Miami Ink: Veteran artist brings grit to Oxford's tattoo industry
Published: Friday, November 7, 2008
Updated: Sunday, February 14, 2010 23:02
Eddie Swan is no newcomer to Oxford, or the tattooing business.
Originally from Hamilton, Swan attended Miami University from 1971 to 1976. He has been doing tattoos for 37 years.
Swan opened Lost Planet Tattoo & Body Piercing at 5 S. Beech St. in mid-Aug., making it the town's third tattoo shop.
It's been a couple years since Swan closed his last tattoo shop in Cumberland, Ky. to be closer to family. As a tattoo artist, this is his last hurrah.
"I thought I was retired but I didn't care much for that," Swan said. "I figured it was time to go back to work for a while … this will probably be it for me. I'm not going to move again."
It took Swan a couple summer months to unload his truckloads of equipment and to lay down a vinyl floor to meet Health Department standards. Swan signed a 5-year lease on the building and said he'll stick around for at least that long.
For Swan, a Lost Planet store in Oxford has been a long time coming.
"I used to always come up [to Oxford] looking for a good spot to open up," he said.
Still, Swan knew there might be some hard feelings when Oxford's two other ink establishments learned of Lost Planet coming to town. After Panama Reds Tattoo Studio declined his offer to work nights there, Swan decided to open up a tattoo shop of his own.
"I ain't no stranger to this town," he said. "(Vertigo and Panama Reds) knew they were going to have to step their game up."
Oxford's Lost Planet marks Swan's third tattoo shop. Before he moved the store to Cumberland, Ky. a dozen years ago, Swan worked in downtown Cincinnati for 25 years.
Thanks to Cumberland's low store rental costs, Swan could temporarily close his shop in winters past. Until re-opening Lost Planet each April, he made annual trips first through New Orleans for Mardi gras and to visit family. From there, Swan spent most of his vacations tattooing in the Bahamas, a place he misses.
"I've got quite a history with that country," Swan said, pointing to the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort (located in Nassau, Bahamas) commercial, coincidentally on the TV. "I took tattooing to the Bahamas, and since then, they've opened up two shops in Nassau."
With Oxford's high property bills, this year Swan can't afford the luxury of a winter getaway, but looks forward to enjoying the chilly months in Ohio for a change. Having dealt with the Spring Break crowd in the Bahamas, Swan doesn't take trash from customers, regardless of their sobriety.
"I don't deal well with drunken bravery tattoo attempts," he said.
Swan doesn't take sass from students either, and has no problem with kicking obnoxious people out of his store.
"It's fun sometimes," he said.
With years of tattooing experience, Swan won't agree to tattoo designs he dislikes. At this point, he doesn't have to.
"If it's something stupid and I don't want to do it, I won't do it," he said. "One tattoo won't make or break me."
Typically, Swan won't ever tattoo anyone's hands, face or neck.
"I don't care for all that gangster-looking bullsh*t," he said.
While most students are more interested in getting a job than a neck tat, Swan's hesitancy to tattoo these areas doesn't make him any less tough. He is also adamantly against easily-concealed tattoos.
"All these girls want stuff on their foot and I don't do that," Swan said. "If they're getting it there just to hide it from their mommies, I turn them down. Happens almost everyday."
Instead, Swan spends his time on more dedicated, practical clients. Many clients come in to cover up older bad tattoo jobs or an ex-girlfriend's name. One Butler County police officer went to Swan to replace the Tasmanian devil on his shoulder with a more mature Taurus design.
Another satisfied customer, 20-year-old UDF employee and admitted tattoo addict Matt Petz chose to go with Swan as well. The result: a Phoenix bird Swan designed himself, taking up 1/3 of his back.
"He's awesome," Petz said. "He definitely knows what he's doing … and he did it for about half of what I would've paid somewhere else."
With Lost Planet located across the street from UDF, Petz didn't choose the tattoo shop merely for its proximity or affordability. He was impressed with Swan's quality and efficiency.
"He works really quick-he had (my tattoo) done in three and a half hours," Petz said.
Apparently, Swan's client choosiness hasn't hurt sales very much.
"Business has not been bad at all," he said.
Though he admitted, "If I didn't turn down so much it could be a lot better."
As far as "Lucky Eddie Swan's Lost Planet" is concerned, "This Is The Place," as it reads on his business card. With Vertigo Tattoo & Body Piercing below ground and Panama Reds on an upper-level, Swan thinks he has the best location of the three shops.
Swan usually arrives at Lost Planet at noon and tries to stay open later than Vertigo or Panama. If it's dead by 8 p.m. he leaves, but often stays open as late as midnight.
"You've got to be open to get business," Swan said. "Sunday is my day off, but I still come in here time to time. I'll work probably til they carry me out of here."
In a few years, Swan hopes people lose their perception that Lost Planet is the "new kid on the block." By then, first-year students won't know which tattoo shop came first.
As the sole employee at Lost Planet, Swan is open to the idea of hiring an apprentice but remains cautious. In a career spanning 4 decades, he has had only 3 apprentices. Of Swan's three sons, none are interested in tattoos.
"It would have to be a real special situation," he said. "I know how that goes. (Apprentices will) go right behind your back, jump ship and open up their own store. I've seen it before."
In the meantime, Swan remains content to dedicate his time to the art of inking.
"This is my life," he said, looking around his studio, taking a last puff of his second Marlboro Red.