and go through that before picking their tattoo.
Most of his designs are created through an iPad app called Procreate Brushes, which he says is like using a mixture of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
“It’s similar to graphic design and commercial arts because you’re providing a service to a client,” Eric says. “It’s still very much a service industry and that’s another thing I like about it. You get to meet a lot of people and sit down with them for a couple of hours and get to know them. It’s really cool.”