Joshua LaBello and his brother, Michael, two tattoo artists in Gallipolis, Ohio, recently hosted a scar cover-up contest for at their shop, Envy Ink Tattoo.

Joshua wanted to help people who had been psychologically affected by some sort of trauma—to help make a positive change in their lives, even if the task might be artistically challenging.

“Tattoo artists, in general, tend to shy away from tattooing over scars and over bad tattoos because there is a high level of difficulty,” LaBello says. “But this difficulty is precisely the reason we enjoy this challenge. “

LaBello says the brothers have continued their relationships with contest participants, and they report ongoing positive results. “We couldn’t be happier with the contest and the results,” LaBello says. “We will definitely be doing more contests in the future.”

Kristen Shonkweiler Baker, a former addict, used needles to inject drugs into her arms, and now clean, her arm retained an abscess that caused stretch marks. Her arms were a constant reminder of life’s low points and a hindrance to her self-esteem, which began to take a toll on Baker. The cover-up tattoo was a chance to lift the burden from the memories of being an addict.

“Most people, when they would look at my arm, they would have a look of disgust,” Baker says. “But now, you can’t see it, it’s just this beautiful piece of art.”

In place of the scar, she now has a colorful group of wildflowers, a plant that has a deeper meaning for her.

“Wildflowers grow in pretty much anything they land in,” says Baker. “I’ve had a pretty crazy life and I’ve grown from it.” People now get to know her without first judging her scars of addiction.

Now, four years sober, Baker has turned her life around. She works at The Counseling Center, an alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation center in Portsmouth, Ohio.


Other contest winners included:

  • Devon Earles who had a 10-pound benign tumor removed from her stomach, resulting in a 5-inch scar. She received a phoenix design, using the tail to cover the scar.
  • Charles Tignor had a scar from a broken femur he incurred after being hit by a drunk driver. He a realistic replica of Han Solo’s ‘blaster’ to incorporate his dream of one day becoming a U.S. Marshall and his love of Star Wars.

Covering up a scar can give a person a sense of control, taking away the scar’s power to dominate their being. If a tough hand was dealt in life, there are people who are strong enough to never fold, to never give up. Covering up a scar with a tattoo is not necessarily hiding from the past, but instead, embracing the negative and turning it into a positive. By covering up their scars, LaBello was able to heal people with ink and through art.

by Alisha Shultz