Getting a Big One: Tattooed Chick Tells All

Tattooed contributor takes the plunge on some major ink at Frequency Tattoo Company. 

3-2-15  GUEST BLOG by Diane Batalsky (Wallingford, PA)

Tattoos aren’t for everyone, but I love them. I’m not into dressing up or playing with my hair — in fact, unless it’s a really hot day, all of my tattoos are usually covered so my ink isn’t about showing off, even.  These images on my body reflect change and loss in my life, and celebrate the things that make me happy.

They also look badass if I do say so myself! You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but underneath my Flyers sweatshirt & Old Navy jeans lies a tapestry: a dolphin, a parrot, a scuba-diving turtle, a Snoopy, a Joe Cool Snoopy, bell flowers, a nautical star, swirly graffiti-style roman numerals IVXX…
I’ve been wanting to get some serious artwork done for awhile now — actually to cover over some of these earlier pieces with bigger, bolder, more relevant ink.

But I’m older now than I was when I started getting tattooed, and I have no patience for the macho attitudes that pervade the industry.  I will not be pushed into tattoos, rushed or talked down to.

I know what I like but I’m not an artist so I need someone who can translate my ideas into a design that’ll work on the skin where I want to put it.  But without talking down to me or just giving me what I want even if it looks stupid.

And most importantly:  I need to like the person, because big colorful tattoos take many hours — sometimes over several appointments. And tattoo needles are stressful enough, without having to struggle to make small talk!

So I’ve been researching and asking around for awhile, and I kept running into John Howie‘s name — the owner of Frequency Tattoo on Ridge. In my old stomping grounds! Kind of…

I’m from West Philly — Wynnefield Heights, right over the East Falls bridge towards City Line down the street from the Adams Mark hotel (if you remember).

In the 80’s, my best friend Stef and I would cruise Ridge Avenue in her black ’78 Firebird from Roxborough Memorial to McDonald’s in Andorra where we’d check our hair & makeup in the bathroom, then head back down Ridge again.

East Falls those days was “lock your doors” territory! Of course more recently the area’s been coming around, but I was still surprised to see such an awesome new tattoo place… here. 

No offense, but Frequency’s cool, colorful facade really stands out on the otherwise unremarkable block of closed storefronts. You’d expect such a shop downtown or in Manayunk.

(From Frequency Tattoo’s facebook page 2019)

In fact, when alternative New Jersey weekly “The Aquarian” reviewed Frequency Tattoo last fall, they said it was in Manayunk, d’oh! But the review was stellar, as is the shop’s Yelp buzz.

Last month, I took a leap and now after weeks of healing I am so happy with my sugar skull tattoo I’m putting all my photos online to hopefully capture what a great experience it’s been.

Because if you live in East Falls and have ink or want to get it, you need to stop in to see these guys. 

Both John and David — art school friends from way back — are so cool & chill. And they totally listen! I have never felt more comfortable in a tattoo shop. And setting up the appointment couldn’t have been easier, even though I am a Nervous Nellie with tons of questions.

After a brief phone call, I emailed John some photos of sugar skull tattoos I found online (above), and pointed out what I liked on some and what I liked on others. He sent back a sketch he scanned in, along with some questions and ideas to consider.

At our appointment, we went over the sketch again and once we’d worked everything out, he made the transfer. And then with that, we figured out image placement exactly.

Annnnd then the outlining began — a sharp, precise stinging like a million little bees in one place.

I much prefer the duller pain of shading and coloring-in, but my sugar skull design required a lot of fine detail and John must’ve worked at that pace for 90 minutes straight (taking short breaks every now and then cause my leg kept falling asleep!).

Such a light touch! He doesn’t “dig in” but gently lays down color in a way that had me repeatedly thanking him for not hurting me as much as I expected.

After the lines were done, he shaded and filled in each color one by one.

After three more hours (four and a half, total), we were finally done. John wrapped me up, and we all met up later with friends at Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloon nearby. I had a month of healing ahead of me, and then we’d meet back for final touch-ups.

Ouch! The next day, my leg was so sore I could hardly walk, but I’d look down and see the bright colors and smile. As usual, my skin scabbed up pretty bad (sorry, that’s gross) and John had his work cut out for him when I went back this Saturday.

He said I’d be there “about 60 minutes” but it took two and a half hours for him to finish touching up my sugar skull. Wow, though — I thought it popped before, now it’s almost glowing on my leg! I love how bold this tat is, how vibrant.

My next tat will be the opposite, featuring rich warm tones to evoke memories of feeling small and safe and loved.  This’ll be going on my opposite calf, and will likely be a little bigger than the skull.

Two sittings! First one is scheduled for Monday the 9th — I’ve got butterflies already. And plans for the next one after that, even! Something totally different, to really put John Howie’s fine arts degree to work…

Addicted? More like inspired. A place like Frequency Tattoo’ll do that to you.

I’m really glad I checked this place out, and I absolutely recommend Frequency Tattoo and John Howie to anyone looking for high-end custom artwork!  Get him while he’s new and not yet charging for his name.

Image from Frequency Tattoo’s facebook page

Frequency Tattoo Company
4098 Ridge Ave



  1. I’ve been reading East Falls Local for the better part of a year now and I love the information and perspective it provides. That said, I was a bit troubled by this article, which I read in the print edition of your most recent issue. Diane Batalsky profiled Frequency Tattoo ‘artist’ John Howie. I’m sure that Mr. Howie does great work…but I find the presence of a tattoo shop in our hood to be both dubious and dangerous. As you are well aware, tattoos are still used to convey messages among criminals. For example, a tattoo of a teardrop under one’s eye represents that the wearer has killed someone! While not all tattoos convey criminal messages, they have traditionally represented lifestyles and attitudes that have no business in East Falls. To add insult to injury, tattoo needles are notorious for spreading both hepatitis and HIV.

    The big, beautiful parrot that Ms. Batalsky had tattooed to her leg is certainly a work of art, but it belongs on a traditional canvas and not on her body.

    So, I was very confused when I saw this article…why would East Falls Local print something about a tattoo shop? Then a red light went off when I looked on the back page and saw an ad for Frequency Tattoo company. Is East Falls Local writing for Fallsers? Or have they become the mouthpiece of their advertisers?

    • Hello and thank you for your comment. There was so much to chew on, my response turned into a whole separate post! I hope you’ll read it (url below) but meanwhile lemme point out that Diane’s blog was written a year ago — way before we were ever taking advertising. We published Diane’s latest installment in her Frequency Tattoo blog because we are honestly kinda excited about this local shop, very unlike the stereotypes you describe. FULL RESPONSE HERE: Thanks again!

    • Mr. Faulkner, I wrote a rebuttal to your comment about my blogs/story in the East Falls Local, it can be found in the comments section after the article:

      It is long but I truly hope you read it. I would like to think it is more informative for you then a in your face rebuttal to what you think of my tattoos, people with tattoos and the industry. I am trying to let people see that in this world we live in today, stereotypes of all kinds need to go. I grew up hearing awful Jew jokes due to being raised Jewish and now I am being stereotyped for having incredible pieces of art on my body that show my love and devotion to family members and close friends that have passed or even just good times with friends. I have documented amazing trips around the world with close friends in my tattoos. My friends all believe it is their tattoo as well since they were with me and helped me come up with the idea, of course I took all of the pain but I look at that tattoo and great memories come back to me.

      I really hope you take the time to read everything that has been published in response to your comment and also to please keep an open mind when doing so. Thank you.

    • Wow. I think you’re stigma, bias and prejudice are seriously outdated. This is 2019, not 1981! Over 50% of Americans population has a least one professionally done tattoo in the year 2019. As per HIV and disease transfer – health inspectors visit a tattoo shop at least once a year. Tattoo artists are required to take disease reduction transmission certification courses to ink in most states in America. I’ve been given my needles by my professional tattoo artist after each setting. There is no way for disease transmission when a new needle is opened per new person, per each session. Also, all equipment is steam sterilized onsite, a state requirement to be a professional artist… Additionally, I also watch the needle be removed out of a professional sealed “one-time bag”. Last – the artist changes gloves and disposes of them, my artist does CPR glove removal into each other, every single time they work on a person.

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