Chad Mucciante, a burly 42-year-old man with a shaved head and a patch of grey and black hair on his chin, walks into the tattoo shop around 3 p.m. wearing tan shorts and a mostly grey tank top on a hot summer’s day that’s reaching into the upper 80s. The cool air-conditioned business plays music at the front desk. The music, which permeates throughout the small building, could be pretty much anything on a daily basis: “Proud Mary,” “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” or even songs from the hit stage-musical “Hamilton.” Cheerful Shop Assistant Julia Burns, wearing a large, genuine looking smile, greets Chad at the wooden front counter. Karin Janssen, co-owner and head tattoo artist of Maiden Voyage Tattoo Studio on Court Street in Pekin, quickly meets Chad at the front of the shop.
Chad was in for a tattoo of Boba Fett, a helmeted bounty hunter from the “Star Wars” film series. Chad, with a brightly colored tattoo on his left shoulder, already had a Death Star on his right shoulder and, below that, a space TIE Fighter and Yoda, a small, green alien wielding a lightsaber – basically a laser sword.
Karin — with her reddish hair, multiple ear piecings, light blue T-shirt, and arm tattoos -— casually asked Chad, a repeat customer, what he thought of the latest “Star Wars” movie, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which had come out that past weekend.
He wasn’t crazy about it.
Karin took a short food break in a back room that’s used for eating and a place to sketch out designs and stencils, paper with the image of the tattoo on it that’s placed on the body to leave an outline of the tattoo that the tattooer can then work off of.
After the break, Karin leads Chad past the business’s right wall, which is almost entirely made up of framed tattoo designs — like a leopard, snake, women, skulls, Spock from “Star Trek,” and others things too strange to describe. Most of the designs are from in-house tattooers but some are from outside artists. Among the designs there’s a small, black sign with white font that reads, “Please stay in your body.” In other words, try to not lose your cool.
Chad seated himself in the second black leather tattoo chair on his left. The next workstation over featured a large buffalo’s head — it’s real, died of natural causes as the story goes and is called Wally because it hangs on the wall — with a white and pink hat sitting atop it with “Make Tattooing Great Again” printed on it. On the opposite wall was a dedication to Abraham Lincoln, Karin’s wife, Jax Janssen, is big into him. There was a wooden Lincoln bust; a small, wooden, full-body Lincoln statue; a few books like “Abraham Lincoln in Peoria, Illinois” and “Abraham Lincoln Wisdom and Wit”; and some framed Lincoln portraits, newspaper clippings and other Lincoln related items.
Once Chad was situated in the tattoo chair, Karin prepared the tattoo’s stencil, placed it on Chad’s forearm and got to work.
“I wanted to tattoo like right out of high school,” Karin of Pekin said during that tattoo session. “Mom didn’t want me hanging out with those kind of people…(but) I just had always been fascinated with putting art on skin.”
Karin’s mother and grandmother were artists. Her mother drew, painted, and eventually became an art director and graphic designer. Her grandmother worked with graphite.
As for Karin, well, as she put it in a 2015 Pekin Daily Times interview, “I’ve done art pretty much since I came out of the womb. My mom’s an artist and my grandma is also an artist, three generations. That’s the first thing, (they) sat me down and gave me pencils, and it just stuck.”
Karin had a love for tattoos early, and she took art classes in high school. But she wasn’t always on track to design and apply tattoos. Speaking from experience as an artist, Karin’s mother had told her she’d never make any money from her art. Karin was discouraged and went into health care. She went into phlebotomy at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, but, Jax said, Karin “could never quite give up the idea, the dream.”
So, after the two married 10 years ago, they discussed it and just decided to do it. They initially worked out of their house, which was licensed by the health department, before opening their current location at 409 Court St. on March 2, 2016.
Nowadays, Karin works with a variety of media: graphite for portraits and oils and acrylics. She’s dabbled in sculpting and pottery, helping Jax with Jax’s life-casting business, Forevermore.
Karin’s best known for realism tattoos; scar coverups; working with post-mastectomy patients, tattooing over scars and applying tattoo nipples and areolas for women who lost theirs; and she’s tattooed onto parents the portrait of their child lost to suicide.
She also does portraits, including mini-single-needle portraits like one of Abraham Lincoln for Jax; coverups of someone’s previous and now unwanted tattoos; and she does watercolor style tattoos and trash polka tattoos, a photo-realistic collage style.
Jax, who is also the manager of Maiden Voyage, admitted in a private Facebook message that she’s biased, but she believes Karin “is amazing at all styles of tattooing, from the heavy lines of traditional tattoos to the fine and detailed black and grey single needle work.”
“All of these things make her so much more than a tattooer,” she wrote. “She is a tattoo artist. Some people just tattoo from a traced work. Karin can duplicate, but she also creates. One of the best things ever is to watch her tattoo without a stencil and just draw first on the person with a sharpie instead — she makes her own stencil in a way and makes the piece completely unique.”
The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There is one other tattoo artist and two apprecentices working alongside Karin, Jax and shop assistant Julia. Karin usually tattoos two customers a day. Tattoo times can vary. Karin once worked on a tattoo for 13 hours straight (she won’t be doing that again, she said). She applies mostly bigger tattoos, which usually take three to four hours.
“Usually, with a color realism piece, I like to get as much of it in place as I can before I call it a day,” Karin said of the Boba Fett tattoo she was working on. “It’ll be a couple hours, probably four hours.”
“How you doing, Buddy?” Karin asked Chad.
“I’ll sleep through this one,” Chad said.
Chad isn’t a newcomer to tattoos. Getting his first when he was 18, he’s since got many more, but, as a man in the finance business, all can easily be hidden under a long sleeve shirt.
The 42-year-old finance man may not seem like someone who fits the tattoo bill, but Karin and others at Maiden Voyage were keen to point out that the stereotyped tattoo customer really isn’t true.
“Even though it’s gotten bigger because of TV and what not, people still think that we’re just the worst of the worst,” Karin said. “Like, it’s not all bikers (and) prisoners.”
Anyone of any type or age or sex is just as likely to get a tattoo.
There’s really no set demographic either for Maiden Voyage. Customers range from 18 to in their 80s; an 81-year-old came in just the other day, in fact. Right now, women make up the slight majority, but the amount of men and women changes all the time.
A framed sign hanging on a wall above the front desk reads, “This is a safe place. If you are drunk, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, body negative, or disrespectful to artists/clients, you will be asked to leave & no refund will be granted.”
“I think it’s so important to be inclusive to everyone,” Karin said. “Especially in this time of things that’s happening. Yeah. That’s why (that sign’s) there. I want people to come in and feel like they can totally be themselves, and they’re not going to get judged.”
That way of welcoming everyone lends itself particularly well to tattoo work, Karin said.
“The more comfortable you are, the easier the process is going to be,” she said.
Chad gave off the air of complete relaxation as Karin inked in the details of his latest body art. There was some pain – he was getting a tattoo after all – but, as Karin related, endorphins kick in after 20 minutes, which helps dull the pain. Karin, Chad said, may also have a more delicate hand than other tattoo artists. With her, he doesn’t scab over hardly at all, and he heals much better than when he’s gone elsewhere for a tattoo.
Throughout the tattoo session the conversation transitioned easily from one topic to another: tattoos, Star Wars, social media, children and bullying.
The back and forth was mostly light but could be completely serious. Still, Karin said they at Maiden Voyage are a bunch of jokers.
Chad seemed to agree, saying that compared to the other shops he’d been to, Maiden Voyage has a calmness and a chill atmosphere.
“It’s almost like you should be having a coffee or whiskey while you’re getting tattooed,” he said. “It’s just everybody gets along real well, and it’s nice.”
“Yeah, you should stop in some other shops and just see the vibe,” Karin said. “I’ve been in so many different shops where the artists just almost act like either you don’t exist…”
“Very condescending,” Chad said.
“Condescending,” Karin continued, “and they almost don’t want to be bothered with you. So it makes for a very uncomfortable conversation, and I never, ever wanted that with my clients.”
Chad related how he’d been to a tattoo shop where he had to wait outside for an hour. After he finally talked to someone and left a deposit for the tattoo, he couldn’t get the shop to call him back.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going back there,’ but it was just cold,” Chad said, adding that he never even went to get his deposit refunded.
Chad got up to inspect the progress of the Boba Fett tattoo in a mirror.
“We like to try to make it about the experience,” Jax said.
“Yeah, we want it to be fun,” Karin said. “It’s hard enough that you’re going to come in here and experience pain. You don’t need emotional pain on top of it.”
“It’s going to be hard to beat Yoda, but this is cool,” Chad said, after inspecting the tattoo in progress. “That was a good idea of placement. I was (originally) thinking (higher up)…”
Chad likes how Karin can take a customer’s initial idea and come up with ideas of how to make it work best.
“I kind of like him peaking, you know, because it’s Boba Fett,” Karin said. “He’s hiding in the shadows.”
While most of the work on the tattoo was completed that day, Karin wouldn’t finish all of Fett during that sitting. Chad would be back in about a week and a half. When Karin finishes it and the other tattoos Chad wants on that arm, she might enter that whole sleeve, aka arm, into a Chicago tattoo convention competition in a color category, which would require him to travel up to Chicago with her so judges can inspect the tattoo.
The shop may seem like just a place to get a picture, a piece of artwork and/or some words printed onto the body, but it’s more than that to Karin. And it all comes down to the word she picked to describe what she does: transform. She picked it because, as she said, she was “thinking of how you change a person’s view of themselves. They’re (getting a tattoo) to enhance a part of their body or feel better about themselves, and it’s a transformation.”