Tattoo culture has shifted considerably during the decades since Mikey Ard did his first tattoo.
“It’s no longer criminals and delinquents,” said Ard, who’s been tattooing for nearly 20 years. “It’s becoming a lot more acceptable in a lot of different career fields to have a lot of tattoos. And I think part of that is the evolution of the artwork itself. It doesn’t all look like prison-work anymore.”
Ard is the owner of Sublime Line Tattoo, a studio located on Airport Way. Professionally, Ard goes by the moniker “RevMikey,” which, he explained, is actually a legal title.
“Well some people get offended when I explain it,” he said, grinning. “I’m not at all a religious person, but I hold credentials in ministry.”
He primarily uses the honorific as a nominal flourish to distinguish himself from the various other tattoo artists named Mike. But he’s also presided over the weddings of a number of friends (he accepts only an invitation to the reception as payment).
On a recent weekday morning, before he started work, Ard invited the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner into his studio to talk about his business. Standing at a computer, he pulled up a stream of images showcasing the breadth of his work.
“This one is my style — it’s kind of 3D but also cartoonish,” he said. “And this one is more of a painting reproduction.”
The styles vary drastically — from a hyper-real portrait of a wolf to a cartoon caricature of a pig with a jet-pack smoking a cigar. In many of Ard’s tattoos, the color is striking. He describes himself as a “color theory nerd” and says that peers poke fun at him for occasionally watching basic color theory tutorials on YouTube.
“As I move along and learn more, sometimes you neglect the beginning, so I have to keep going back to (color theory) because it’s the foundation of the whole thing,” he said.
As an illustration, Ard pulled up a tattoo of a jellyfish, realized in psychedelic yellows, greens and blues.
“It’s all based on contrast. If you were to put that yellow by itself somewhere, you’d be like, ‘Oh, ok.’ But you put it next to these other colors, your eyes perceive it as being so much brighter and your brain interprets as being super vivid,” Ard said. “I think that’s what I like about color theory. It’s the psychology of it. You put this green right here and it’s just green — but if you put this yellow next to it, all of a sudden that green looks really neat.”
Ard was born in California and grew up in Wasilla. His family moved to Alaska when he was just a couple of years old, after his father joined the Anchorage Police Department.
“I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I can remember,” he said.
As a child, he channeled this interest primarily via comic books. The young Ard wasn’t much interested in character mythology or ongoing narratives; it was the artwork that attracted him. When comic books became part of the cultural mainstream, he said, people would often try to engage him in conversations about specific storylines.
“I would be like ‘what are you talking about?’ And they would look at my comic book collection and I would have like No. 16 and then No. 32 and No. 88,” he said. “I realized recently that it was specific artists that were doing the covers that I was following. I was drawn to specific styles and they would catch my eye, so I would buy that one. Then I would go home and try to draw it.”
At school, art teachers would push him to experiment and explore different styles and aesthetics. Once he began tattooing, this became a necessity; the wants of different clients mean that, to this day, each tattoo can require a slightly different approach.
“It forced my hand, if you will, to get better at it,” he said. “Everyday I run into a new challenge that I have to figure out. And I love that. If I thought I had it all figured out, I’d get bored.”
Ard said he was either going to go into law enforcement or “do something with art.”
“My dad told me it would be a real waste if I didn’t do something with art,” he said. “My parents have always been pretty supportive.”
He began his career at Ground Zero, a tattoo shop in Wasilla. A local artist named Mark Vincent gave him his first tattoo when he was 18. Roughly a year later, he began apprenticing with Vincent at the shop.
“It was Mark’s shop. I’ve worked with him almost my entire career,” Ard said. “I met Mark when I was 16. His place was the only place in town that wouldn’t kick me out for sitting around drinking coffee and drawing pictures.”
Vincent now works with Ard at Sublime Line.
Ard moved to Fairbanks in the early 2000s. At the time, he had been tattooing for roughly two years and was working at a shop called Good Karma, but he’d started doing guest spots in Fairbanks. When Good Karma closed its doors, he made the move.
After arriving, Ard and a few friends opened a shop called “Hater Proof.” When the lease for the studio was up, Ard considered moving down to Anchorage, but ended up getting in touch with Justen Folda, who was then the owner of Sublime Line. Folda gave him a job.
Around two years ago Folda decided to move out of state and asked Ard if he would take over the business; Ard accepted.
In December 2018, Sublime Line moved to its current location on Airport Way. The studio has five different tattooing and piercing areas — all of which could be in use simultaneously on any given day.
Fairbanks, Ard said, offers up a plethora of clientele. This is evidenced by the fact that he’s currently fully booked out until February.
“Up here — especially with the military base and the college — there are a lot more people who are interested in getting tattooed,” he said.
But, for Ard, Fairbanks has a draw beyond his career.
“I like it a lot up here. I like that it’s kind of a city but more like a town. We have lots of restaurants and amenities. Anything you need, you can get,” he said. “And then I like hiking and camping and mountaineering and snowboarding. I like getting lost in the woods. And it’s real easy to do in Fairbanks. You drive for 15 minutes in any direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere again.
“I can make a living doing what I love to do — and I have access to this giant playground,” he added.
There are currently six artists working at the shop, including one piercer. Many of them are veterans of the industry. Despite having a small (and talented) army working alongside him, Ard said he still struggles with taking time off. In his downtime he “likes making stuff,” which includes drawing, painting, photography and other artistic practices.
“And I have a baby now, so I need to get back to having at least one day off a week,” he said. “But it’s hard when somebody’s excited and their idea (for a tattoo) is going to be really fun — it’s hard to be like ‘well I’m going to take that day off, so how about next year?’”
“I need to get better at putting my foot down,” he said, chuckling.
Sublime Line Tattoo and Body Piercing, 3433 Airport Way, is open from 1-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1-6 p.m. Saturday. Text RevMikey for consultation and scheduling at 907-251-6542.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.