Feb 132008
Authors: Jessi Stafford

Tom Karl is an electrical engineer from South Dakota. He considers himself good at what he does and committed to his craft.

So when he moved to Fort Collins one year ago, he envisioned days filled with problem solving and solid 9-to-5s.

But after spending a significant amount of time searching for a place in his field and coming up with nothing, Karl knew he needed to rethink his career path.

Soon after, Karl’s new path lead him to the tattoo industry.

“My parents are baffled, my friends are baffled, everyone is,” Karl said.

But, for Karl, the decision to open Total Eclipse Body Art Studio was a logical one, as are many of his decisions.

“I couldn’t find a job in my field here . so I created one myself,” he said.

It may seem easy enough, but Karl will be the first to admit his job’s not all needles and skin.

A boy, a girl and a tattoo

When Karl made the decision to go ahead with his project, his girlfriend, Brecken Baker, 29, jumped on board.

This, says Karl, may have been their first mistake.

“Some days I question what the hell I was thinking,” Baker said.

“Most days I question what the hell I was thinking,” Karl added.

While Baker is finishing her applied mathematics degree at CSU and Karl is “literally obsessed” with Total Eclipse, it’s difficult for the two to find time for each other.

“There was a period of about four or five days when I didn’t even leave this place,” Karl said.

“When I’m here he just needs to take a freaking day off,” Baker said. “But it’s getting better.”

Before they could open the doors to the general public, the couple attempted to do some of the interior reconstruction themselves, and soon they realized it was an unrealistic goal.

So, after hiring out some of the work and finishing up what they could themselves, they opened up shop on Dec. 21.

Now completely immersed in the world of body art, Karl surrounds himself with equipment he knew next-to-nothing about, people who have skin more colorful than his wardrobe and a culture that has gained popularity only in recent years.

In light of this, Baker wasn’t all that surprised when Karl got his first tattoo.

“It’s a Kurt Vonnegut self-portrait,” he said. “He’s one of the authors who helped define my growing up. I read him in middle school all the way until . ”

“Still,” Baker said.

“Yeah, still.”

Baker has a few herself. One represents a trip she took when her best friend ended a drug addiction.

They both say they want to get more; Karl is thinking of Hunter S. Thompson.

Inspired ink

Bobby Schmidt stuck his foot in the tattoo industry door in 1981 at age 19. And since then he’s traveled across the States inking all kinds of skin. He even spent some time as an instructor at In the Flesh Body Graphics, a tattoo school since 1998.

“When I started in ’81, you couldn’t find a tattoo shop on every corner. A lot has changed since then,” he said.

When Schmidt made the decision to leave In the Flesh and head toward the Front Range, he just packed up his things and started driving.

“Tom called me when I was in Vail and asked if I wanted to come work for him,” he said. “I told him I would be there in a couple hours.”

Although it seemed like fate at the time, Schmidt admits that his choice to work at Total Eclipse was a rather precarious move considering Karl’s lack of experience in the industry.

“It was a risky investment, but I took it,” he said.

And now Total Eclipse’s lead artist is confident he made the right choice, he says.

“There are classic mistakes owners make in this industry,” Schmidt said. “It’s a mix of science and art.”

But, so far, Karl has seemed to take criticism and suggestions to heart.

“It’s like, we can lay out a bunch of stuff on the table and he can pick and choose what he wants,” Schmidt said. “So far he’s chosen wisely.”

More importantly, Schmidt says, the pure talent of the collective whole will get this studio off the ground.

“I’m really excited about this shop,” he said. “This is probably the best crew I’ve seen.”

And while each artist undoubtedly has his or her specialty, they all enjoy learning from each other.

“I’m an old dog. It’s easy to be complacent and get stuck in this industry,” he said. “I am really excited to learn from the other artists . to feel encouraged and inspired.”

Karl is equally anxious for the artists to swap knowledge.

“That’s one of the really nice things. They want to improve their craft by learning from others,” he said.

A total eclipse

Since the doors opened and the seven artists began their work, the studio has survived on determination, talent and a smattering of clients.

But Karl, Baker and their crew are confident things will only improve from here.

“Collectively there’s nothing we can’t do,” Schmidt said.

Staff writer Jessi Stafford can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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