Ryan Hardwick of Black Cat Barbershop

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Haley Mills: What made you decide to get your first tattoo?

Ryan Hardwick: Oh man, my first tattoo. I was eighteen, which I think is kind of wild to a lot of people, because I’m so heavily tattooed. I waited until I was eighteen because my parents would have never let me get tattooed otherwise. I always knew I would be super tattooed. You know, I wasn’t really into sports or any of those other cultures growing up -- I was really into punk rock music, and all of my heroes were head to toe covered in tattoos, mohawk guys, so I think it just came with the territory.

HM: What was your first tattoo?

RH: My first tattoo was lyrics from a Swedish hardcore band called Refused, and it said “rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in,” on my arm, which I’ve covered.

HM: I was going to ask, do you still have it?

RH: I don’t, not because I don’t stand by those lyrics, but because it was just done terribly. I think tattoos have just gotten so much better. What you can do with needle sizes and stuff is pretty incredible, but back then you had to make things pretty spaced out and it was, unfortunately, bleeding together, so I covered it.

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HM: What would your advice be for someone who wants to start getting tattooed? Anything you’d suggest?

RH: I would say to slow your roll, and to know what you want because they’re permanent. It’s a total pain in the butt to cover them up, which I’ve done for the past several years now. I would say to really research your artists. There are so many good tattooers these days that every shop has someone that’s good in one particular style, so I would say find the right guy or gal that you think would interpret your ideas best.

HM: Going off of that, how do you decide what your next tattoo will be? Where do you find inspiration?

RH: A lot of my tattoos come from literature. I was really into American authors and writing and reading books, so a lot of them come from big ideas or philosophies that I back or believe in. Any more, I hate to say it, but I honestly just like collecting art. My house is covered in art; the shop is covered in art. It’s just art to me in another form, so I typically pick the area, not so much anymore because I’m running out of real estate, but I have areas open and I think of an idea that would fit there really well and I obsess over it until I get it tattooed by who I want to get it tattooed by. Like, I might have three or four good sized spaces left, and I already know exactly what they’re going to be.

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HM: I was going to ask, do you already have any future tattoos planned?

RH: I know what it’s gonna be, I know who I want to do it. So I really think them out; I’m pretty obsessed with that. I make them count, you know?

HM: What is your most meaningful tattoo?

RH: Oh man, I have two. Probably my mom’s name on my throat here under this angel, that’s my mom, and then my father. I grew up in a really small town; my dad was a body man. He was a painter. He was really into working on old cars and I got a big paint gun, a spray gun, because the image of that was just so heavy for me growing up, I guess. It reminds me of my dad, so probably that. Or, I have a portrait of my dog, the best dog I’ve ever had, the smartest dog I’ve ever had. His name was Carl, he was a Scottish Terrier. He passed away when he was thirteen but I got a portrait of him. Those are probably the most meaningful tattoos I have.

HM: What does tattooing as a whole mean to you?

RH: I would say expression and independence. I just got tattooed by this Polish tattoo artist. I have “1776” under my chin, and he was like, “What is that?” because, obviously, he’s not American,  and I was like, you know, it’s independence. And he was like, “Well what does that mean to you?” and I was like, well, turning eighteen I was able to finally look how I wanted to look, you know, and make decisions on my own, so that was a really big move for me. That number is just so strong to me. I would say just expression, you know. I always used to say I got super tattooed because I wanted to be out of step with society, but now, unfortunately, I feel like you’re more out of step if you don’t have tattoos. Thanks rap, thanks rappers. But yeah, I mean, it’s always just been about portraying art, to me.

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HM: What are some other tattooed Clevelanders that you admire, whether it be for what they do or for their tattoos?

RH: Well my wife, because I think she’s a tattooed babe. She’s really into good tattoos and she doesn’t let me persuade her at all, which is a little different for significant others for me. I feel like a lot of people around me get tattooed just because I’m so into tattoos, but she really likes what she likes. I don’t know if I’ve ever really “admired” someone else that’s really tattooed. I appreciate it obviously. Whenever I see tattooed people I obviously pay attention a little more, just because I’m into it and I want to see what they have. 

Unfortunately, I think a lot of younger people get super tattooed really fast, which I don’t think is the way to do it. I think it’s almost like you collect tattoos and you earn it, you know? Like, if you do your hand first before you have a sleeve - I think that’s corny,  but I’m just old school like that. I used to work in tattoo shops and that was the mentality. You didn’t just walk in and get a neck tattoo or a hand tattoo; you had to work up to that before someone would do it for you.

HM: is there anything else that you have to say about tattooing?

RH: It’s just cool to see how popular it’s become. I remember when I couldn’t get jobs. I grew up in Amherst which is a really small town. I couldn’t get jobs to save my life. That’s kind of why I ended up working in a tattoo shop. But, now I feel like you’re seeing that less and less, you know, with restrictions on tattooed employees. It’s cool to see but I did it to be a rare breed, and now everybody is so tattooed, so I have a love-hate relationship with it. I don’t regret it. I’m still gonna get tattooed; I’ll probably get tattooed until I die. My wife always makes fun of me because I’m running out of space and I still get tattooed all the time. We travel a lot. Now I try to only get tattooed by people I want to get tattooed by. I kind of look at it now as a road map of where I’ve been, which isn’t how I started, but now I have a tattoo from London, I have a key from Rome, and I’m going to Tokyo in March and I’m getting cherry blossoms tattooed. So that’s kind of what I’m doing now with how I pick my art.

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TCBL Haley