Ryan Pollauf practices art at Permanently Scarred TattooWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Never a fan of traditional schooling, Ryan Pollauf always knew he wanted to make a living off from his artistic talents.
So when high school graduation forced him to think critically about his future, he sat back, relaxed and let Lady Luck play the cards.
And as luck would have it, Pollauf has been making a living with his art, as a full-time tattoo artist since 2001.
With a portfolio of work featuring thousands of pieces and 11 years under his belt, Pollauf is one of the seven artists at Permanently Scarred Tattoo on West Sylvania Avenue. Specializing in colorful cartoon images, still lifes and black-and-gray portraits, he has become one of the shop’s premier artists since starting there in July 2010.
Jeremiah Schoch, owner of Permanently Scarred, said Pollauf is a talented and well-versed artist who can run the gamut from traditional tattoo designs all the way to photorealism, a skill only few in the area can match.
“That’s a big thing for a lot of guys in the industry. Not everybody can do that,” Schoch said. “I’m pretty lucky to have the guys that I have. I have three or four guys who are very well-versed in portraits and I know of only a couple other guys in town who are. Ryan is definitely very talented.”
Permanently Scarred & Perfectly Pierced is a full-service tattoo and body piercing studio with 13 employees. The shop started in 2001 as Purrfectly Pierced, a local piercing studio owned by Schoch’s mother, Cindy Taylor-Miller. Miller owned and operated the shop with an all-female crew until Schoch, her oldest son, took the business over in 2005, adding on the tattoo studio.
The laid-back family atmosphere creates an environment that Pollauf said carries throughout the entire staff.
“It’s a family affair that spills over to all of us here,” Pollauf said. “There are no egos, there’s no big heads. We all feed off of each other artistically and this place is just a really good environment for that.”
Pollauf has nearly 30 tattoos of his own, with everything from a Boston Red Sox logo on his hand to a portrait of his grandmother on his thigh, and even a memorial tattoo of a friend he lost in the late 1990s. And while he said not all tattoos have to have a direct meaning, they all hold a special place in his heart.
“Even if a tat I have doesn’t have a specific meaning, it’s kind of like a scrapbook of memories for me,” he said.
But perhaps one of his most memorable tattoos came at the hands of his fiancée, Julie Marshall, who gave him ink dedicated to their five-and-a-half year relationship together.
“I let my fiancée put the number 0110 on my leg,” he said. “Her birthday is January 10 and mine is October 1. So, I told her we weren’t going to do each other’s names, so I let her do this.”
Pollauf began his journey into the edgy world of tattooing at the age of 18. During his first summer after graduation from Central Catholic High School, he made the decision to celebrate his newfound freedom with a stop at Toledo’s Lady Luck Tattooing on Airport Highway.
Trading in his cap and gown for his first piece of fresh ink, he walked away with a tribal band on his forearm and a firm grasp on what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, a decision that would set in motion his entire future.
“When I got my first tattoo, that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I got the bug for it immediately. I’ve always drawn, ever since I was little. I remember in eighth grade, at recess, I used to sit outside and draw on people’s arms with pens and markers.”
Eager to learn from the area’s top artists, Pollauf began spending most of his time at Infinite Art, talking with the artists and gaining as much experience as he could before eventually getting a job working the counter. He often sought the knowledge of popular magazines like Tattoo International, Tattoo Flash and Tattoo Society Magazine for inspiration.
“I saw tattooing as a way of making a living with art,” he said. “I was looking at anything I could find for inspiration. I was looking at magazines and artists, trying to draw and emulate that kind of style.”
Pollauf spent five years working at Infinite Art, trying desperately to get both his name and his artwork to someone that could give him the apprenticeship he needed to get his foot in the door. That chance came to him during a chance encounter with a well-known tattoo artist from Indianapolis who would eventually take him under his wing.
Through a mutual friend, Pollauf came into contact with a tattoo artist named Monte who was working at an Indianapolis-based shop called New Breed. After showing off some of his drawings, Pollauf packed his bags and moved to Indianapolis in February 2001.
Working with Monte at New Breed for 11 months, Pollauf learned the differences between traditional drawings and body art, as well as to develop his own unique style.
“It was kind of strange to go through that transition of drawing for tattoos,” he said. “You have to kind of rewire your brain to drawing for a tattoo because it is never going to look on skin the way it does on paper. It has to wear well.”
Even though Pollauf spent much of his apprenticeship inking nonpaying customers for practice, he said he remembers his first paying customer all too well.
“It was a steer head. It was $75 and it was my first paying tattoo,” he said. “I remember the day I did that, I wasn’t there to tattoo, I wasn’t scheduled to work. I was just hanging out. But it was a walk-in and everybody was busy, so Monte just told me to do it.”
Having never had an apprentice before, Monte said his experience with Pollauf taught him to look inside himself as an artist.
“Ryan helped me uncover personal questions about myself as an artist that would help me with my other apprentices,” Monte said. “As an artist, we usually don’t have to answer to ourselves; but when you have an apprentice, you do. Suddenly, I found myself having to answer questions as simple as why I wipe a certain way or why do I start a drawing in a certain direction.”
Monte, who has been a tattoo artist for more than 16 years, recalls asking the same questions of his teachers when he was apprenticing.
“I did it to my teachers so I know that each and every one of them is going to ask me,” he said. “He helped me take on other apprentices and feel comfortable doing it. It definitely helped me learn a lot about myself.”
Pollauf returned to Toledo in 2003 and came full circle in his tattooing career, getting a job as an artist at Infinite Art. Working alongside some of his former colleagues, Pollauf was one of the top artists at Infinite Art for seven and a half years.
“[Infinite Art] is a great shop. I still talk to everybody over there and we’re all still friends,” he said. “There’s no animosity and there’s no big egos like at a lot of shops. We’re all just artists.”
No matter where he has worked throughout his career, Pollauf said he gets to go to work every day doing what he loves.
“I love that I get to do art every day,” he said. “I get to come in and draw on people and talk to them and listen to their problems. It’s almost like being a bartender. It becomes sort of a therapy session for some people and I don’t mind at all. Plus, being able to sleep in and go to work at noon is pretty good for me.”
For the past eight years, Pollauf has been a member of “The Screamin’ Demons,” a local car club dedicated to pre-1964 “American Customs” cars and pre-1970s trucks. The group of eight guys meets every other Sunday to work on their powerful, prized possessions, with a focus on restoration and the tricks of the trade that make it all possible.
“We build what we can afford and we drive the hell out of them,” Pollauf said. “Most people would be afraid to get in these cars but we love it.”
The proud owner of a 1951 Chevy Fleetline and a 1928 Ford Model A, he has spent many long nights and weekends working with his fellow Demons to get those vehicles in running order. While the 1928 Model A is his future long-term project, the Fleetline is a constantly evolving project he has taken a lot of pride in.
Blue Skies Burning
Before exhaust smoke and tattoo needles captured his interest, Pollauf was living the life of a rock star, playing drums in multiple rock bands throughout the Toledo area. Throughout his 17-year stint as a drummer, Pollauf toured the United States with the groups Homeward Bound and, most notably, Blue Skies Burning.
“It was just always fun. It was a good way of getting aggression out and it was a cool feeling being on tour,” he said.
Pollauf was a member of Blue Skies Burning, an “emo metal” band, from 1997 to 2001. The band toured all across the country to places like St. Louis, Austin and Albuquerque. The opportunity with Monte and New Breed ultimately led to Pollauf leaving the group.
“With Blue Skies Burning, we actually got signed to a small label outside New York City,” he said. “A lot of people feel that we were really getting ready to take off, but I had to go with the sure thing. Some of these bands go all out and end up fading away, and I couldn’t take the chance. Looking back, I know I made the right decision.”
With the promises of musical stardom long since passed, Pollauf said he and his former Blue Skies Burning band mates have attempted to rekindle their metal magic in recent years. However, full-time jobs and adulthood have made a reunion unlikely.
“We actually talked about getting back together last year. We got together and had one practice and then it all fizzled,” Pollauf said. “We’re all older and have jobs and it’s tough getting everybody together.”
A Family affair
Pollauf will wed his fiancée Sept. 14 in Downtown Toledo, complete with a simple ceremony and a family barbecue afterwards. It is the perfect reflection of his laid-back personality, he said.
As for business, Pollauf said he looks forward to expanding his clientele and growing in an industry that is constantly evolving.
“A lot of the young guys getting into tattooing have that art degree background nowadays so they’re really pushing the envelope with what’s possible with tattoos,” he said. “Which, that’s good, because it keeps you on your toes. You always gotta push yourself. The second you say you know everything there is to know about tattooing, you should quit. There is always more to push yourself toward. You are always your own worst critic.”