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Old school, new ways at Ink Storm

Shop hosts events for community causes

STERLING – The collaboration between some very young artists and the 46-year-old owner is something that makes Ink Storm Tattoos special, owner Dan Covell said.

“I have a lot of old-school experience,” he said, “and I have their new ways of looking at things.”

Covell describes his own style as “neotraditional,” which involves lots of color, big, heavy thick lines, and thin lines in certain spots. This style is evident in one of his creations: a red skull with a furrowed brow, yellow eyes, and M&Ms (red, green, orange and blue) for teeth.

Artist Zack Martin, 23, of rural Sterling, has a style Covell describes as “new wave” or “new school.” That style means “big, bold colors, bold outlines, everything popped and in-your-face; here it is,” Covell said. The style is almost cartoonish in its use of color, Covell observed.

One of Martin’s masterpieces is a bright purple owl, with yellow eyes, sitting on a branch.

And Michael Dubois, 21, of Polo, has a more “traditional style” reminiscent of the 1940s but done with better, more modern inks, Covell said.

Dubois is the artist who created a tattoo of a sailboat with yellow sails and “homeward” written under it in dark blue ink.

Dubois also focuses his energies on photorealism, which he employed when drawing a very realistic-looking red rose.

Covell’s age is greater than the combined ages of the two “hot shots” in the shop. But a passion for quality body art has transcended the generations.

The tattoo shop’s prices, at $60 to $100 an hour, are considered by some to be high, Dubois said.

“But we have to put in more and more,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s the best quality. We put more time into it than a lot of people would.”

About 90 percent of the tattoos done at Ink Storm are custom drawn, Covell said.

“We really like the idea, because who wants to walk around with something everyone else has?” Covell said.

Ink Storm artists like to challenge themselves. Covell has done about 20,000 tattoos on clients, and says he still has not done his favorite.

Dubois has a similar tendency to best himself.

“Every tattoo you do should be cooler than the one you did before,” Dubois said.

The artists regularly attend seminars and conventions to remain “at the top of [the] game,” Covell said.

And the activities at the shop can be unpredictable, Covell said. They often host events for various causes, such as Honor Flight. In October, they hosted a fundraiser for CGH Health Foundation for local mammograms.

The artists take pride in having a friendly atmosphere and sometimes play washers outside, Dubois said.

Two electric guitars hang in the shop, remnants of a brief time when the shop was selling a larger stock of used musical instruments. Musicians sometimes play in the shop; Covell calls himself a “former wannabe musician.”

Martin, who has been tattooing for 5 years, said he has many favorites among the tattoos that he has created. But one sticks out in his memory: a young woman with black, bobbed hair, holding a human heart, arteries and all, biting into it with a wicked look on her face.

You might have guessed it: a bad break-up inspired the design.

“Instead of getting upset about it, I just painted it,” he said.

Martin, originally from Rochelle, spent 2 years working in tattoo shops in Reno, Nev.

While Martin tattooed her, Lacy Snyder, 23, of Rock Falls, said she liked the atmosphere of the shop.

“Everyone’s laid back,” she said.

The laid-back atmosphere also is seen in the encouragement that Covell gives to his customers to take their time when considering a tattoo.

Covell’s body has been a canvas for about 200 hours of tattoo work, and while he says he doesn’t regret his tattoos, he does wish he had put more thought into some of the work he had done.

“Think about what you want,” he said. “Then when you really know what you want, think about it another week.”

Ink Storm Tattoos

110 S. Second Ave.

Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday

Phone: 815-499-9127

More info: Check the Facebook page

About this series

This story is the fourth in a series by SVM reporter Bridget Flynn called Sauk Valley Ink. The series will feature local tattoo shops and local perspectives on tattoos.

If you have a tattoo and a story behind it that you would like to share, our photographers would like to photograph you for publication. Please email Flynn at or 800-798-4085, ext. 521, and she will arrange a photo shoot. We will publish some of the most intriguing body art.

If you are a parent with an opinion about letting your child have a tattoo, please contact Flynn.

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