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The Rebirth of Old Crow Tattoo: An Interview with Owner Hannah Wolf

Back color tattoo, nature theme with big bear and plants by hannah wolf

Old Crow Tattoo studio was founded in 2009 by Philip Milic and acquired by tattoo artist Hannah Wolf in 2020. Now situated at 5250 College Ave in Oakland, California, it is a female-run studio with resident artists Hannah Wolf, Laura Taylor, Natasha Tsozik, and international guest tattooists.

During an in-person conversation with Wolf, we learned more about the shop’s reorganization following a 10-month lockout, as well as its emphasis on fundraising for local charities and her aim to teach people about “The Science of Tattooing.”

Above: Hannah Wolf’s softly colored nature theme.
Wolf’s blackwork tattoo sleeve, completed at Old Crow. Geometric blackwork sleeve.
Wolf’s blackwork tattoo sleeve, completed at Old Crow.

What led to your decision to become the owner in 2020?

Laura Taylor and I are both Old Crow alumni. So we’ve got a little bit of Old Crow vibes still going here. But yeah, it’s different for sure. I miss a lot of the people at the last shop. The previous shop was probably three, four times the size of this one. We’ll see; the future isn’t written yet. So maybe someday we’ll be in a big studio like that again.

Laura Taylor, a British tattoo artist, is currently working on another design for the stomach.
Laura Taylor, a British tattoo artist, is currently working on another design for the stomach.

In other words, you’re not starting from scratch, as you’re utilizing existing components and already have Laura and yourself. Was it challenging to restructure and restart this business?

No, everything has been pretty smooth. I was busy before; I just wanted to keep Old Crow alive. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to do it, I guess, run it my way, but also, it’s been a staple here in Oakland for about 12 years. So it just seemed like it needed to keep going because we do a lot of community-oriented fundraising through the footprint of Old Crow and the reputation of Old Crow. This year, we’ve been able to raise about $9,000 for local charities.

Along with the large bird on the chest, the client requested that it be surrounded by subtle spider webs.
Along with the large bird on the chest, the client requested that it be surrounded by subtle spider webs.

Which charities?

So we raised about five grand for The East Oakland Collective, a nonprofit that provides food and services for low-income families and the homeless, which was extra important with Covid. And then we raised a little over four grand for Still Not Asking For It—a nonprofit that provides services for women involved in sexual assault cases. We probably wouldn’t have been able to help these causes as much as we did, if it weren’t for Old Crow’s platform.

Natasha Tsozik, a Russian artist, in action at the new Old Crow studio in Oakland.
Natasha Tsozik, a Russian artist, in action at the new Old Crow studio in Oakland.

Regarding resident artists at your studio, what’s particular about each person’s style of tattooing or the themes they do?

We have Laura Taylor here, who’s a pretty well-established artist from London. She’s been here in the Bay Area for quite some time. Her style is gothic, illustrative, and ornate. Then there is Natasha Tsozik, our other full-time tattooer who is from Siberia, Russia. I know Natasha got a tattoo by Laura before they ever worked together. The tattoo community in the Bay Area is pretty tiny. There are many people and tattooers here, but it’s not a very big community. So there’s a little bit of overlap for people.

We also have a couple of apprentices: Brianna Yeatts and Teasha Cardenad.

oakland's old crow studio entrance, with abstract calligraphy and leather chairs
The entrance to Old Crow.

And the guest artists.

Oh, we have a ton of guests. We love our guests; they come from all over the world. Now with Covid, we can’t get them traveling as often. But we get a lot of inquiries from people that want to come work with us.

Hannah Wolf’s tattoo work has been meticulously healed. Geometric blackwork tattoo sleeve.
Hannah Wolf’s tattoo work has been meticulously healed.

Were the Old Crow’s guest artists a particular strength?

Yes, absolutely! So that was something I wanted to keep doing. It is bringing excellent talent to the Bay Area and providing a home for it. I believe we have had ten guests so far, but we have many more guests scheduled for the rest of 2021. That’s always cool because it’s nice to get different perspectives from people. Especially during the pandemic, many of us tattooers are not traveling or attending conventions, so we must maintain our social aspect because that’s a big part of what this job is about. I.e., traveling around the world and drawing inspiration from different people and styles.

A video segment highlighting Wolf’s project, “The Science of Tattooing.”

On a different note, do you enjoy science and research?

Yes, I do. I did a couple of semesters in college, taking biology and chemistry classes. And I liked it. I got a little burnt out tattooing full-time and going to school. I ended up settling on tattooing as my career rather than doing all the other stuff. But something that I’ve become passionate about over the last couple of years, figuring out what the heck is in tattoo pigment and what happens to the human body once that’s in our system. So I’ve started a publishing company, and I worked with a couple of scientists, doctors, healthcare professionals, and regulatory professionals to compile this educational textbook and a research document that teaches the general public about chemistry, physiology, and some physics in tattooing. People can learn for themselves a little bit more about what’s in the pigments. After gaining a firm foundation from my book, they can inquire about MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) from ink manufacturers and the manufacturing process.

I’ve sat in on quite a few different panels for people talking about the future of regulation and tattooing in the United States, considering everything that’s happening in Europe with specific banned colors and additives.

Hannah Wolf—tattooist and owner of Old Crow Tattoo Studio and Gallery.
Hannah Wolf—tattooist and owner of Old Crow Tattoo Studio and Gallery.

You are referring to blue 15:3 and green 7.

I read a lot of the EU’s research on why they wanted to ban these color additives for tattooing. The big thing is it’s a topical skin irritant, which gives us a lot of mixed feelings because there isn’t enough supporting evidence to show that it’s dangerous once tattooed in the skin. They can say, “Okay, well it’s dangerous on the skin, so potentially it could be dangerous in the skin.” Still, I feel like that’s a significant stream to jump without having specific and solid evidence. So I think that’s where many tattooers come forward with their frustration with the regulation on the European front. And unfortunately, I don’t believe the United States is that far behind it at this point.

Hannah Wolf has finished her portrait of Prince.
Hannah Wolf has finished her portrait of Prince.

I agree the US will follow. However, is this a negative thing?

It’s not a good thing, but in some ways, it also is a positive thing because there’s also a lot of evidence that supports why these regulators want to shut down a couple of different products.

A glimpse of Laura Taylor in her Oakland shop.
A glimpse of Laura Taylor at work.

Over time, the pigments will evolve and innovate.

Exactly! So innovation will be born from all of this, and it might cost pigment manufacturers a little more time and money. Still, in the end, the big thing is that we have a safer industry, and that’s kind of what I’m advocating for with my publishing company.

Photos © Scene360