Fortner comes from a family of artists. As a girl, Fortner dabbled in
painting and pencil sketches. Her artful journey continued in college
with several art classes and led her from pencil on paper to ink on
skin. Fortner is a tattoo artist.
Tattooing dates back to prehistoric times. A frozen body more than 5,000
years old, called the Siberian "Iceman," was discovered in the Swiss
Alps in 1991. The body had 57 tattoos. Archeologists speculate these
prehistoric tattoos had a spiritual or therapeutic purpose. Today,
tattooing has evolved into a popular form of artistic expression.
In the late 80s, Fortner's late husband Richard, better known as "Easy,"
got a lot of tattoos. The tattoo artist, a friend of theirs, knew
Fortner was an artist and offered to apprentice her as a tattoo artist.
"At first, the idea of puncturing someone's skin made me nervous, but
then the idea of my art walking around on someone appealed to me,"
The transition from paper to a living, breathing canvas takes some
getting used to and the apprenticeship period can last as long as five
years. "Skin is a different medium. Everyone's skin is different. You
really have to learn skin," Fortner said. "Sometimes you need to tattoo
someone a couple of times before you know their skin and each part of
the body is different."
In 1992, after her apprenticeship, the Fortners opened their first
tattoo shop called Red Octopus Tattoo and Body Piercing - named after
Fortner's first tattoo, a red octopus - in Prince Frederick. Today, the
shop is a family-run business with three locations in Calvert and Prince
Tattooing has come a long way since the days of teenagers rebelling with
their own needles and black ink. Today, professional people are being
tattooed by professional artists using state-of-the-art tattoo machines
with virtually any color. Artists wear gloves and equipment is
sterilized in autoclaves and regulated by the local health department.
Another change is the client. Fortner said more women than men are
getting tattooed these days. The most popular requests for women are
names and roses, with the current most popular being a request for
stars. Other requests may be something of a particular interest or
hobby, a memorial to someone or something, or a religious symbol.
Fortner's tattoo shop is filled with thousands of tattoo images in
poster-type flip boards to choose from; designs that tattoo artists call
"off the wall." These images are ready to be transferred onto a person
for tattooing without any change in the design. "In the old days, people
came in and chose something off the wall," she said. "Now, with the new
tattoo shows on television, more people want custom pieces and that's
where your creativity comes in. Not everything is tattoo-able and some
things look different on skin than on paper."
Not everything is as it seems on TV, she said. The Red Octopus has a
waiting room filled with customers and sometimes the wait for an artist
can be two hours or so. If a custom tattoo piece is requested, the
client and the tattoo artist work together on the design in a process
that can take a week or longer.
The Red Octopus is a group effort and has a family atmosphere with
Fortner as the "shop mom." Her two daughters, two sons and two
daughters-in-law all work in the family business. "We really care about
our customers and we want them to love their tattoos," Fortner said.
To get your own tattoo, visit Red Octopus Tattoo and Body Piercing
located at 1654 Solomon's Island Road in Prince Frederick. Call
301-855-2654 or visit