Student-turned-artist Abby Pedota works on a tattoo for current student Julian Terrazas at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink.

Student-turned-artist Abby Pedota works on a tattoo for current student Julian Terrazas at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Summit tattoo shop and school, a family operation, gives female artists a seat behind the needle

It started when Evelyn and Mike Lopez were laid off from their jobs. Now, she runs the business. He and their son create body art. And the school helps women “get their foot in the door” of a male-dominated industry.

After Evelyn and Mike Lopez both got laid off from their jobs at the same time in 2008, Mike Lopez offered his wife a suggestion for a risky next step.

“I said, ‘Hey, do you want to venture into opening up a tattoo shop?’ ” says Lopez, who creates tattoos under the name Mike Low. “She was scared at first.”

Now, their tattoo shop at 7522 63rd St. in Summit has a name — Exodus Ink — and an adjacent training school where the two work with their son Freddie Nieves, who works as Freddie Sunshine — to help tattoo artists and piercers hone their skills and find a place in the industry.

“We weren’t satisfied with just having a shop,” says Mike Lopez, 47. “And, of course, it was really, really hard because we didn’t have the backing of money or anything like that. From there, the idea of possibly teaching people how to tattoo just came about.”

(From left) piercer Freddie Nieves with parents and business co-owners Evelyn Lopez and Mike Lopez at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink in Summit.

(From left) piercer Freddie Nieves with parents and business co-owners Evelyn Lopez and Mike Lopez at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink in Summit.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

And so the Illinois Tattoo School was born.

Evelyn Lopez, 53, isn’t a tattoo artist herself but has taken the lead in managing the shop and school.

“When it came to starting the school, we noticed there was a need for artists to get a foot in the door,” she says. “In this industry, 15 years ago, it was very difficult, especially for women, to get a foot in the door.”

Tattoo artist Donna Anderson works on a client at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink in Summit.

Tattoo artist Donna Anderson works on a client at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink in Summit.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Most tattoo artists get their start through apprenticeships, Mike Lopez says. Some work under artists for years — often running errands or cleaning more than tattooing — before they start working on their own clients.

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That type of structure can make it especially tough for women to break into the industry, Evelyn Lopez says.

“Women were really afraid to step into this industry because it’s always been a male-driven industry,” she says.

“We want to remove that gatekeeping mindset,” her son says.

Today, most of the students attending the Illinois Tattoo School are women, according to Evelyn Lopez, who estimates that about 90% of the artists who work at Exodus Ink are women.

(From left) Tattoo artists Donna Anderson and Jocelyn Wayer, co-owner Evelyn Lopez, tattoo artists Abby Pedota and Taylor Seiber at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink.

(From left) Tattoo artists Donna Anderson and Jocelyn Wayer, co-owner Evelyn Lopez, tattoo artists Abby Pedota and Taylor Seiber at Illinois Tattoo School and Exodus Ink.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

“A lot of times, females feel more comfortable being tattooed by another female,” Evelyn Lopez says. “I’m so glad to have that door open for women and for those who are not able to get their foot in the door to learn proper techniques for tattooing and to grow in their artistic ways.”

She says her work-hard attitude comes from her mother, who moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago decades ago to become a nurse.

“Just to see her work so hard, that’s something she instilled in each of her children: Nothing is given to you,” Evelyn Lopez says.

The training program consists of an eight-week course during which students learn from books and practice. Freddie Nieves, 34, and Mike Lopez are among those who have even offered up their skin for students to practice on once they’ve completed the course.

The school and shop also offer piercing and piercing lessons, an area in which Nieves specializes.

He says he especially likes doing “constellation piercings,” working to curate a client’s ear piercings to make a more cohesive jewelryscape.

Freddie Nieves — known as Freddie Sunshine — specializes in “constellations piercings” like these, designing different piercings to work together.

Freddie Nieves — known as Freddie Sunshine — specializes in “constellations piercings” like these, designing different piercings to work together.

Provided

Mike Lopez, who grew up on the North Side, says he loves working in fine-line tattoos but also will do what clients ask for — including tattoos in the American traditional style, which he says Chicago seems to have an affinity for.

A fine-line snake tattoo by Mike Lopez, who, as a tattoo artist, goes by the name Mike Low.

A fine-line snake tattoo by Mike Lopez, who, as a tattoo artist, goes by the name Mike Low.

Provided

An arm tattoo done by Mike Lopez.

An arm tattoo done by Mike Lopez.

Provided

Mike Lopez says he was creating art even as a kid. Back then, though, he says he’d get in trouble for drawing in school.

At one point, he decided to buy a tattoo kit on eBay.

Of going from that to owning his own store with his family, he says, “I was sitting in my station, and I was so grateful I started to tear up and started to cry because so many people have come to me to leave a mark on them, to leave some bit of history on their body.”

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