Pineapples and Skulls

Luke Austin.

Not many jobs let you draw pineapples and skeletons – or even a combination of both – for a living. But that’s what former RCTC student Luke Austin does as a tattoo artist at Sacred Heart Studios in Rochester.

Despite his artistic talent, Austin didn’t aspire to be a tattoo artist when he left high school. His first move was to join the Illinois Army National Guard, ultimately serving for eight years. The Illinois-native then re-joined his family after they moved to Rochester to see what was next for him. College was an option as Austin received GI Bill money to use after his years of service for furthering his education.

“I knew I wanted to do something along the lines of art and design,” Austin recalls. Specifically, he was leaning toward graphic and web design.

During his time in the Guard, Austin was a photographer, but the self-described “compulsive doodler” was constantly filling notebooks with drawings. He would even sketch with a mouse in Microsoft Paint before he knew what Photoshop was.

“There’s actually quite a few of those sketches floating around my unit; I just came across one the other day. I had no idea one of the guys put one of those that I drew of him as his (Facebook) profile picture some time ago.”

RCTC made sense for him and his art as a starting point. Austin began with general education classes and a couple design classes, which he really enjoyed.

“Right away I clicked with the faculty in those classes,” Austin says.

He took drawing and acting classes the second semester. After that he was completely hooked.

“I just enjoyed the encouragement; the faculty really allowed me to explore and do things and kind of run with the assignments they gave me. I had so much fun that I couldn’t stop going and I ended up using my entire GI Bill for the next four years, taking every art class I could get my hands on. I think I got an excellent foundation and a sense of myself and what I wanted to do with my art at RCTC.”

While taking classes at RCTC, Art + Design instructor Simon Huelsbeck connected Austin with Matt Holt, tattoo artist and founder of Sacred Heart Studios.

Luke Austin.

Holt, like Austin, didn’t graduate with a degree at RCTC. (Austin is strongly considering going back to RCTC to take a couple classes to finish an associate of interactive design [since renamed] and associate of fine arts.) Holt took classes that would help him with his business over the course of a year.

“I really thought that was the benefit of [community] college,” Holt explains. “I don’t need a degree to do what I’m doing, but I need an education to do what I’m doing. It was really nice being able to take a couple simple business classes. “Writing classes were really helpful, because there’s a lot of that stuff that comes in handy here. But mostly just specific art related, like knowing how to use graphic design software. We don’t do a lot of graphic design as tattoo artists, but we do use the software to adjust imagery. And photography, because when you’re a tattoo artist, you don’t have a portfolio, you don’t have a tattoo portfolio. You have a photography portfolio.”

Beyond the instruction is the sense of community RCTC’s art scene fosters that impresses both Holt and Austin.

“It’s not just ‘take your class and leave,’” Holt says. “I took art classes in community college in Vegas too, and I never talked to any of those students outside of class. Or the instructors. When class was over, everybody goes their own way. And here, I would consider at least two of the instructors to be close friends of mine now that I still communicate with. And we try to support each other’s events. I’ve met a lot of other awesome students that I still communicate with and follow.”

Austin still stays in touch with not only his RCTC instructors but current students as well. As his time wound down at RCTC he found himself missing the school, especially his roles as an art tutor.

Now, every other week, he attends

Design Club and the Art Club (both clubs collaborate on meetings) and helps students with designs they would use for tattoos, tote bags, t-shirts, or even just how to draw a skull (one of his talents).

RCTC sophomore Kylar Solie said having Austin visit club meetings has been great.

“It’s been the most helpful thing,” she said. “It’s really good for my artistic process because I’ve always been the person that rushes to the final product. He’s really helping me to realize, start with the foundation, (and) build off of that to have a better final product.”

In this case, Solie is designing a tattoo with mushrooms, pine trees, and more – a combo of things she likes and mean a lot to her – before she has Austin tattoo it on her.

It seems the passion to help others learn is cyclical in the Art + Design Department.

“They have a passion for what they’re teaching but their experience and expertise surpasses what you would expect to find at a community college,” Austin says.

“All the faculty I had classes with or even rubbed shoulders with at RCTC are phenomenal and encouraging. I just felt like I got so much from them… and it was hard for me to leave there because of that. I enjoyed my time there so much going to the art studio or going to the theater. Practicing a play or working on a painting in those spaces was like sacred to me. That was the exciting part of my day.”

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