The popularity of photorealism and portrait tattoos has been on the rise in recent years. Still, a search for local artists who have actually mastered the style may only yield a few results.
One of the best Rochester has to offer is Dawn Kelley, artist and co-owner at Lucky Lotus Studio on Elton Street.
Kelley has an uncanny gift for capturing a subject’s realism, whether it’s a photo of a child, an animal, or music icons like Joey Ramone or Jerry Garcia.
The secret to Kelley’s gift lies in the fact that she isn’t a tattoo artist who learned how to do portraits. She’s a portrait artist who learned how to do tattoos.
Kelley was first exposed to tattooing at the age of 13 when she went with her older brother to get his first tattoo. From there, she was hooked.
“It was a really cool experience, being able to do your art and interact with people,” she recalls.
Still, Kelley, who had been into art most of her life, was on a corporate career path after school. She was even offered the opportunity to design for a major advertising company, but turned it down to become a tattoo artist.
Even before tattooing, Kelley would do commissioned portraits. She says her use of graphite in doing portraits transferred well to the specialized world of tattoo shading.
Kelley’s gotten so good at it that she’s currently booked through the fall.
“It came on really quick,” she says. “I’m still trying to get used to it. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the books work.”
Portraits and photorealism tattoos make up about 80 percent of Kelley’s work, but she says never gets tired of doing them.
“I love people and I love their faces,” says Kelley. “I love finding their souls and capturing the things that make them who they are. I never get bored with it. It’s the thing I can’t wait to come in and do each day.”
~ Troy L. Smith