I’ve been trying to get up to Somerville, NJ, to visit a little shop called Artisanal Tattoo because my buddy, Kristin Bonafide, has been tattooing there for the past four years. Kristin and I have this ongoing joke that she has the “biggest cock” in New Jersey because she actually has a gigantic rooster tattooed on her leg. Anyway, Kristin seems to have found a new home at Artisanal, which recently re-opened its doors in a new spot. According to shop owner/artist Leah Friesen, she’s happy to be in this new location because she’s now located in the designated art district in town as opposed to be being hidden down some obscure side street.

Leah opened Artisanal at the end of October 2008 after taking over the shop from a more dubious tattoo shop owner. She says that she’s so much happier at the new location and the foot traffic has almost quadrupled for the shop since moving there a month ago. From the second that you walk into Artisanal, you don’t want to leave because it’s so aesthetically pleasing. Leah says that she wanted to stay away from the normal ketchup and mustard colored shops, so she painted the walls a “Tiffany box” blue. It’s virtually a color that no one can hate being around. Leah’s purpose was to create an oasis for her staff and customers who might feel alienated going into shops where they were probably treated like they weren’t cool enough to hang in their store. She just wants every experience in Artisanal Tattoo to be a positive one and so far, I have to say it’s been nothing but positive for me.

Artisanal hosts five private tattoo rooms with four artists and a new one starting in the spring. Their artists consist of Leah, Kristin, tattoo vet Lou Morgue, and Ryan Slegel. I have to admit that Leah’s room is the coolest! She designed it after a 1950s doctor’s office. A client of hers inherited all these 1950s doctor’s office fixtures, so she put them to good use. It’s one of the coolest tattoo rooms I’ve seen yet. Anyway, Artisanal is a custom shop with each artist having their own specialty. The funny thing is that there is a flash art portfolio hanging on the wall, but Leah says it’s just there for decoration and suggestions. I think that’s hilarious! So, just to give you a little insight as to who does what at Artisanal, Leah specializes in portraits, realism and neo-traditional, Lou specializes in black and gray, horror and new school, Kristin specializes in art reproduction, new school and custom colors, and Ryan specializes in traditional, black and gray, and portraits. Leah confirmed that they also offer body piercing, and her piercer has years of experience and is one of Jersey’s best.

When I asked about prices, Leah told me that she wasn’t looking to undercut anyone. She stated that they do have a $100 minimum to let customers think about it a little bit before they go ahead with their decision. She also says that she can’t expect her artists to set up their machines for less than a fair amount is not right, but there is a $100 minimum. Appointments can only be made in person with a valid ID and a $50 deposit, which goes towards the cost of the tattoo. Each artist leaves at least one spot open a day for walk-in customers, meaning all walk-ins are welcome. Also, cover-ups and touch-ups can only be done through an in-person consultation. Can anyone get tattooed at Artisanal? Of course, not everyone can get tattooed here! All customers must be 18 years of age or older to get tattooed or pierced with a valid ID. Trust me, they are very strict with this rule!

I know it’s a brand new shop, but it is simply immaculate. You can literally eat off the floors here. All machines are sterilized and all needles are single-use. When I asked what will draw a customer like myself into her shop, Leah said that she thinks that it’s because they are so inviting, friendly, and their work speaks for itself. She also said they’re not grabbing for the same audience that most shops are grabbing for. Leah also likes to promote young and starving local and national artists by showcasing their artwork in her shop in the upstairs community art space. Art shows are curated every three to four months, which gives the artists an opportunity to display their work in an alternative space. Talk about one hand washing the other!

At the time of the interview, Leah hadn’t picked out a date yet, but was looking to have a grand opening for the new location at the end of the month. Trust me, you want to see this amazing new place. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. If you’d like to check the place out, it’s located at 15-A Division Street in Somerville. You can also check it out online at artisanaltattoo.com. If you have any other questions, call the shop at (908) 707-8000 or email them at info@artisanaltattoo.

Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo spot! Who knows what state it will be in! If you have a tattoo shop that you want to suggest, please email me the name of the place and whom I should ask for at tim@theaquarian.com.

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