Images on social media – particularly Facebook – are often more powerful than words. This works particularly in favor of creative professionals of all kinds who use social media to expose their work to wider audiences.
Recently, thanks to a slew of photos on Facebook of extremely well-done tattoos, an up-and-coming tattoo shop was brought to our attention.
Serenity Ink Tattoos, 3924 S. 51st St., is a no-frills shop in Greenfield that opened in April 2012. Owned by Jesse Flores and Houa Xiong – who usually goes by "Fwa" – the business is actually spread out between two spaces in the same strip mall.
The owners started out as the sole tattooers in one of the spaces, but business picked up rapidly and they hired more artists and rented a second space. Currently, there are nine tattoo artists and two piercers at Serenity Ink and Serenity Ink Two.
Originally, the plan was to move from the smaller space to the larger one, but it turns out they actually utilize both.
"We still might merge the two," says Flores. "We’ll see how it goes. So far, it’s been going extremely well."
Both Flores and Fwa are self-taught artists.
Flores, who was born in Texas, moved to Milwaukee when he was a young child. He started tattooing professionally in 1997, but says he was around tattoo artists his entire life.
"It’s a family thing. My dad and uncles tattooed part time as a hobby after work," he says.
Fwa learned the art of tattooing from observation as well. "I watched people and videos," he says. "And I learned from just doing it."
Although deeply inspired by the work of others, Fwa prefers to teach himself through everyday life.
"I try to appreciate everything, even the littlest things, like textures," he says.
Fwa was born in Thailand and moved to Milwaukee when he was 7 years old. He was raised in a family with four other siblings, but says he is the only one who is artistically inclined.
"I’m the crazy one of the family," he says.
When he was first starting out as a tattoo artist, Fwa put ads on Craig’s List, offering tattoos for $20. "People knew what they were getting into, that I was a beginner, but when they saw my drawings, they were fine with it," he says. "I learn from trial and error. But I’ve always been a quick learner: art, music, computers."
Flores spent time working in other local shops before opening Serenity with Fwa last spring.
"It was the right time," he says.
Flores says he prefers to create black-and-gray tattoos, but is willing to tattoo just about anything.
"I’m pretty versatile," he says.
Like Flores, Fwa likes to create realistic-looking tattoos because they are the most difficult.
"I prefer stuff that really challenges me, that’s going to make me expand as an artist," he says. "Anything that will expand my knowledge, expand myself. I like to create things that are one-of-a-kind."
There is very little flash (tattoo art) on the walls at Serenity Ink.
"Everything here is custom work," says Flores. "Nine out of 10 times you’ll come in here with a design and you’ll walk out with something a little different. We like to jazz up a concept."
Although free of flash, the walls at the larger Serenity Ink space are adorned with Fwa’s large, colorful paintings.
"I just started painting last week," he says. "I went into painting mode. I painted about 10 paintings in a week."
Customer service is extremely important to Flores and Fwa and therefore they hired a customer service person to consult with clients about what kind of tattoo they want and who would be the best artist for that customer to work with.
"All of the artists here are really good. I’m not just saying that as an owner. We hear it from our customers every day," says Flores.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.