The sound of tattoo guns mingling with rhythmic rock music greets customers as they walk into Aloha Art Collective in Woodbury. A big picture of a wave breaking hangs over a comfy couch with pineapple throw pillows in the waiting area. Traditional tattoo art décor is juxtaposed with a surfboard, and a sign emblazoned with “mahalo!”
This is a far cry from the heavy-metal image that comes to mind for many of us when we think of tattoo shops. That’s because Aloha Art Collective is here to change the way you think about body art.
“I started Aloha Art Collective to have a place where everyone could be included. Whether you were LGBTQ, straight, white, black, Hawaiian, Samoan, whatever. I wanted it to be a place where artists could come and have a creative, warm environment to work and grow,” says Aaron Michael, owner and artist at Aloha Art Collective
A Minnesota native, Michael has been tattooing for 14 years. His love for the art started when he followed his wife to Hawaii, where he started surfing and became involved with the culture and the art scene that came with it. He opened a tattoo shop with some friends when he and his wife moved to Costa Rica, and lived there for seven years before returning to the Midwest.
Now, Michael says that Woodbury provides a unique opportunity for a diverse group of clients: people of all ages and tastes are looking for tattoos. From high school kids to a World War II veteran getting his first tattoo, Michael likes working with clients to realize their ideas on paper before working on the skin.
“You’re not a painter, where you choose exactly what you want to do. You are working with someone who has an idea in their head about how they want it to look. They have to live with the tattoo, so I want it to be something they love as well,” says Michael.
Various tattoo trends—like watercolor or realism styles—come in and out of popularity depending on the year. One of the steady trends across the industry, though, is the simple rise of visible tattoos, as stigmas and prejudices around body art start to fade, Michael says.
“It’s really mainstream right now, but it wasn’t always like that. That underground art and culture thing, that was something that attracted me to the business,” says Michael.
April 1 marked Aloha Art Collective’s three-year anniversary in Woodbury. Besides Michael, there are four other tattoo artists and four microblading artists. Microblading—where an artist uses a small blade to deposit pigment under the skin—is rapidly growing in popularity, says Michael. It’s often used to enhance eyebrows, like semi-permanent makeup.
While we’re visiting the shop, a pair of clients walks in. They’re here to get matching tattoos featuring each other’s handwriting. As Michael works with them to get the exact design down, they joke around and the other artists say hello.
Another client we meet is a repeat customer. She shows us the phoenix Michael is working on up the side of her body. It’s a twisting tapestry of color, and with more than 20 hours of work in it, close to finished. She says she likes Aloha because it’s a fun place to be, and everyone there is always happy and fun to hang out with.
This is apparent as the two new clients sit down to get started. A small crowd gathers, pulling up chairs and exchanging stories and jokes. You can see the vision of Aloha, right there around the table, as an impromptu bond emerges, and a smile splits Michael’s face as he begins to work. “I’m happy when I’m tattooing. It doesn’t even really matter what it is. I just love doing it.”