Skip to main content

Local artist inks contract for private studio in Appleton

Storied art career leads Carli Ihde to independent tattooing opportunity

share arrow printer bookmark flag

January 24, 2024

APPLETON — With the way art has been a permanent fixture in Carli Ihde’s life, it’s perhaps fitting for her art itself to be permanently affixed.

Though her professional chalk drawings may fade from the pavement, and her cable-televised carved pumpkins are only a seasonal medium, Ihde’s artistic talents have found a way to truly last: tattooing.

“Out of all the jobs I’ve had, (tattooing) is the best job in the world,” Ihde said.

With the opening of Carlieyed Tattoo, Ihde said she has a new home for her tattooing passion.

Located at 1515 West Wisconsin Ave. in Appleton, Ihde said Carlieyed — the phonetic spelling of her full name — Tattoo represents the next step in her artistic evolution, independence and expression.

“It felt correct,” she said. “I was excited to build something from the ground up and have it be purely me.”

Drawing interest
Ihde said she’s been tattooing professionally for five years, though her artistic track record traces back to toddlerhood.

“I always tell people I won my first art contest when I was three years old,” she said. “It was ‘Daddy’s New Shoes,’ and it was a picture of my dad wearing bunny slippers. He never owned bunny slippers. (My mom) sent it to a parenting magazine, and I won, I think, $150. I think I’ve been riding that high ever since.”

Ihde, who grew up in Suamico, said her mother was an art teacher, instilling a love of art in her and her sisters at an early age.

“Our family was very much, ‘oh, you want to watch a movie? Why don’t you draw instead,'” she said. “We weren’t allowed to have video games — it was, ‘why don’t you create something?’ So, we did art throughout our whole lives.”

Ihde said her skills continued to earn recognition when at age 13 she was hired as a freelance illustrator for a local publication’s kids’ section.

Not long after, Ihde said her family started a new venture — which at the time was new to Wisconsin: applying henna tattoos at public events.

She said all of their henna work was performed freehand, without stencils — unwitting practice for her future profession.

As Ihde’s talents garnered attention throughout her teens, she said she began to consider her post-high school plans.

“I wanted to do storyboarding for animated film, where you lay out how everything’s going to be, and tell the story,” she said. “I put a lot of movement into all of my work. I try to have some gestures with the illustrations.”

While researching potential colleges that taught storyboarding, she said she found The Kubert School, a private technical school in Dover, New Jersey, focused on cartoon and graphic art.

Drawing inspiration from her comic book days, Carli Ihde said she specializes in illustrative style — but also works in realism and micro realism. Submitted Photo

“They are a school completely run by comic book illustrators,” she said. “I thought, ‘okay, storyboarding and comics are kind of the same thing.’ And it ended up working out great.”

At The Kubert School, Ihde said she took intensive classes covering all aspects of comics, including narrative art, layout, inking and lettering.

And though Ihde said she had only read a few choice comics and graphic novels, she prevailed on her strong work ethic.

“It was a hard school — (it has) one of the highest dropout rates of any art college in the world,” she said. “We started and there were 97 people in our class, and by the time we graduated, there were only 23 of us. I think two or three of us were women.”

Upon completion of the three-year program, Ihde said graduates earned interviews with Marvel and DC Comics.

From Ihde’s interviews, she said she was hired by Vertigo Comics, an imprint for DC that published titles including “Preacher,” “The Invisibles,” “Y: The Last Man” and runs of “Swamp Thing” and “Sandman.”

Among the titles Ihde said she illustrated were “Hellblazer” and “Constantine,” as well as “Womanthology,” an all-female production featuring writer Robin Furth, Stephen King’s personal research assistant.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “I was a finisher and inker, so they would give me loose layouts of where they wanted things to go, and I would cleanly finish the pencils. Once those were approved, I would go in and do inking, which means (drawing) the solid black lines that go over the top to prepare it for coloring.”

Ihde said the work was done remotely, which allowed her to move back to Wisconsin.

Though she said she cherished the opportunity, after three years, Ihde said she decided it was time to move on.

Unfortunately, Ihde said though comic book-based movies are dominating box offices, the popularity, as well as budgets for traditional comic books, have not kept pace.

“People watch the movies and then don’t bother to get into the source material,” she said. “I think half the kids today don’t even realize there’s a comic that probably told that story before. It’s a bummer.”

Up next, Ihde said, was an illustration job in Madison specializing in whiteboard drawings for videos.

She said a highlight from these five years was when her company was hired by comedic musician Weird Al to create whiteboard drawings for a music video for his song “Mission Statement,” which she said also provided a chance to meet the “Amish Paradise” singer and “UHF” star.

A turn for tattooing
Though Ihde said she always managed to make time for her creative works over the years, the inherent drawbacks of professional illustration were its tremendous repetition and adherence to style guidelines.

It was in Madison, Ihde said, that she first began to consider taking up tattooing.

She said she recognized the financial rewards of the profession — which she’d found exceptional compared to other artistic media — but still had to overcome some of her prior opinions.

“I think when I was in college, we looked down a little bit on tattoo artists because there were a lot of people who went to the school who ended up being tattoo artists, and a little bit (of me) thought, ‘oh, that’s too bad they couldn’t make it in the industry,'” she said. “But, no one can make it in the comic book industry right now. It’s not that we couldn’t make it — we found we were blooming much better in a well-lit area.”

In the bright lights of a Madison tattoo studio, Ihde said she took on her first apprenticeship, though she said her career took off at Colt’s Timeless Tattoos in Neenah.

“Luckily, I found a great employer who was looking for someone with a vast portfolio of art and knowledge,” she said. “(Colt) said, ‘I don’t want to have to teach art,’ and I said, ‘well, I’ve got you covered.'”

From this apprenticeship and subsequent tattoo artist licensure, Ihde said she learned everything from proper cleaning and organization for a studio, to the arts of customer scheduling, communication and conduct.

She said her mentor, Colt, and others were fully supportive, helping her growth in the medium, which she said can inaccurately carry a menacing reputation.

“I find the tattoo industry extremely welcoming and kind, and willing to share,” she said. “You wouldn’t think that because some of the guys look pretty intimidating in the tattoo industry. Then you watch a show like ‘Ink Master,’ and you think, ‘are all of these people mean like that?’ No.”

Like many other tattoo artists, Carli Ihde said she creates flash sheets — which are choices of pre-drawn, yet customizable designs. Submitted Photo

In addition to countless hours of tattooing experience and the loyal clientele she built up, Ihde said she was able to develop unique strengths.

“I work in multiple different styles,” she said. “I specialize in illustrative style, which is mostly line work, just not completely realistic — close to the comic books I learned (to do).”

Ihde said she also works in realism and micro-realism.

“So, I’ll do pet portraits and regular portraits or large-scale black and gray florals,” she said.

Ihde said her strong artistic skills allow her to customize each tattoo — never tracing or repeating, rather focusing entirely on the individual client in that moment.

“Nothing is copied,” she said. “And I think a lot of people enjoy knowing what they have is something no one else has.”

Ihde said she also learned how clients appreciate her ongoing, open communication, including initial consultations, collaborating and discussing ideas through the night before a tattoo session, as well as sharing an illustration of her proposed tattoo for approval before the actual session.

“Comfort is huge,” she said. “If you’re not comfortable, then I’m not comfortable. I try to make everyone feel special.”

Ihde said she loves making changes based on clients’ suggestions and critiques, drawing on a lifetime of artistic experience.

“Art is thinking on your feet,” she said. “I think that aspect is one of my biggest selling points.”

In addition to Ihde’s technical prowess and the flexibility it affords her work, she said she also enjoys creating designs for clients.

Like many other tattoo artists, Ihde said she creates flash sheets — which are choices of pre-drawn, yet customizable designs.

Ihde said she willingly tells clients whether she’s tattooed any of these designs on previous clients, for the sake of individuality.

“There are fun ones, some that lean more feminine, some lean more goofy and sometimes you want a tattoo that makes you laugh,” she said. “I have more tattoos that make me laugh than ones that are serious to me, and I find a lot of my clients lean the same way.”

That sense of connection with her clients, Ihde said, is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work.

“I’m one of the luckiest tattoo artists in the world because my clients are like me,” she said. “I miss comics sometimes, but I’m way happier.”

Eyeing up her own studio
While working at Colt’s, Ihde said her consistent artistic growth extended beyond tattooing — commissioned for large murals and hired as a chalk artist for outdoor summer events.

She said she also auditioned for and ultimately became a contestant on the Food Network show “Outrageous Pumpkins,” a next-level jack-o-lantern carving competition.

“When I was on the show, they kept asking me, ‘well, if you win, what are you going to do with the money? Build a pumpkin carving empire?'” she said. “And I’d say, ‘no, I’m going to tattoo.'”

Ihde said by this point, she recognized she had become more passionate about tattooing than other creative outlets.

That passion, she said, inspired her to take on her biggest project yet — opening her own tattoo studio.

Carli Ihde said Carlieyed Tattoo will remain a private studio, free from interruptions and surprise walk-ins during their appointments. Matthew Day Photo

“All the hard work I’ve done, my whole life — every piece of artwork I did led up to this,” she said.

By this time, Ihde said she had amassed more than 160,000 social media followers for her illustration work, and more than 8,000 more for her tattooing work.

She said she also hoped that by staying in the Fox Valley, her local clientele would follow her to a new studio.

As important, Ihde said, was maintaining goodwill with her former studio.

“The best shop ever,” Ihde said of Colt’s Timeless Tattoos. “If there’s something I can’t do here, they can do it there.”

Ihde said she decided her studio — which would carry the “Carlieyed” name from her social media accounts — would be private, meaning she’ll be the only tattoo artist.

Not presently interested in overseeing other artists, Ihde said she also feels she’ll thrive creatively in her own space, including working on non-tattoo projects between appointments.

Ihde said she hopes her clients will appreciate the comforts of a private studio, free from interruptions and surprise walk-ins during their appointments.

Above all, Ihde said she hopes Carlieyed Tattoo is a place where everyone, herself included, can revel in being themselves.

She said Appleton is her favorite place she’s ever lived, largely due to the creative commonality she feels there.

“I’m getting the kind of people I want,” Ihde said of her clientele. “I’m not running out of weirdos. We’re all here.”

For more information and examples of Ihde’s work, check out Carlieyed Tattoo’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

share arrow printer bookmark flag