Brian Fowler doesn’t notice the stares anymore, and he doesn’t mind — too much — when people reach out to stroke his colorfully tattooed arms at the grocery store.
But for hygienic reasons, the 28-year-old Longview resident draws the line at strangers touching his earlobes, which are stretched to a painful-looking 1.5 inches around rings of polished stone. Fowler, who owns the piercing salon at Brand X Tattoo and Body Piercing at 1051 14th Ave. in Longview, has piercings in his nose, bottom lip, upper cheek and ears, and about 150 hours worth of tattoo work on his neck, arms and legs.
“I’m not as scary as I look,” said Fowler, a laid-back family guy who hung a framed photo of his newborn son cradled in his inked hands on the wall at work. He enjoys the different jewelry options his piercings offer and is currently “on a light blue opal kick.”
“It all goes with mood or what I’m wearing. Gotta match. Gotta look presentable,” he said with a laugh.
By his estimate, 75 percent of local residents have a tattoo or piercing somewhere.
“I pierce doctors, nurses, all range of people, people you would not expect to be in here getting a tattoo or piercing,” Fowler said.
His typical clients, though, are women age 16 to 25 who want a nose or bellybutton ring. Fowler does get occasional requests for below-the-belt piercings, most of which can’t be described in a family newspaper. Some of the “downstairs” piercings are for looks, others are to enhance sensation.
Unlike some body piercers, who charge a “handling” fee to work on intimate areas, Fowler’s fees run $25 to $35 per piercing — not including jewelry — regardless of the placement. None of it fazes Fowler.
“I’ve personally never had an issue with it. I’m paid to do a specific service, and that’s what I focus on as professionally as I can,” Fowler said. “My job is not to make people feel uncomfortable. It’s to make them feel as comfortable as they can during a procedure I know they’re very nervous and scared about.”
Generally, the procedures go smoothly, although once in awhile someone will faint 10 minutes afterward, when the adrenaline wears off. Some clients cry and yell during the piercing, but when Fowler stops to ask if they’re OK, he’s met with a growled, “just keep going, just keep going!”
Fowler began his career in body modification four years ago after kicking a heroin addiction at age 24. He’d dropped out of Kelso High School and taken up partying and “running amok.” His life spiraled downward until his mother turned him in to police for stealing her jewelry to support his drug habit.
“In reality, she saved my life,” said Fowler, who sticks to coffee and cigarettes nowadays.
He went to jail and was given the option of Drug Court or prison. He chose Drug Court, paid restitution for everything he stole and everyone he’d harmed, attended a two-year outpatient program and performed community service.
“I was at a point where I was tired of hurting myself and my friends and my family, and I was ready to change. I was ready to grow up,” he said. “That’s where I changed my life and decided I’d get a job and do something I’d enjoy.”
Fowler, who’s had friends in the tattoo and body piercing industry as long as he can remember, did a two-year piercing apprenticeship with a veteran piercer. He hit the books and studied anatomy, skin and scarring. He obtained a state license for body piercing and a bloodborne pathogens certificate.
He’s as particular about the body jewelry he sells as what he wears himself. He uses implant-quality steel, handmade and hand-polished to a mirror finish, which promotes better healing because the skin won’t fuse to the jewelry.
“I’m trying to bring something fancier and more unique to the area,” he said.