Tattoo artist James R. McIlroy is preparing to expand his presence in Oneonta.
The 35-year-old Oneonta resident and 10-year tattooist at the Golden Lotus is branching out to launch Wolfhound Studio at 269 Main St. later this month.
Establishing his studio, McIlroy said, was part artistic progression and part inspiration.
“I’ve been working for Jason Sexton (owner of the Golden Lotus) for the last 10 years and he’s had that spot for about 15 years,” he said. “We’re on very good terms but Jason is not a big fan of winter, so over the last five years he has slowly had one foot out the door. Meanwhile, (his girlfriend) Liz (Raphaelson) and I have been traveling every year, going to a different country and seeing the world, and I’ve been really inspired by different shop owners.
“I always wanted to have my own shop, so Jason and I agreed that he was moving on and I felt like starting from the ground up,” McIlroy said.
Realizing his dream in Oneonta, McIlroy said, was important.
“I knew I wanted to stay local. I got the shop right next to Liz’s, (the Underground Attic Vintage Boutique), and I think that whole area is going to get really cool,” he said. “We travel to get inspired (and) I want people to travel here to get inspired. I think it’s moving in that direction. I feel like I have enough street cred here and I got Jason’s blessing. I really care about the town and have good relationships with everyone in town … so it’s not so much a new shop, but a transformation of the old space.”
McIlroy said his work pairs years of ideas gleaned from around the world with on-the-job know-how to offer a variety of styles.
“I go to tattoo shops wherever we are, and it takes so long to get good at tattooing — to learn about the history, the application — that about 10 years in is when you really start to develop your style,” he said. “Jason really just gave me a big chance … and helped me grow a lot and gave me a lot of room to do my thing and get better, so there are a lot of styles I love doing. I don’t go searching for a style and in a small town, you’ve got to be pretty versatile.
“I’m trying to do work that’s so good and timeless that people say, ‘I’ve thought about a tattoo, but never saw one that looks like it will stand the test of time’,” he said. “If you give people that good emotional experience and have the knowledge to back it up, they’ll be more willing to travel.”
McIlroy said he has clients from “all over the place,” with some from traveling up to four hours.
“Being somewhere for 10 years and (having people) like the work, they end up coming back,” he said. “It’s a lot of people out of college, people that have a family or career and I’ve tattooed retired people. They find me or the Golden Lotus because they’ve done some research. A tattoo is like a piece of antique jewelry: if you’re going to spend money on it, you want to have it forever and (have it) be well-built, well-crafted and well-researched.”
The studio’s name, McIlroy said, reflects that sentiment.
“I think it was 263 B.C. when the (Irish wolfhound) breed was first recorded and it was looked at as a prized possession — something of great value and nobility,” he said. “I want people to associate that with my location and my whole message. I’m going to give you a talisman that’ll give you luck and confidence, whether you’re remembering a loved one or decorating your body.
“The more research I do into tattooing and these archaic cultures, the more I learn how it was the medicine man or shaman that did the tattooing and the changing of your skin into this new person that you were becoming,” he said. “I’ve always just been drawn to helping people with transitions.”