Creating art on skin


Anja Jacobson

Frantz tattoos a galaxy on Soltis’s upper arm. Although the appointment was four hours long, the tattoo was only half finished by the end of the session.

In 2012, Miley Cyrus walked into Ypsilanti tattoo parlor, Liquid Swordz, past the glowing neon sign, and into one of the back rooms. She sat down in the large leather chair of Alex Frantz and told him she wanted a “=” tattooed on her ring finger. Rock music played over the speaker system while she told him about the symbol’s meaning and her support for marriage equality.

Frantz had always been fascinated by tattoos. At 17 years old, he knew he wanted to become a professional in the tattoo business. In January of 2002, he picked up a sharp tattooing needle and got started. He found his style and inspiration from video games like MarioKart or Superman comics, and started creating hyper-realistic art on skin.

Even though he planned on igniting his career at age 18, Frantz finally became a professional in March of 2007. He found a sense of belonging in the shop called Liquid Swordz, and has worked there ever since. He found a place he loves, with people who support him, where he can express himself artistically.

“I’ve learned a lot from the owner here,” Frantz said, “It’s been a great place for me to grow as an artist.”

Over the years he has seen a lot. Along with Miley Cyrus, he had the opportunity to tattoo a professional football player. He has seen people cry in pain and seen people act unphased by the needle piercing their skin.

“As long as I’ve been at it, people act like babies,” Frantz said, “Then people you think are going to act like babies wind up being tough. There’s all kinds of weird stuff.”

On a Friday in 2019, Frantz sat down to tattoo Andrew Soltis, a student at Washtenaw Community College. They talked for the duration of the four-hour session, telling each other about their lives.

Soltis told Frantz about the highs and lows of his life, and Frantz listened while he worked. They discussed Soltis’s graphic design classes at WCC, and Soltis described his aspirations to use these skills as a career. He hopes to design men’s fashion and possibly creating tattoos as well. Frantz responded with thoughtful advice and some stories of his own life.

“[Frantz] told me about his wife, and how he met her in the shop,” Soltis said, “He listened to me and seemed to care about what I was saying while he tattooed me.”

“You get to know people better than you’d think you would,” Frantz said, “There’s a lot of close contact and a lot of conversation. I mean, in the time that you’re spending with somebody, it really opens doors.”

Frantz tattoos a galaxy on Soltis’s upper arm. Although the appointment was four hours long, the tattoo was only half-finished by the end of the session.