BY JEREMY SHERE
Among the handful of tattoo parlors in Bloomington, one — Time and Tide Tattoo — stands out, thanks largely to founder Colin McClain’s reputation as the best tattoo artist in town.
“Other tattoo artists often ask me how I’ve managed to gain so many loyal clients,” says McClain, 34, who opened Time and Tide Tattoo on East 6th Street in 2013. “My answer is that I make tattooing all about the customer by listening and giving them the tattoo they really want and not just the tattoo I think they want.”
As an artistically minded teenager growing up in Bloomington in the 1990s, McClain loved the visual style of comic books and punk rock album covers and spent much of his free time at Skinquake, a local tattoo parlor that has since closed. After apprenticing at the shop for six months, McClain was allowed to work on actual customers, an experience he describes as “terrifying.”
“It’s the finality of the thing,” he says. “When you’re drawing on paper, or even doing graffiti, there’s freedom to mess around and make mistakes. But a tattoo has to come out right the first time.”
Nearly a decade and a half later, McClain has fully embraced the challenge of tattooing and developed an approach that has elevated him to top status among Bloomington tattoo practitioners.
“There’s a big push to define tattooing as an art form, which to a degree it is, but I approach it mainly as a craft and type of commercial art,” he says. “I’m being commissioned by my customers to design something, and it takes two to make it happen. So I try to remove myself a little bit and really listen to customers’ desires.”
Another key to McClain’s success, he says, is his longevity. Where many tattoo artists move from shop to shop and city to city, McClain has taken pains to establish himself in his hometown.
“I believe that one of the best things you can do as a tattoo artist is to plant yourself and grow some roots,” he says. “If you focus on serving the community you live in, the community will respond by giving you business.”