‘Great minds ink alike’
Right Coast Tattoo artists collaborate at Fenwick shop
Over the past five years, Right Coast Tattoo has provided local residents and beachgoers coming in to their Fenwick Island shop with a variety of unique designs, to go along with a wealth of knowledge regarding the art form that is tattooing.
Owned by world-renowned tattoo artist Todd Noble, the shop also features veteran tattoo artist Jeff Brown and their most recent addition, Adam Weir, to form a team that, according to the three artists, makes for an ideal work dynamic.
“We try to keep that drive as a group, to try and drive one another, which works fantastic in this shop,” Brown explained. “Everyone pushes one another to do something better, and something better, which makes every day at work a good day at work.”
“You want people that you can mesh with,” Noble said of his hand-selected tattoo team. “It’s not your normal work environment. It takes a certain kind of person.”
Noble has been tattooing professionally for almost 19 years, dating back to his younger, more nomadic days living in Hawaii and Seattle. Frequently putting together drawings and selling them to tattoo shops, his first actual tattoo opportunity almost seems like it was fated.
“I sold a couple of those drawings to tattoo shops and still never asked for an apprenticeship or anything like that. I don’t know why,” Noble recalled of his days on the Pacific coast. “I probably should have — it just never occurred to me that it could be something that I could do.”
It wasn’t until he and his friends befriended an ex-con from Texas who started coming over to their house and noticed some of Noble’s paintings, that he ever thought to start putting his art on flesh.
“He was heavily tattooed — jailhouse stuff,” Noble described. “He always used to hang out at the house and watch football games with us. He would see my paintings around the house, and he actually had his tattoo stuff from jail — so I tattooed him.”
Back then, the only thing Noble knew about tattooing was to wear gloves. But not only did the tattoo turn out well, one of his high school friends offered to teach him how to tattoo if he were to ever return home to Salisbury, Md.
“I ended up moving back to Salisbury and opened up a shop with him,” Noble explained, “owned that for a few years, and we had a falling out — sold my portion of that business and bought Black Cobra.”
It wasn’t long until Noble started to establish himself as one of the top artists in the area, eventually earning invitations to tattoo conventions not only throughout the country, but throughout the world, including the London International Tattoo Convention.
As his reputation grew, so did his Salisbury-based shop, and eventually a second location became necessary. After trying unsuccessfully to find a landlord in Fenwick Island that would rent to a tattoo shop, Noble put the idea aside — until the day that everything seemed to fall into place, as it was seemingly supposed to, yet again, when he noticed a for-rent sign on his way up to New York for work, a trip he makes a few times a year.
“I tried to open up down the street, and they wouldn’t give us the time of day,” he recalled of his initial attempt to open a shop at the beach. “I always try to drive the beach road when I head up there, take Route 1. I drove past, and I noticed that the bike shop wasn’t there anymore, and the sign was up: for rent.”
Noble immediately pulled over and got the phone number to inquire about the space, and to his surprise, the landlord was not only receptive, but actually excited to rent to him.
After locking down the location, he knew that next he needed to lock down more artists — and the first one on his list was Jeff Brown.
“I had tattooed Jeff a few months prior,” Noble described of their initial meeting. “He had worked at another shop in Salisbury and I kind of recruited him as my number one guy here. He was ready for a change and wanted to learn more about the art end of tattooing.”
“Getting tattooed by Todd kind of opened up my eyes that there was a bigger world of tattooing and he was part of that world,” Brown explained of his decision to leave his former shop. “I knew coming to work for him would further my career as a tattooer. It was the next step on the ladder for me.”
Though Brown went into his new venture ready to learn and push himself as an artist in new ways, he still brought considerable experience in the industry along with him, after having grown up around tattooing.
“I actually was brought up by family,” he said of his experience in the industry. “My cousin’s been tattooing since the late ’80s. Until my mom and dad got off work, I would hang out at the tattoo shop. It was something that I kind of grew up around. I always knew that that was what I wanted in life.”
Despite already knowing that becoming a tattoo artist was what he wanted for his career, at the advice of his family, Brown took jobs doing installation and demolition before launching his official start in the industry.
“My family kind of pushed me away at first,” he explained. “I had to get normal jobs so I could respect the tattooing field and I didn’t walk into it taking it for granted.”
The shop’s youngest artist, Weir, got his start more along the lines of how Noble did, however — always interested in the art and tattoo world but never considering it as a potential career until the opportunity presented itself.
“The first time I got tattooed, fortunately I got tattooed by Todd, just because I knew him from surfing and stuff,” Weir recalled. “I’m extremely fortunate because, for me, it was kind of right place-right time.”
After landing a job teaching art at Salisbury University, Weir started working the counter at Right Coast in the summer. The more he was exposed to the subculture of tattooing, the more it intrigued him — and soon he found himself trying to muster the courage to ask for an apprenticeship.
“I was nervous to ask Todd for an apprenticeship,” he admitted. “Once he agreed, we kind of just went from there.
“Todd would bring me stacks of books — I was just trying to be as much of a sponge watching these guys tattoo every day, day in, day out, just kind of watching every little nuance of what they were doing.”
Noble starting imparting his knowledge to his new student, beginning a gradual learning process — the opposite of the way that he was thrown into it himself almost 20 years ago.
“I was tattooing within a month of starting,” Noble said of his crash-course apprenticeship. “I wanted a certain regimen for him. I still feel that there’s a ton of stuff he has to learn, and I only give him a certain amount at a time, but for the most part he’s got the basics down. A lot of it is you’re going to have to teach yourself.”
Weir has been tattooing on his own for some time now, but all three artists emphasized their strong belief that tattooing is an art form that requires constantly learning.
“Tattooing’s something where you don’t stop learning,” Brown claimed. “You’ll learn something from every artist. Every artist has their own techniques, and if you’re smart enough to pay attention, you’re going to keep learning.”
“Getting tattooed is probably the best way to learn,” Noble added. “Watching multiple people tattoo in totally different ways, you’re going to learn something from everybody you get tattooed by.”
After five years together, the crew at Right Coast Tattoo continues to adhere to those beliefs, aiming to continue expanding their abilities so they can cater to any needs that a customer may have.
“Everybody that walks through that door is not going to want a tall ship or a pin-up chick or something,” Noble said of his diverse clientele. “You want to be able to do portraits for past loved ones. You want to be able to do nice script names. You want to be able to do crosses. You want to be able to take care of anybody that walks through the door, so you’ve got to be good at everything.”
“We do quality tattoos, and we’ve all worked very long and hard to get where we’re at,” Brown continued. “You pay for quality, you wear quality — you’re happy the rest of your life.”
To find out more about Right Coast Tattoo, visit their website at www.rightcoasttattoo.com or visit their Fenwick Island location on Route 1, next to Ocean Side Sub Shop and Fenwick Island Surf Shop.