Running the parlor with a steady hand

A&E sat down with MPLS Tattoo Shop owner and artist Nikki Time to talk entrepreneurial starts, stylized tattoos and making the tattoo experience more friendly.

Shop owner and tattoo artist Nikki Time poses for a portrait  at MPLS Tattoo Shop on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 in Minneapolis. Nikki specializes in watercolor styled tattoos.

Image by Easton Green

Shop owner and tattoo artist Nikki Time poses for a portrait at MPLS Tattoo Shop on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 in Minneapolis. Nikki specializes in watercolor styled tattoos.

by Gunthar Reising

Walking into MPLS Tattoo Shop, you always notice a smile behind the front desk, several plush couches and the proverbial skull décor.

The woman behind this friendly parlor? Nikki Time.

Time, owner and artist of the shop, sat down with A&E to explain her beginnings as an entrepreneur, her personal style and the vision she has for the industry.

How did you get into tattooing?

I started out in graphic design, and I always loved tattoos. I got sick and tired of the corporate world — having to follow the rules, wear all the suits and not be able to express my artistic freedom.

So … one day I woke up and said, ‘Screw everything. I’m going to figure out how to be a tattoo artist.’

Why open up your own shop?

I wanted to open up a tattoo shop that was unlike any of the tattoo shops in this area. I wanted to build a positive environment — a happy spot where people could go.

Sometimes you walk into shops and they just aren’t very nice to you. I didn’t want that for my shop.

While I was doing my apprenticeship, I shoveled snow in the winter to make some money. I opened up this place with seven dollars in my pocket. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done … it’s been amazing. The hardest and best thing of my life.

You have a distinct tattoo style — what’s the inspiration?

I always really enjoyed painting before I started tattooing and it just fell into my work. Being here you have to do all types of styles, but the watercolor and painting style is me. Now people are coming to me for that style.

Who is the best client you can have?

The best client will have an idea and come to you because they like the style of tattoos that you do. They just say, “Create it.”

When somebody comes in and wants five leaves and a seahorse and a rainbow in a tiny tattoo — that’s where it can be challenging for us.

I would never say there’s a [bad] client; every client is great because they’re supporting our art.

Do you have time to explore your other artistic interests?

Some of the other girls do, but me — as an owner — no. If you’re a tattoo artist … it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

You’re working 60 to 70 hour weeks. When you’re not sitting here tattooing for seven hours, you’re drawing for another four or five. It can get very exhausting, but it’s fun. It’s worth it.

All the staff at MPLS Tattoo is female, do you think that changes the dynamic of the shop?

It’s about the individual. I’ve had male tattoo artists working here, but my biggest concern is how all of the artists get along with each other. If you have a crab dick in the middle who’s angry at everything, it’s going to bring the work environment down.

I look for great artists with great attitudes who aren’t egotistical — that can come in any shape or form.

Design school doesn’t exactly prepare you to open your own business. What was the learning curve like?

It actually wasn’t that difficult. I worked with a lot of CEOs throughout my life; when working under high profile bosses you learn a lot. Thank god I was open and willing to learn from them instead of being a hot-headed25-year-old. I was a little more timid — they’re driving fancy cars and here comes my beater. I want to work hard so I can get to that point in life.

Editor’s Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.