D. J. Heimerl, owner and founder of The Bear Spot Tattoo, states his purpose with a few simple words: “I’m an artist.” Heimerl, known to most as “Bear,” has been in the tattoo business for over 20 years. For a time, he lived in Las Vegas, working at the well-known Sin City Tattoo Co. For the past eight years, however, he has worked out of his studio on College Avenue, located just down the street from Taste of Thai and the annex known as Con West. Bear is a fairly well known figure on the Lawrence campus. In the past week, I’ve learned that if you mention the “tattoo artist on College Avenue” to enough students, you will inevitably be rewarded with at least one of the following: a look of recognition, an exclamation – “Bear!” – and an anecdote about his work. Upon entering The Bear Spot, one might notice two colorful screens running a slideshow of past triumphs: that is, designs that showcase the best of Bear’s work. The back room is also bound to draw one’s attention, arrayed as it is with serious equipment and all manner of official licenses and certificates. You won’t notice any awards or plaques, but that’s not because Bear hasn’t won any. His designs have placed well at tattoo conventions because his clients have attended them and promoted Bear’s work on his behalf. But if you hadn’t figured it out yet, Bear is a purist. He doesn’t enter contests on his own, and he doesn’t display whatever awards he might win. For him, it’s all about the art, and he avoids anything that might distract from it. After a few minutes, one might start to notice other details. On one wall, there is a large, colorfully airbrushed design. Near the aforementioned displays, there is a large mirror at rest. At first glance, it’s just a mirror, but a double take reveals an intricate glass etching. An impressive wooden table sitting in the middle of the waiting area attracts attention for its carved designs. All of these pieces are examples of Bear side-projects. Aside from tattoo work, Bear engages in Photoshop wizardry, oil painting, airbrushing, and glass etching. Judging by his belief that “needles are like paintbrushes,” Bear views his work as a tattoo artist in a wider creative framework. The mediums might differ, but the artistic intent is the same. This philosophy of Bear’s even extends to driving around town: the parking lot behind The Bear Spot is reportedly home to a creatively modified vintage Volkswagen Beetle. Bear’s attention to detail and artistic drive carry over into his teaching. It is customary for aspiring tattoo artists to apprentice with an established master, and Bear learned from some of the best. He occasionally takes on apprentices here in Appleton, but it’s rare for someone to last through all of the training. According to Bear, there is a simple reason for this: “I don’t accept sloppy.” Clients normally meet with Bear for a consultation about their desired design and a discussion about the process. If it is something relatively simple, Bear might be able to do it on the spot, in a manner of minutes. However, if the concept is more involved, Bear spends time developing a sketch, which he then applies on the customer’s next visit. Bear gave me a quick tour of the tattoo application process, and from that explanation, it became clear why he shuns sloppiness. To an uninitiated observer, those needles look like buzzing, whirling paintbrushes of death that could cause more than a little harm in the wrong hands. It takes a strong artistic mind and a skilled hand to navigate those tools. Because of this, Bear has spent hours on his most involved projects. He takes pride in his work, and his clients take pride in becoming his work. Said Bear, “Everyone is an individual – why should you have a tattoo that 12,000 other people have?” In addition to respecting his client’s individual tastes, Bear always has a long talk with customers to gauge if they are actually ready to take the plunge. If there seems to be some doubt, Bear might urge them to deliberate for a while longer. His argument: a tattoo lasts for the rest of your life, so what’s another year or two of decision-making? “I will not push anyone into a tattoo,” he emphasized. Indeed, it’s this artistic integrity, along with a certain self-effacing, calm demeanor, that has won Bear so many fans on the Lawrence campus. It is easy to understand why this artist is well known and trusted. As Bear commented, “My art is at the center of my attention. Art is art, it doesn’t have any boundaries.