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2024 Readers Choice Winner | Blue Phoenix Tattoos & Piercings
Best Piercing Studio in Bulloch County | Best Piercer | Best Tattoo Studio in Bulloch County | Most Outstanding Tattoo Artist — Sketch
Blue Phoenix Tattoos
Sketch, voted Bulloch County's Most Outstanding Tattoo Artist, works his magic on customer Aaron Lingerfelt at his shop, Blue Phoenix Tattoos & Piercings. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Thomas Cowart’s artistic roots run deep, the seeds of which were sown at a young age, as a child growing up in Arizona. 

“I can remember being a kid and loving to draw and color,” he said. “I was not great at it, but I liked it. Looking back, even then I was aware and tried to fix my mistakes.”

By the time he was 14, his family had relocated to Bulloch County, settling in the Brooklet area. In school, he says, his work was “a little above average” compared to others his age — but he stops short of calling it that of an “artist.”

Still, he created.

“At times when I found I had nothing to do, I would draw,” he said. “The more I drew, the better I got.”

Today, he is an artist in every sense of the word, with a portfolio boasting nearly 15 years of work, full of color and lines, shadows and light, layers and depth, detailing an evolution of technique and aesthetic and influence.

His medium is the human body; his canvas of choice, skin.

Sketch, as he is fittingly now known, did his first tattoo at age 21 — on himself. 

“From then on, it was a side hustle for me,” he said.

Yet he never imagined he’d pursue tattoo artistry as a full-time career, partly because he wasn’t sure he had what it took.

“My confidence in myself was incredibly lower than what others thought of me,” he said. 

In fact, those “others” easily recognized his undeniable potential, and in 2011, the owner of a local tattoo shop offered to bring Sketch on as an apprentice. He jumped at the opportunity, and over the next few years, he trained to become a licensed tattoo artist while learning the ins and outs of the business.

As his clientele grew, so did his reputation, built on the basic idea of giving people what they want. 

“I do not pick people’s tattoos; I help create them. So many people come in saying, ‘Just do what you want. You’re the artist, I trust you,’” he said. “My thinking is, we do not know each other. What I like, you may not like. I like to get all details needed up front to make sure I create exactly what my client wants.

“From then, I just do what I think looks good, and 99.8% of the time, my clients agree.”

Blue Phoenix Tattoos
Customer Aaron Lingerfelt is the canvas for local tattoo artist Sketch at Blue Phoenix Tattoos & Piercings. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Research is an important part of the design process to ensure the accurate depiction of elements such as specific characters and logos. Though Sketch is fluent in many industry styles, he says realism is what he’s asked to do most often, which requires the use of incredible detail to capture the essence of true-to-life images — things like animals, people and objects in nature. Many of these carry great meaning for his clients, and Sketch feels honored to hear the stories behind them.

“I enjoy doing anything that is different, unique, that no one else has,” he said.

In June 2017, Sketch took his blossoming career a step further with the opening of his own studio, Blue Phoenix Tattoos, located on Northside Drive in Statesboro — and while he is the face behind the ink, his wife, Brandy Hollingsworth Cowart, is an expert in the latter, having been a professional body piercer for eight years. She specializes in lobe piercings for babies and children, but she’s always up for the challenge of new, unique requests.

“If you can pinch it, I can pierce it,” she said.

Blue Phoenix Tattoos
Longtime piercer Brandy Hollingsworth Cowart, left, performs a jewelry changeout for client Hope Price. It's just one of the free services the studio offers its customers. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

It’s a passion she’s passed on to her daughter Skyler, who grew up around the industry and is now the shop’s newest master piercer alongside her mom.

Both Sketch and Brandy acknowledge that there are some commonly held beliefs that have negatively impacted their profession as a whole, but they’re committed to combatting these misconceptions, one client at a time. In fact, it’s a sentiment found right there in the studio’s name — “Blue” because it’s a color known to be soothing, calming and peaceful, “Phoenix” a symbol “to represent rising after the struggle, a fresh start, and to bring hope for transformation in the industry,” Brandy said.

“For years, tattoo studios have had the stigma of being dark and dirty, (and) tattoo artists have had the stigma of being rude, criminals, racists and homophobes,” she said. “Blue Phoenix Tattoos & Piercings was started on the idea of something different. We strive to be clean, honest, friendly, and equally inviting and respectful to all.”

Brandy says the unacceptable actions of others in the profession that in the past have made headlines have also led to a fear of sexual assault in the industry, but the owners of Blue Phoenix vow their shop will always be a safe, comfortable, respectful space in which art can be expressed — a principle evident not only in their words but also their actions. 

“We are the only tattoo studio in the area that works with Atlanta Redemption Ink (ARI), which is a nonprofit organization that offers tattoo coverups to survivors of gang violence, sexual assault (and) self-harm,” Brandy said. 

The five-person team of artists at Blue Phoenix is also committed to offering complete transparency and honesty to each of their clients — even if it’s not always what they want to hear.

“A lot of artists will do a very small, detailed tattoo that could look good for a few years, but throughout the years, the lines (of ink) will continue to spread under the skin, and your tattoo won’t look the same anymore,” she said. “Something that looks good today may turn into a blob in a few years.”

There are also areas of the body where tattoos easily fade, requiring multiple touch-ups following the initial design.

“Since tattoos last forever … we are honest and thorough with our clients, making sure they have all the information before making their decision,” she said. “The same goes for piercings. If someone has a higher chance at rejection, we let them know.

“It’s your body and your money. We do not take your money without letting you know the cons and risks associated with the service you are requesting.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that their work will always be perfect — an unattainable standard in the industry. But when a mistake does happen, Brandy says, they own up and make it right. 

More often, though, are the requests to correct mistakes that weren’t made by them at all. 

“I also fix up old tattoos and do cover-up tattoos,” Sketch said. “A lot of artists will not touch other artists’ work … (but) if I can make it better, I do. I am also honest in this process.”

With their desire to build a legacy on a foundation of both safety and quality, Sketch and Brandy are proud of their business and the team of professionals at the heart of Blue Phoenix. Plans for the coming year include the addition of microblading services, a type of cosmetic tattooing meant to create fuller, more defined eyebrows — and that’s just the beginning.

“We are extremely grateful to be recognized in our community for the qualities that we set out to accomplish,” Brandy said of this year’s numerous Readers Choice awards. “Our ultimate hope is to never stop growing, individually or as a team.”