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Behind the ink: The tattoo scene keeps Felipe Sales ‘inspired’

Felipe 'Manga' Sales, 33, is a tattoo artist at Studio One in Pilsen on Sept. 7, 2018.|Eliza Davidson/Chicago Sun-Times.

When Felipe ‘Manga’ Sales pierces his clients’ skin with ink, he prefers to listen to old-school hip hop or old-school samba.

He loves the work he does — the satisfaction of inking in a line on skin, the pleased reactions from customers who love his art, mostly black and gray images of plants, animals or anatomy.

Sales has been working as a professional tattoo artist for eight years, and is always looking to improve and create new designs while juggling several clients each day.

When he first started tattooing, he bought a DIY kit online and tattooed his friends. Growing up in the punk rock era and skateboarding scene, it was part of the culture.

“I remember the first time I saw a tattoo. I was just a kid and it was on the back cover of this Guns N’ Roses album,” Sales said. “I always liked rock music, I saw that and I saw those guys tattooed and thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Video by Eliza Davidson

Sales works out of Studio One, a spacious, tattoo shop with hardwood floors and art-covered walls that’s been in Pilsen for almost 10 years, though it recently moved to a new location on 18th and May streets.

Since the 33-year-old Brazilian artist moved to Chicago four years ago, he feels like the vibrant tattoo scene here has pushed him creatively.

“Moving to Chicago and working here made my work much, much better,” Sales said. “I feel like I’m always inspired.”

Sales thinks there’s a misconception that being a tattoo artist isn’t real work, that a studio is filled with outlaws just “hanging out.”

He wants people to know, “It’s a real job. We pay taxes, the city comes to inspect everything.”

Sales takes his art just as seriously as he takes the city’s laws and health inspections.

He’s always drawing, and studying other artists and old nature illustrations. His favorite part of the job is when clients give him freedom to put his own creativity into the tattoo.

Felipe ‘Manga’ Sales, 33, tattoos Erin Murphy at Studio One in Pilsen on Sept. 7, 2018. | Eliza Davidson/Sun-Times
Felipe ‘Manga’ Sales, 33, tattoos Erin Murphy at Studio One in Pilsen on Sept. 7, 2018. | Eliza Davidson/Sun-Times

One client, 29-year-old Erin Murphy, has given him reign to create large pieces of art on both her legs. On one, an award-winning design features his signature elements — a crystal, flowers and leaves, and a snake. On the other leg, he works on shading in a large bird.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity to find an artist willing to create something that I wouldn’t have been able to come up with myself,” Murphy said.

More people have tattoos these days than people who don’t, Murphy thinks. She works at a florist shop in West Loop, but she thinks as the stigma of tattoos fades away, anyone can rock some ink.

“You’re a nurse, you have tattoos, you’re a teacher, you have tattoos. You can do all these things and still be able to present yourself,” she said.