Nestled in North Portland on Russell Street, Icon Tattoo is one of the City’s destination spots for tattoo enthusiasts. The studio is owned by Melanie Nead, but the female presence doesn’t end with Melanie. The studio is staffed with bad-ass women (and yes, one equally bad-ass male) who create some of the best tattoos anywhere. When you stop by for some body art, you’ll feel so comfortable surrounded by the exquisitely decorated space, brimming with local jewelry and handmade cards. Not to mention you will leave with a one-of-a-kind tattoo.
Melanie found her way to Icon in the 90s when she was apprenticing with the firm in its original incarnation. She worked under Dustin Ranck, the founder of Icon, after she graduated from Lewis and Clark College. At that time, Icon was in Southeast Portland, and three years ago she took over the studio full-time and moved it up to North Portland.
We had to see this female mecca of tattooing for ourselves, so we stopped by to have a chat.
E+E: Why the big jump to North Russell?
Melanie Nead: We were quickly outgrowing our previous space and desperately needed more room. The old spot was beautiful. It was on the second story and looked out over Hawthorne Bridge and the river. As we added more artists we realized it was time to move. Before coming to North Portland we had a shop that had tons of problems. The biggest one being it was above a bike part distribution shop and semi-trucks would back into the building when they would unload every day. When that happened the whole building would shake – not the best spot when you are tattooing. So we started looking for a new place to call home.
E+E: How did you pick this wonderful space?
MN: I just went to neighborhoods I liked. I would scout out places that didn’t have a tattoo shop, which is pretty hard to find in Portland. When I saw this space for lease, I thought to myself “This is the most amazing space in Portland!” The high ceilings, open windows and neighborhood had so much flare, I had to snag it. We did a few minor changes but the biggest thing was to add the retail space, which was important to me.
E+E: Talk more about your female crew that works in the shop.
MN: Most of the lovely ladies, and the one gent, were apprentices for us before becoming full-time. It’s great because everyone has a different style and skill set. When people make an enquiry, I always tell them to look really carefully at our portfolios before picking an artist. That way you can get the right fit before the work even begins.
I think the biggest thing people don’t realize is if you give the same idea to 100 tattooists you will get 100 variations of that tattoo. Everyone has their strengths.
E+E: Are there any big tattoo trends?
MN: No matter what the trend is, people are always wanting dandelions!
E+E: Finally, what’s your all-time favorite thing about Portland?
MN: The weather . . . haha! Joking, but it’s not too bad. I’m pretty obsessed with the Pacific Northwest. I’m an outdoor cat, I really love hiking and camping. There’s so many magical places. Portland is just so pretty.
813 N Russell St.