Dee Dee Seruga works on the beginning stages of Ty Remondelli's tattoo sleeve. This appointment was scheduled well in advance; requiring research and custom artwork by Seruga. Remondelli says of his custom-made "Killer Clowns from Outer Space" tattoo: "I'm into horror movies. It's both parts of me; dark and comedic." When he viewed Seruga's original sketches, he said with a smile, "It was more than I expected."

Even if you would never walk into a tattoo shop, most of us have some fascination with the whole concept of tattooing and the artistry behind a brilliantly administered tattoo.

Yet not so long ago, tattoos were considered badges of honor only suitable for sailors, soldiers and bikers.

That stereotype is changing as cultures embrace the idea of tattooing to express individuality.

And more than ever, the tattoo artist's signature artistry comes through, displayed on the canvas of human skin.

Tattooing is an art form, practiced by artists who have mastered the same skill set as graduates from art institutions. Dee Dee Seruga and Michelle Gallo both studied art and have extensive resumes in their field, 15 and 19 years of experience, respectively.

Each can document lists of happy customers who often wait a month or more to get in for an appointment.

They work together at Requiem Body Art in Spring Hill, a Northcliffe Boulevard studio where there is much more going on than simple "skin poking." The prep stages are far lengthier than one might expect, depending on the size and detail of each tattoo.

Inside the artfully decorated building, Seruga is busy transposing her sketches for a customer who would begin his first session toward receiving a full sleeve later that afternoon.

After determining the customer's vision, based on the movie "Killer Clowns from Outer Space," Segura started researching. "I'd never seen the movie," she said. She borrowed the DVD and watched it, sketching images while pausing the frames, and then copying them on a thermal fax that creates the stencils.

She had a handful of images she'd later tattoo onto the customer's arm.

The first session was expected to take at least nine hours, Seruga said, which isn't at all uncommon, especially for a sleeve. Most take a minimum of 30 hours, broken up into smaller sessions over time.

Custom tattooing is what Requiem Body Art does. Rarely does a customer opt for a stock tattoo.

More typically, they will describe what they want and Seruga or Gallo will draft the images. Each tattoo, then, becomes unique and an expression of both the artist and the individual.

"We try and get a good concept of what the customer wants before we draw for them," Gallo explained.

Samples of their work are displayed in portfolios, available for browsing. Many of the images preserve a memory, express a symbolic icon or immortalize a family member.

Tattoos are permanent; both Seruga and Gallo stress the decision shouldn't be entertained lightly. While options do exist for tattoo removal, the process is typically painful and costly.

Sometimes the best option for an unwanted tattoo is to cover it or blend it into a brand new image.

In fact, Gallo is working with a customer who had two layering attempts done to remove a stock tattoo that was applied in the '80s. Gallo is creating all new artwork and the customer will be a recurrent visitor as the process is completed.

Requiem's customer base is largely compiled of repeaters who, as Seruga puts it, "collect art." Others come from referrals through very satisfied clientele.

"They become walking billboards for us," Seruga said.

Gallo is also very involved in areola repigmentation, or nipple tattooing, which follows breast reconstruction in mastectomy patients. Her artistic skills allow Gallo to make a positive and emotional impact.

Paul Kriner rounds out the team as Requiem's only body piercer. The art of body piercing doesn't require as much prep work. Often a customer can just walk in and receive a piercing on the spot.

Make no mistake; Kriner is truly an artist in his field with an extensive 10-year resume and membership in the Association of Professional Piercers (

Kriner's demeanor is calming yet informative as he guides his customers through the process with an almost methodic tone.

Karina Wroble had her septum, the soft tissue between her nostrils, pierced. Hesitant at first because she wanted the piercing to be discreet, Kriner eased her concerns by demonstrating how the jewelry could be "tucked away" any time she wanted it hidden. She left very pleased with the process.

Ty Remondelli, 18, who was receiving the first step in his tattoo sleeve, was visibly impressed with Seruga's sketches. He'd been tattooed before, on his chest, so he wasn't expecting a pain-free experience. Still, he was surprised at how little it hurt compared to his first tattoo.

"It was like an ant bite," Remondelli said.

Gallo explained that the level of pain is variable in different people.

After a few hours it tends to get a little worse depending on the individual's pain tolerance.

The studio is cozy, well-maintained and clean. Every health precaution against infection has been addressed.

Requiem Body Art also adapts certain fundamental boundaries including age requirements on both tattooing and piercing.

"We don't tattoo anyone under 18 here," Gallo said. The minimum age for piercings is 15 with parental consent. The artists will decline any job they don't feel comfortable with, including certain images that might be deemed offensive.

To satisfy a longtime curiosity, I went "under the needle" for my first tattoo. Gallo tattooed a stock image, the autism symbol embraced in a heart, on my left ankle.

The process took less than an hour, and was, surprisingly, a very stress-relieving experience.

For me, the "anticipation" of the pain was much worse than the reality.

But my expectations of the ending result were far exceeded.

I will display my passion proudly as I plan for a return visit.

"We do a good job and people are drawn in because of the job we do," Kriner said.

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