During her 18 years as a tattoo artist, said Sunday Dawne-Marie of Skinflower Cosmic Arts in Phoenicia, “I’ve watched how tattoos age, how people react to having them over time. I can give advice.” For instance, when parents create tattoos celebrating their children, she points out, “If you dedicate this much space to your first daughter, what if you have three more kids? You’d better plan ahead for them too.”
On Sunday, July 6, at 3 p.m., she will celebrate Skinflower’s fifth anniversary with a live reggae concert outside the shop on the Phoenicia boardwalk, performed by the Kingston-based electrodub band Bomb Mob. That evening, she’ll sponsor a showing of the 1972 Jamaican film The Harder They Come at STS Playhouse.
Before Skinflower’s arrival, another proprietor opened a tattoo shop at the Phoenicia Plaza on Route 28, but he lasted less than a year. “Being in town is definitely an advantage,” said Sunday, “but I had been tattooing a long time when I came up here.” Now 43, she attracted a sizable following during her ten years working at a tattoo parlor in Westbury, Long Island, and many of those past customers enjoy coming upstate for a new piece of body art and a mini-vacation. She figures she’s bringing business to the hotels, restaurants, and gift shops in town. “The Nest Egg,” she remarked, “has sold a lot of fudge to my clients.”
About half of Skinflower’s business comes from past Long Island customers, and the remainder are mostly locals. Occasionally tourists stop by, but they have to be willing to return at a later date. At this point, her weekends are booked till November, weekdays till September.
Although Sunday attributes her success to experience, she is also an artist with a prolific output on paper and canvas, as well as a penchant for making art out of trash and found objects. “I’ve been an artist since I drew Clifford, the Big Red Dog, when I was three,” she said. “I still remember people saying, ‘Oh, that’s amazing!’ That positive reinforcement stayed with me, so I stuck with it.”
A high school dropout, she tells kids to stay in school, if only so they don’t have to deal with the stress of entering the work force at a young age. She found her first job at a greenhouse, which led to landscaping and floral design. Her first tattoos were made when she was in her mid-20s, traveling around the country and living in a truck. In New York City, she landed a job as the tattoist at a piercing shop at Houston Street and Sixth Avenue, then moved to a shop on West Broadway. “I sucked,” she sighed. “I was really green. I did a whole bunch of tattoos, which is the only way to get good. I started working right when tattooing became legal again in the city, after being illegal for 30 years.”
Following a trip to Europe and nine months in Africa, she returned to the U.S. to work at a friend’s shop on Long Island. Her boyfriend, who had grown up in Woodstock, lured her to the country air, and they bought a run-down house in Olive, down the road from his grandparents’ home. The gradually renovated house is a work of art in itself, with Sunday’s drawings and works by other artists on the wood-paneled walls, sprawling flower beds out front.
Fitting it to the body part
Residents of the Catskills, she finds, have different tastes from Long Islanders. “There I did a lot of heaven versus hell, good versus evil. Someone would say, ‘I want this angel being pulled into heaven by other angels and pulled into hell by demons.’ There are a lot of Catholics. Up here you get, ‘I want a tree,’ or ‘I want a flower that represents everyone I’ve ever known.’ In both places, they like animals. Down there I did more fairies, up here I do more nature.”
Part of her job is to help customers design their tattoos. “Some people have a vague notion of what they want and just trust me to come up with a design,” she said. “Some have a folder of drawings they’ve made. Some have a wrinkly old paper they’ve been carrying around for ten years in their wallet. I take whatever they give me and design something.” She not only has to make an attractive, lasting picture, but she has to ensure that it will fit whatever part of the body it adorns.
One of her most memorable tattoos was created for a Greene County woman who had had a double mastectomy. “She’d had lots of surgeries and scars,” said Sunday, “so I tattooed a corset on her torso. Later, I did a portrait of her and the corset tattoo, on her husband’s forearm.”
She tends to be outspoken, suggesting constructive alternatives if she thinks someone has a bad idea. Many people are attracted to skulls and other death themes that they later regret. Memorial tattoos are popular, but, said Sunday, “Sometimes it’s a can of worms, unless it’s your mom, grandma, or child. What if another friend dies, do you get a tattoo of them too?”
At the shop, customers can peruse her albums of tattoos and drawings to stimulate their ideas. Sunday is willing to discuss the plans for a tattoo at length and often does research. “If I have to draw a peony, I can do it out of my head. I’m looking at them all the time,” she said, nodding at the bush of pink blooms at the center of her garden. “If I’m doing an elephant, I have to look at a bunch of elephants.” When the customer shows up for the appointment, she will have a drawing ready to show and is happy to make changes as desired. If the client’s concept is vague, she’ll start with something simple and allow the ideas to flow in conversation as she’s applying the ink.
Each tattoo artist has a particular style. Sunday describes hers as “detail-oriented and fine. Even when it’s a traditional Japanese piece, there’s a fineness to it that I can’t seem to help.”
She does very little advertising, since, as she put it, “The ads are on the people.”
Skinflower Cosmic Arts will celebrate its fifth anniversary with music by Bomb Mob at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 6, on the Phoenicia boardwalk, located on the south side of Main Street. Refreshments will be served, and there is no charge for admission. The screening of The Harder They Come, starring reggae musician Jimmy Cliff, will begin at 7 p.m., at STS Playhouse, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia. Admission to the film is also free, with Skinflower donating $5 per attendee to the theater. For more information on the shop, see https://skinflower.net/.