Tucked in a corner of City Market, on the cusp of Moore Square, Van Ness and Fellows Tattoo Boutique boasts a covered porch where you might find the owner, Mark Van Ness, taking in some fresh air during a break from his busy schedule. Though he’s often booked out months at a time, and has to balance his business with roles of husband and father, Van Ness always takes a moment for a friendly chat with new and former clients, friends, and anyone else who stops by the Martin Street location.
While his primary vocation is a tattooist, he’s also skilled in other artistic outlets: watercolor, acrylic, and enamels.
Talent and reputation may bring in clients, but Van Ness’s welcoming nature and excitement for his work win him the loyalty of returning clientele, many of whom followed him to Van Ness and Fellows when he opened it in 2013. I asked a few people who have been tattooed by Mark how they would describe him, and their words speak for themselves.
“Inventive, creative, versatile, professional, eager, approachable.”
Van Ness has been tattooing for 17 years, and much of his past is reflected in his shop. “I learned how to tattoo in a shop in a 1926 craftsman house. I remember people saying how warm and inviting it was.” Van Ness and Fellows draws heavily from that, from the inviting sitting room to the unique décor and artwork. “I wanted a place that allowed the client to feel comfortable right from the start. A place that felt like home.”
The cozy charm of the shop holds appeal for patrons, and Van Ness goes to great lengths to put them at ease. He acknowledges the importance of his clients’ comfort. “It’s already intense enough thinking about marking your body for the rest of your life,” he says. As for the shop’s style, he again tips his hat to the past. “I’ve always been attracted to old things being repurposed. As I have appreciation for new things, I still have respect for the past.”
“Worldly, passionate, authentic, genuine, enthusiastic.”
Van Ness brings a unique quality to the table in that he has first hand experience of many countries and cultures. In 2010, he and his wife took a 17-month tour around the world, visiting 24 countries. He applies this worldview to his work. “As I traveled I would take little parts and pieces from every shop, studio, and tattooer I met,” he says. “I found myself consistently looking at other cultures and ideas, and other people’s approach to artwork. It helped me step out of my comfort zone and try something new.”
“Warm, kind, lighthearted, fun-loving, positive.”
Above all else, Mark Van Ness is a family man. In fact, if you’ve spent any time in his chair, you might have seen his wife or son, frequent visitors at the shop. Their drop ins make you feel like part of the family. But don’t think that his home life ever detracts from his focus and diligent work. “Because I do own a shop and have a family, I have to keep working hard. Let’s face it; the client wears our mistakes for the rest of their lives. I can’t have that on my conscious.”