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Local tattoo artist works to heal the scars of cancer

Garrett Potts of Old Town Tattoo is hoping to provide a restored self-confidence to breast cancer survivors.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Garrett Potts is working to leave a mark on West Texas. About four years ago, the tattoo artist, San Angelo native and owner of Old Town Tattoo discovered areola restorative tattooing, a procedure designed to give women who have had mastectomies natural-looking breasts again.

“I’d been tattooing for about 10 years at the time,” Potts said. “Breezing through the internet, one day I stumbled across a guy that was doing reconstruction tattoos and it was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that. So I got really excited about it, and it’s something that’s always kind of sat on the backburner of my mind.”

Unfortunately at the time, Potts didn’t have a suitable location to perform the procedure without the usual stigma that comes along with tattoo shops.

“It’s a super-emotional experience for these women. They didn’t need to be sitting on the couch with a bunch of ratty guys who want to get the year they graduated tattooed on their butts.”

Then, last year when the COVID pandemic had just about everyone unsure of what the future might hold, Potts was able to secure a quaint little two-story house on Orient Street, one in which he could both work and raise his four-year-old son, Max, along with their shelter Corgi, Rex.

“The opportunity came up to get this really cool place where I could separate my clientele from the people who want to get the traditional tattoos and the women that need the restorative tattoos.”

Credit: Randall Case

The house looks more like an "Ozzie and Harriet" starter-home than a traditional anchors-and-dragons-type tattoo parlor.

“This house is very inviting, you know? There’s nothing intimidating about it. You’re not gonna walk in here and get kicked in the face with heavy metal music. I try to keep it calm and relaxed. I’ve got a back entrance for the survivors to come in. I try to create a private experience here.”

Now that Potts has his shop/house up set up, he’s eager to get the word out about what can be a life-changing procedure for breast cancer survivors, especially those who might not have ever considered walking into a tattoo shop.

One of those survivors, Janie Castanuelas, said Potts’ work has changed her whole self-image.

“When we were texting I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure about this,’ because I was still very hesitant to let anybody see me like that,” Castanuelas said. “That’s the biggest thing when you’re like that, because you’re not whole. When I came in, I was very self-conscious. But he just made me feel so comfortable and took care of me. He changed my life for the better. I feel whole now. Before, it was very hard to look at myself. After he was done he said, ‘Look at yourself in the mirror,’ and I just broke down.”

Potts said the self-improvement aspect is a two-way street.

“These last couple years, everybody is going through something. If I tattoo two or three clients a week that are going through this, and hear their story, and see the change that I’ve done for them, it really kind of doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for depression and sadness inside of myself. So it’s life-changing for me, too. I’ve never had anybody break down and cry over a skull tattoo I gave them. So this is cool, you know?”

For the rest of October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Potts is offering free restorative work to four cancer survivors.

“We’re going to have the house lit up pink to show support, and anyone who gets ahold of me, for four women this month, I’m going to provide pro bono services.”

Outside of October, Potts said he’s willing to negotiate with installments.

“I’ll work with everybody. I don’t want to turn anybody away from this. Unlike traditional tattoos, which are a luxury for all of us and not a necessity, I feel like this is the complete opposite of that. I feel like this is a necessity,” Potts said. "Although doing cobras and daggers and things like that are super-fun to do, this was a whole other avenue that I didn’t even know tattooing could take me down. Tattooing can change people’s lives. And this is one way it can do it.”

   

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