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Medford tattoo studio moves school to Eagle Point

Tattoo artist Jen McLellan works Friday with Kayela Cabrera, of Medford, at Blu Steel Studio in Medford. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Blu Steel Studio is not the dark, smoky tattoo parlor that some might imagine in their grandparents’ day.

This is a modern establishment in downtown Medford with eight resident artists offering a range of services ranging from body art to permanent cosmetics, eyebrow enhancement, scalp micropigmentation and hair restoration. the areola

Located at 132 W. Main St., suite 102, the company also operates a tattoo school. Blu Steel Tattoo Institute will be located in the company’s second location at 178 W. Main St. in Eagle Point, which opened Monday. The Eagle Point studio will also offer a variety of tattoo services.

The school offers a tattoo artist curriculum leading to a body art practitioner license, required to practice in Oregon.

Tattooing has been around since at least the Neolithic, although technology has advanced considerably. Blu Steel uses state-of-the-art techniques.

Brothers Ricardo and Johnny Herrera started the business in January 2019. Ricardo, 40, started tattooing in his 20s.

“I was a freelance artist, but I wanted something more stable and more reliable,” he said. “I wanted some freedom too.”

He moved from Medford to Portland to attend a tattoo school, none available in Southern Oregon at the time.

Ricardo has been an artist since childhood.

“I went to art school to study animation and was working in an art department for film and retail before I started tattooing.”

Their greatest reward is the appreciation shown by customers who are excited about their work.

“A gentleman who had no body hair due to a medical condition had a tear after I had a restorative finish on his eyebrows,” Ricardo explained.

“He told me how people often stared at him and that it was even worse when he tried to draw eyebrows on himself.”

Ricardo creates traditional body art, but also does many permanent cosmetic procedures. Her biggest requests are ombre brows and eyeliner.

Ombré brows are a series of many fine dots that vary in concentration, giving the appearance of a powder brow. Another method, microblading, involves making short, hair-like strokes. Both add pigment to the skin. Sometimes eyebrow enhancement involves a combination of the two techniques.

“We offer almost everything: lip blush, areola restoration, microblading, even freckles,” she said. Areola restoration clients are usually those who have undergone surgical reconstruction after breast cancer.

Most permanent cosmetic procedures take two to three hours, but some, like eyeliner, take much less.

“The healing time is usually two weeks,” she said, “but we don’t touch up or follow up until week six, when the skin cycle is complete.”

There was a time when tattooing was considered a subcultural activity. Today it has become almost mainstream.

“The world is much more open and connected,” Ricardo said. “What used to be taboo is now interesting. And it has caught the attention of TV shows, social media and inked celebrities. Sylvester Stallone is covered in tattoos.”

How much can a tattoo artist earn?

“That depends on the drive, passion and dedication of the artist,” he said. “Marketing plays a role. We are service providers and payment depends on demand. Some new artists tattoo part-time until they have enough clients to go full-time. Some of the best artists are booked for several years and can make over $1,000 a day.”

Wanting a change

Johnny Herrera, 37, came to tattooing much later than his brother. He was at a time in his life when he needed a change.

“I almost went to work in the dental field,” he said, “but I wanted more freedom and creativity than the tattoo world offers.”

He was not interested in competing with his brother and friends who had been in the field for a long time. He wanted to develop his own specialty.

“I wanted to do something different, where I had a chance to stand out,” he said. “So when I enrolled in tattoo school, I also signed up to learn permanent cosmetics.”

Bringing this specialty and scalp micropigmentation skills to the table made partnering with his brother a logical next step. The two have enjoyed building the business together.

SMP uses specialized needles and pigments to create a pattern that mimics shaved follicles. To achieve depth, several shades are used to match the skin type, and layers done in subsequent visits add to the illusion.

The most frequently requested SMP service by both men and women is adding density to thinning hair. Some procedures fill thin spots. Some balding men opt for a full scalp SMP that achieves the look of a buzz cut.

“We’re working with prints, not dots,” Johnny said. “The layers and prints follow a natural follicle pattern to create a three-dimensional look.”

Like Ricardo, Johnny takes great satisfaction in alleviating customer distress and solving problems. Doing a SMP to a woman who suffered from alopecia since the age of 14 is an example.

“After I finished the SMP density, he happily told me that for the first time he could walk through a store without a single person looking at his head,” he said.

From the beginning, Blu Steel Studio was on a mission to help those in need.

“My mom was our first customer,” Johnny said. “In the past, I had stage 4 breast cancer. Since then, we have also offered several pro bono procedures. In the future, we hope to work with other organizations to be able to offer more of these free services to those in need “.

Johnny has worked with some of the best SMP trainers in the industry.

“I am currently a coach at Leaders SMP Academy, owned by Picasso Jeff and Masoud,” said Johnny.

The SMP Academy is the largest in the world, with training centers in several countries.

“I’ve been working closely with them, looking to bring the academy to the Rogue Valley,” he said.

Tattooing for 36 years

Jennifer McLellan is one of the artists working at Blu Steel. With almost 36 years of experience in the business, she specializes in reworking or covering up old tattoos.

“I love taking something the customer hates and turning it into something they love,” he said. “I love creating something that my customers can enjoy for the rest of their lives. And it can’t be lost or stolen.”

“Painless Jen”, as she is known, was fascinated with tattoos at an early age.

“When I was a little girl, I always hoped there would be a fake tattoo in my Cracker Jack box. And I used to turn to myself, much to my mother’s dismay,” she said.

At the age of 14, he started hand tattoos. At age 20, Steven “Pops” Saller offered him a tattoo apprenticeship at American Tattoo in San Pedro, California.

“It was very hard to be a female tattooer in the mid-’80s,” McLellan said. “At the time I met a lot of resistance from certain male tattoo artists. But there were also people like Pops. He had brain cancer and wanted to teach a woman how to tattoo before he died.”

There were other male tattoo artists who were also supportive.

“Jack Rudy, Scott Sterling and Dennis Dwyer went out of their way to teach me how the coil tattoo machines worked and make sure I knew how to maintain and adjust them,” he said.

The basic techniques have remained the same over the years it has been in business, but the equipment has changed considerably.

“I don’t use my coil machine anymore,” he said. “I use a rotary machine 99.9% of the time.” Rotary ones are quieter and smoother.

Another change he has noticed is that more women are getting tattoos.

“Actually, most of my clients are women,” she said. “This is a big change from the early days of my career when it was mostly men who got tattooed.”

McLellan is known for her highly saturated and bold color work, but the client usually has something specific in mind when it comes to the art.

She says that sometimes it can be difficult to get excited about creating art in a style or subject that doesn’t interest her.

“But I put my heart and soul into each and every tattoo I do,” he said.

With that attitude and experience, McLellan was the obvious choice to run the tattoo school, which he will continue to do at the Eagle Point studio as part of his job.

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Contact writer Jim Flint at

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