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The Elbert Files: Ink with a purpose


When James Taylor Guy was a teenager in Glendora, Calif., in the late 1990s, he wanted a tattoo like the one his grandfather, a Navy veteran, had. 

Guy, whose professional name is Taylor Made, and whom I’m going to call Taylor for reasons that will become apparent, didn’t think it would be a big deal. 

But it was. His mother was dead set against it. 

“It wasn’t who she wanted me to be,” explained the man who today has 300 hours’ worth of tattoos covering roughly 90 percent of his body.

During his senior year of high school, Taylor accompanied a friend who got a tattoo shortly after turning 18, the legal age for consent in California.

“We walked into this place, and I was immediately drawn to it,” Taylor said. “It was an old dentist’s office, and they had this really beautiful koi pond, amazing artwork and lots of tattooers, wearing shorts and T-shirts, listening to music and drawing pictures.

“I thought, ‘That has to be one of the coolest jobs somebody could ever have.’ ”

Taylor’s friend liked the result, “and I had a great time watching him,” he said.

Taylor went home and worked on his grandfather, who eventually brought his mother around. In fact, she accompanied him when he got his first tattoo, an artistic rendering of his initials, JTG, on his right shoulder.

“She cried pretty much the entire time,” Taylor said. 

Some of the artists at that shop later appeared on “Ink Master” and other reality TV shows that have spurred interest in body ink. Years later, many are still his friends.

Taylor attended college for a time in California but dropped out when he discovered he was good at selling financial products for Wells Fargo & Co. When his mother and brother relocated to Iowa in 2001, he asked the bank to transfer him here but was turned down.

He came anyway and got a job in collections with night work as a DJ. More important, he began training for the job he really wanted, eventually ending up as an artist at Outlaw Ink on Ingersoll Avenue. 

He incorporated his own business, Taylor Made Skin Inc., in 2006, which why he is now known as Taylor Made – Taylor for short – to patrons of his shop, Color Works, at Valley West Mall. 

“I’ve tattooed doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, pastors. Some of my favorite, and most frequent, clients are religious people,” he said. “They get religious tattoos, because it means something to them.”

Ultimately, he said, that’s why most people get tattoos. Their body ink represents an event or person or experience they want to remember, Taylor said. 

“People used to look at tattoos and say: ‘Oh, why did you do that to yourself?’ Now, they say: ‘I wonder what that means?’ ” he said.

Nearly 80 percent of Taylor’s clients are women, which is attributable to a couple of factors. One is his location in a popular shopping mall, which is a more comfortable environment for women. The other is that nearly twice as many women under the age of 35 have tattoos as men of that age do. 

Plus, he’s tuned in on what women want, whether it’s a few words on a wrist or ankle, a bird or flower on the back or shoulder, or a torso mural, of which he’s done several.

Taylor has also done something most people might consider unusual. He’s tattooed nipples on mastectomy survivors. At $100 to $150, it is far more affordable than extensive and expensive reconstructive surgery, which can cost thousands. 

It adds icing to the cake for cancer survivors, he said, and makes them feel as good about themselves as he did when he got his first tattoo.

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