The Sugarbox tattoo studio is located on Kalakaua Avenue- tucked away from the normal bustle of Waikiki. New and old artwork and photographs fill the walls, and tattoo magazines are spread across the desk. The white tile floors, sparse furnishings and large windows make the small studio feel spacious. And, in the middle of the studio, Sugarbox owner Adam Siehr designs custom tattoos.
Sugarbox is one of the few studios that focus solely on custom work, treating tattooing more as an art than a trend. Siehr has been a tattoo artist for 15 years, and for him, it is a lifestyle. Siehr said, “Graffiti art was my gateway.” However, at 17, Siehr discovered tattoo art. “I fell off a freight train I was painting on and sort of fell into tattooing. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Although he makes a good living creating custom tattoos, Siehr also has a second studio in Waikiki where he accepts walk-in customers. “Typically, in the winter, I get at least two walk-ins per day. In the summer, I get three or more. I work twelve ‘til twelve at the Waikiki studio and only come to Sugarbox for appointments.” On average, Adam Siehr tattoos eight to ten customers per day, but it wasn’t always that busy. Tattoo artists, just as any other type of artist, must establish their reputation in order to ensure a steady clientele. “If you move somewhere new you have to start all over again,” Siehr said. “After nine years living in Hawaii I don’t want to move somewhere else and try to establish my reputation again.”
Tattoo art has always had a following, and Siehr’s clients are adamant believers. “I think it is definitely an art. It has so much history to it, and as a person or a culture you just see it as an art,” said Haunani Rimmel, who visited the Sugarbox with her boyfriend Guy Heresa. Mark Christen Math has a similar opinion. “I would say tattoo art has as much, if not more so, legitimacy than any other kind of art. Art can be destroyed, in a sense, but tattoos live with you until you’re gone. It’s an expression of art on your body.”
Though tattoo shops, like Siehr’s, may be a common part of American culture, artists are still struggling to legitimize their work as true art. “Some artists don’t believe tattoo artists are real artists,” Siehr added. “They don’t take them seriously. I’d also like the public to be more accepting (of tattoos).”
There are a wide variety of tattoo styles and shops, just as there are a wide variety of customers. Some prefer walk-in shops for spur of the moment tattoos or in order to get a quick souvenir of their trip. Waikiki and downtown Honolulu are full of such walk-in shops. Some tattoo customers, however, believe that tattoos should be well thought out and meaningful to the individual. “I have my son’s name on my back,” said Guy Heresa, singer for local band Irie Souls. “It means ‘beloved child that will be looked upon with love and respect.’” For some, tattoos are an expression of their individuality. According to Felix Gabhardt, “It represents my two sides. When my parents saw my tattoos it was like seeing how they looked at me my whole life. Like they were shocked. It shows that I am kind of a rebel.”
Tattoo art has evolved tremendously in the past few years, and Sugarbox is one of the custom studios where people can work with the artist to create something that is unique. According to many, tattooing will continue to flourish. “I think the blending of styles is awesome,” Siehr said. “Things are always changing. Things are being put onto skin now that 50 years ago couldn’t be done.” Math agreed, “It’s more widely accepted now than ever, and I think it’s just going to progress even more.”
However, Siehr does believe that traditional cultural methods should not be forgotten. “All cultures have a different style. With cultural aspects, these things should be kept sacred and unchanged.”
Those with tattoos often develop a deep love for tattooing as an art. And Heresa described his tattoos as a memento of sorts. “It’s a rush. The noise of the gun, you know? It’s needles ripping into your skin, but what you get is art and it reminds you of something, a past time, a memory. I hope tattoo art lives on forever.”
To contact Adam Siehr, call 391-8287, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Custom Tattooing LLC.
434 Ena Road