As a child, Michael DiGiacomo would frequently find himself doodling images of Batman and Bart Simpson.
Mesmerized with the art of illustration, the young South Philly resident started sketching his own comics and cartoons, delving into how-to drawing guides and studying flip books.
“It captured me just by watching…just how they’re created,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine how everything had to be drawn little by little and then sped up to create a scene. It was crazy how you could make movies and shows through art. That’s how I became very infatuated with it.”
Several years later, DiGiacomo’s infatuation with art has not faded.
Earlier this year, the Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti graduate opened Tattoo One Five (TAT215ive), a custom tattooing and art gallery, featuring original paintings and mixed-media works, in Queen Village.
The appointment-only studio, located at 815 S. 4th St., was built on the basis of body ink as a respected medium of art, as the walls of the new space are not filled with traditional tattoo flash, a catalog of conventional tattoo designs, but rather are bestowed with oil paintings and mixed-media works of local emerging artists.
“Instead of (tattoo flash) – how tattooing is nowadays – it’s become such an art form,” DiGiacomo said. “It’s not just a pick-off-the-wall and do tattoos that you recreate…I wasn’t looking to get big artists or try to contact artists that people know just to get their artwork in here to bring people in. Me, I want to organically grow this.”
The artist behind some of the displayed work includes DiGiacomo, as the St. Monica-parish resident dabbled with various types of art throughout his life, especially after being captivated by his uncle’s oil paintings as a kid.
DiGiacomo says, between the comics and canvases, his skills translated seamlessly to tattooing – a craft he fell in love with as a teenager after receiving an inked dedication to his deceased grandmother on his left shoulder blade.
“It goes hand-in-hand – painting, drawing, graphic – everything from designing the tattoo to stenciling the tattoo to actually doing the tattoo,” he said.
After graduating Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti in 2007, DiGiacomo was recruited by Delaware Valley University’s football team. With limited art opportunities at the college, DiGiacomo left the athletic program and started picking up classes at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Around this time, he started work on a tattooed sleeve on his right arm created by local tattoo artist Dan Craft of DNA Tattooing, LLC in Williamstown, New Jersey.
Similar to his enhancement with animation and fine art, DiGiacomo was once again thunderstruck by the creative process.
Sessions to receive his sleeve transformed into private seminars.
“I had never seen any kind of artwork like that before…I was definitely taking everything (Craft) said and listening and doing it,” DiGiacomo said. “I actually got more serious in art because of that.”
Determined to work as an official apprentice under Craft, DiGiacomo began vigorously practicing original sketches and building his portfolio.
After months of persistence, DiGiacomo, in his early 20s, was selected for the apprenticeship, where he studied Craft during sessions, learned how to operate tattoo needles and even practiced inking on frozen pig ears he bought from the Italian Market.
“There were times where I thought I’d never be good…I would just be hard on myself,” DiGiacomo said. “To be great, I guess you have to be.”
During the two-year apprenticeship at DNA, DiGiacomo concurrently finished receiving his associate’s degree at CCP, where he studied art, style and design.
Along with further cultivating his painting and mixed-media abilities, DiGiacomo studied techniques such as color theory.
Developing knowledge about the human body’s relationship with design, such as certain shades accentuating certain muscles, fused with collegiate-level art studies, DiGiacomo continued to foster his creative eye.
“As an artist, a piece is never finished,” DiGiacomo said. “It could be a drawing. It could be a tattoo. It’s never finished. I can always improve it. And that’s hard for somebody like me, where I’m so detailed or so hard on myself to just step away and say, ‘Done.’ ”
During his tenure at DNA, DiGiacomo earned the New Jersey-mandated hours to receive his tattooing license in the state.
Following the apprenticeship, DiGiacomo worked for more than three years at Jersey Devil Tattooing & Body Piercing in Blackwood, New Jersey, where he gained “street shop” tattooing experience.
After several years establishing himself as an artist in South Jersey, DiGiacomo was ready to resume his work in the city, especially because the majority of his clientele were acquaintances from the local South Philly community, which he says offers an advantage to the art of tattooing.
“You have to trust the person doing the tattoo, so if you know a tattoo artist personally, it makes it that much better of an experience – to trust the person that’s going to do it for you,” DiGiacomo said.
Having always dreamt of owning his own business, DiGiacomo spent the last couple of years searching for a facility to project his vision, which would not only serve as a space to practice his own art but feature the imagination of others, including customized tattoos and the work of seldom-seen artists.
After receiving his license to perform body art in Philadelphia in 2017, DiGiacomo eventually discovered the Queen Village property and officially opened the business this past February.
DiGiacomo says, at the space, he plans to start art lessons, including tattoo seminars, hoping to pass along the scope of artistic inspiration that he’s collected over the years.
“I feel, at the end of whatever I do, I want to evoke emotion from somebody looking at it. I want to get a reaction out of them pretty much,” DiGiacomo said. “And that’s why I spent extra time or I get that extra detail in there, because then it will.”