From Skin to Stone: COVID-19 Shutdown Inspires Local Tattoo Artist to Try New Medium


Bradley Clark was one of the many Washingtonians whose career was paused by COVID-19.

Clark, a tattoo artist at Lucky No. 3 Tattoo in downtown Centralia, was suddenly without work when stay-at-home orders statewide in March closed many “non-essential” businesses to the public. And unlike some shuttered businesses, tattoo artists can’t sell their craft online.

Clark said he felt fortunate because his girlfriend owns the shop Never Ending Threads in downtown Centralia. While the storefront remains closed, the online presence is open for business. Clark tools leather and paints and said he threw his energy into those mediums while the tattoo shop was closed, creating canvases and leather items that could be sold online.

“It kept me busy,” Clark said.

With Lewis County now in Phase 3 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plan for the state, Lucky No. 3 Tattoo has been back open to clients by appointment only since June 2. Even so, Clark said the industry has changed quite a bit. Though tattoo artists have always been held to high sanitation standards, there are even more safety protocols in place now, including mask wearing. Clark said one of the hard parts of wearing a mask while tattooing is the intimacy between the artist and client that he feels is lost with the barrier between them.

“It’s hard to communicate with people,” Clark said. “We use a lot of facial expressions and smiles that can’t really be seen through a mask and we lip read a lot, which we also can’t do. But there’s a lot of good things that are happening in the world. You can see things taking a turn for the better.”

As the state works to fight the spread of COVID-19 and gradually reopen businesses, Clark said he has also turned his sights to another one of his artists passions. He recently painted a mural for a local coffee shop that now graces the entrance to downtown Chehalis. Clark has created murals in areas from Florida to Portland and he recently completed three murals in three days in Cannon Beach, Oregon. He said it is something he does periodically to supplement his income, as well as because he enjoys it. 

“It’s relaxing,” Clark said of what he loves about painting murals. “It’s probably one of the most relaxing things you can do.”

Originally from Oregon, Clark has been a tattoo artist for 14 years and has worked at Lucky No. 3 Tattoo in Centralia for about a year and a half. He said he has been drawn to art since about the age of 5 and chose tattooing as a career because it was a way to both make art but also make a living.

“Most artists starve,” Clark said. “It’s a way to make money with art.”

The owner of Jimmie’s Espresso, who had recently re-opened the coffee stand next to Chehalis City Hall as a branch of that business, recently commissioned Clark to paint the retaining wall that frames the small site on which the kiosk sits. He requested a black and white, geometric design, which was not a style Clark had worked in before but said he was intrigued by trying it. Clark sketched the design by hand, he said he hasn’t gotten into using computers for that kind of thing. He explained the design is inspired by the Pacific Northwest: a rising sun and its rays spreading over a mountain range. But he also let the actual location of the drive-thru coffee stand inspire him as well.

“Also, that house,” he said, pointing to the Victorian style home that sits on the hill directly overlooking the location. “The architecture of the house helped me. I loved the circles and the symmetry of it.”

Once he started painting, the mural took four days to complete. Clark created the crisp, geometric patterns using painter’s tape, his first experience using the technique. He said he is proud of the finished product, not only because it was an artistic challenge for him but because he got to be part of creating something to be enjoyed by the local community.

“I love it. I really do. It’s fulfilling to know it’s going to be seen by a lot of people,” Clark said. “Canvasses get stuck inside but murals are out in the open where everyone sees them.”