On the morning of August 20, a line of people formed down Lyndale Avenue South just north of 40th Street. Laure’s wasn’t open yet and people don’t line up to wash their clothes at Bev’s laundromat. Nestled in between the two stores is Tattoo Spirit. Aha, a clue.

Tattoo Spirit was celebrating its grand opening and people were lining up at 9:30 a.m. to get tattoos. And the tattooing party didn’t even start until noon. People took the “first come, first served” rule very seriously.

“We tattooed 80 people,” Tattoo Spirit’s owner, Anton Zolotov, said. And that was about half of the people who wanted to get a tattoo from the guest list of tattooers from around the Twin Cities that showed up to help Zolotov celebrate.

People waiting in line were able to pick out a flash tattoo design, already drawn, by their desired tattoo artist. Picking out a flash design is kind of like picking out a sticker after a job well done. The designs are already made and there is very little, if any, changes allowed to the design. And then you wear it around, forever. So a bit different than picking out a sticker, but you get the drift.

Tattoo Spirit specializes in traditional flash designs. Zolotov explained that early Western tattooing, dating back to the early 1900s, was very “flash-driven.” Sailors and circus people were common clients for tattooing then.

Spaulding & Rogers flash sheets at Tattoo Spirit. Photo courtesy of Anton Zolotov

Flash and custom tattoo history

By the 1960s, more custom-style tattoos came into fashion. Ed Hardy, now a clothing brand but once a highly influential tattoo artist, studied and tattooed in Japan and brought eastern-style art into Western tattooing. Hardy also focused on working with clients to design a tattoo that they emotionally connected to, soon to be known as “custom.”

“I don’t need it to mean anything personal to me,” Zolotov said about the tattoos he chooses to get. Zolotov is more interested in the style of the art than whether it has any meaning.

Therefore, it’s not surprising to learn that Zolotov focuses on flash pieces. He explained that starting in the mid 2000s, traditional flash tattooing came back into style. As someone who started getting tattooed in the early 00s, I distinctly remember flash tattoos being seen as very not cool.

[Note: Upon looking at the tattoos on my own arms, there is a distinct shift from the custom sleeve I got done in the early 00s on my left arm, and the smattering of one-off pieces on my right arm that I’ve collected in the past 10 years. Attempts at getting custom work have increased in difficulty and now I know why.]

With the tattoo trend firmly in the traditional style, many tattoo artists in the Twin Cities draw their own flash or buy flash for clients to choose from. Flash pieces are typically small, versus custom pieces that can be quite large and fill up an entire body part.

When you walk into a tattoo shop, you can usually tell what the shop’s focus is by looking at the walls. If the walls are full of flash art, then you can expect flash pieces to be the norm at that shop.

Tattoo Spirit’s Brooklyn Roots

Tattoo Spirit officially opened May 2. Reade Gosen joined Zolotov in May after Zolotov got tattooed by Gosen at Bee Ink. “My favorite tattooer out here,” Zolotov said. Tattoo artist Jordie Molton, most recently from Yankee Doodle Dandy Tattoo, is moving from Des Moines, Iowa to work at Tattoo Spirit in early September.

The custom signage that frames Tattoo Spirit’s storefront was designed and installed by Mattie, a sign painter from New York City. New York City?!

Tattoo Spirit’s store front

Zolotov moved here a year and a half ago from New York City. For eight years he owned and operated Black Square Tattoo in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is also home to one the most famous traditional tattoo shops, Smith Street Tattoo, which opened in 2008.

In New York City, Zolotov and his wife were struggling to find educational opportunities for their daughter, who has a rare genetic disorder. Zolotov’s brother lives in the area.

East Harriet's Only Tattoo "Street Shop"

As the only tattoo shop in East Harriet, I asked Zolotov why he picked the relatively sleepy block on Lyndale. He said he found the spot driving around, realizing there weren’t a lot of retail spaces that would work as a tattoo shop. When his family moved here he wasn’t sure if he’d open up his own spot again or work at an existing tattoo shop.

Zolotov has been tattooing for 20 years and majored in Fine Art at Hunter College near Central Park in New York City.

As we sit on the bay window sill at Tattoo Spirit, Zolotov talks me into respecting the work of flash tattooers as I ask him what happened to the art of custom tattooing. “We are recycling all of these designs,” Zolotov said. Traditional tattooers will take designs from the 1920s and put their own spin to it. “Two tattooers doing the same image, and they will look totally different,” he said.

Oftentimes, tattoo artists will look back at designs made 40 years ago and make the designs their own.

Zolotov has been collecting flash art since he opened up Black Square. He has bought flash production sheets made decades earlier. Neatly framed around the shop are old production sheets from Spaulding & Rogers which Zolotov described as “a factory of tattooing.” You can find vintage production sheets on eBay.

Anton Zolotov, owner of Tattoo Spirit, tattoos Karen Estella Acosta on August 22.

“It would make my day if people came in and picked something off the wall,” Zolotov said. He has a preference for what he calls “street shops” that serve the surrounding neighborhood. Street shops aren’t appointment-only, as many shops are here in the Twin Cities. At shops like Tattoo Spirit, people can walk in, look at designs, and (hopefully) be able to get tattooed the same day.

“A friendly neighborhood shop,” is what Zolotov wants Tattoo Spirit to be known as.

Tattoo Spirit is located at 3948 Lyndale Ave. S. and is open noon - 8 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday (closes at 6 p.m.). Walk-ins are welcome.