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Feast for the Eyes

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Noel Minturn has been around the art of tattoos for years through her acquaintance with artists who create the body pictures as well as her own fascination with the form. Just over a year ago, she opened Eye Candy (1578 Magazine St., 299-8222) to provide her artist friends a quality place to work and customers a stimulating environment to accumulate their own personal tattoo collections.

"Tattoos started out as a hobby for me," says the 32-year-old entrepreneur. "I know quite a few people who do (the art side of) tattoos and wanted to open an upscale tattoo shop, a nice environment for them to work in and a nice place for people to come in and be comfortable while getting a tattoo."

The first hint of the visual feast awaiting customers to Eye Candy is the exterior of the building, painted in bright colors and intriguing designs. Inside, instead of faded pictures of standard tattoos, Minturn has decked the walls with art and sculpture. The rest of the art inside the studio can be found on human bodies.

"Thanks to MTV ... and the NBA ... tattoos have become more popular and accepted," says Minturn. "People aren't as shocked as they used to be when they see people with tattoos. That's more surprising to me than the fact that more people are getting then." The range of customers also is expanding to include mothers and professionals as well as young people and the offbeat.

The Uptown tattoo shop deals mainly with larger human art pieces and high-quality images of smaller sizes. Customers can come into the shop with just an idea and the artists will draw up a concept or they can bring in a photograph of an image and the artists will refine it to make it fit well on the body. "We'll do anything anybody wants -- almost," the owner says. "We do more big, colorful pieces. We do a lot of custom work; the guys who work here do a lot of drawing. Not everything that looks good on paper will look good on your body, and sometimes they have to revise (pictures people bring in)."

One of the cliched notions attached to tattoos over the past few decades has been the perception of people going out, getting really drunk and getting a tattoo in their alcohol-induced stupor. That's not something that happens at Eye Candy, Minturn laughs.

"We want customers to be happy," she says. "The tattoo's going to be there forever, so we try to make sure they're not just getting something on the spur of the moment that they'll be sorry about later." First-time tattoo customers are eased through the process with extra care.

On the health side, Minturn says the Eye Candy staff takes every precaution against infections and contamination, using disposable equipment where possible and putting everything else through an autoclave, a machine used in hospitals to sterilize equipment that comes in contact with patients. "We're very clean over here," Minturn says. "We've had people comment that the shop is cleaner than their doctor's offices."

Most of the shop's customers come in because Eye Candy's artists have a lot of experience in applying tattoos over large areas, such as an entire arm, a leg or the back, or because the business has been recommended by a satisfied customer.

"We have a big repeat clientele and people getting big pieces," she says. "Of course, the tattoos speak for themselves. They're the best advertising we can get. We have people who come in and say, 'I saw your work on someone and had to come in.'"

Tattoo designs can take from 30 minutes to several days to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the artwork. Minturn has a tattoo of Laverne, Shirley and the cast of the old TV show covering an entire arm, a project that took 35 hours and six visits to a tattoo artist to complete. The length of a session depends on how long a customer wants to sit in one place at one time, she says.

The Magazine Street shop also does a lively business with tourists, who are steered there by word of mouth or discover the business' Web site on the Internet, www.eyecandytattoo.com. "We were one of the first tattoo businesses to have a Web site, and I think it helps people from out of town find us," Minturn says. "Of course, we hope it's our work."

The owner, who grew up in New Orleans, and the local artists who work in the shop, hope Eye Candy's concept of an upscale but comfortable environment and high-quality work will keep them on the cusp of the tattoo business.

"Tattoos are really special to me," Minturn says, "and I thought I'd open a shop that would help the industry progress."

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