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Skin the Frame

Skin the Frame

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It’s another typical Tuesday night when Mike and Kyle Sherwood receive an email from a man who wants the duo to remove most of his skin. Such a request may provoke images of Silence of the Lambs or Craigslist ads gone wrong, but the email is simply business as usual for the duo. 

Mike and Kyle are the father-son team of morticians behind Save My Ink Forever, a tattoo preservation service based in Twinsburg. Instead of burying or cremating tattoos along with the body, Mike and Kyle work with people to save and frame pieces for posterity. To do so, the duo developed a process to preserve excised skin so that the art lasts beyond a single lifetime. 

On this particular Tuesday, there are 13 different tattoos arranged on the table in their Twinsburg office, ranging from large torso pieces to a tattoo the size of a postage stamp. According to the duo, Save My Ink Forever is the only tattoo preservation company you’ll find, and business has grown notably in the past few years. However, their success wasn’t always clear after a slow start. 

The idea for Save My Ink Forever came from a cordial conversation over a few drinks back in 2014. Mike was over at a friend’s house when his buddy had suggested that it would be cool to have his tattoos saved and preserved inside the riding club he ran. Mike and Kyle did more than just agree – they saw an opportunity. 

While excited about this new venture, there was a notable problem – the two morticians needed to figure out how to preserve tattoos. Kyle and Mike needed fresh samples to develop a process, so they figured out a way to entice willing volunteers to help them practice. The solution? Free tummy tucks.

The plan was simple – anyone interested would get tattoos on the skin removed during the tummy tuck process. In exchange, Mike and Kyle received fresh skin samples for preservation practice. Fortunately for the morticians, there were plenty of people willing to stomach a few tattoos in exchange for the procedure.

“We had people in line, man,” Mike says. “They’d each get four tattoos on their stomachs. They had to wear it for a month because it would let the skin heal up and then we’d get to practice, which we really needed.”

After roughly 18 months and 40 tattoos, the twosome developed a top-secret preservation method. In 2016, Save My Ink Forever officially started with a five-person team that included Mike, Kyle, a doctor, and others. However, there was no immediate boom for the business. The company finished 20 total tattoos in its first year, just seven more than what’s currently lying on an office table on a Tuesday night. Over time, the other team members left the project until Save My Ink Forever was left with just Mike and Kyle.

“Any new thing that you’re making where it’s even somewhat controversial to some people, it’s going to take a while to get some traction,” Mike says. “I said that it was going to hit, it’s just going to take time. Basically, we invested money in that and stuck it out and we’re starting to reap the benefits of it.”

Fortunately for the father-son team, the company attracted some notable attention in 2018. First, tattoo lifestyle magazine Inked shared a piece about the company. Eventually, BBC News and the official magazine for the National Funeral Directors Association picked up on the Sherwood’s endeavors. Despite little advertising aside from the occasional Facebook ad, Save My Ink Forever found an audience for people who want to preserve their own or their loved ones’ tattoos.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t jobs they don’t take. 

“Alright, this guy just got weirder,” Kyle says while peering down at his phone. It turns out the individual emailing Save My Ink Forever about a full body suit doesn’t want his tattoos flattened and framed like the typical customer. Instead, he wants his skin formed to a 3D dummy – a flesh mannequin, so to speak. 

That request was denied. The Sherwoods also turned down an inquiry from a man with a full body suit who wanted to sell his tattoos to interested patrons before he died. They said no to that request because they wanted to create eternal memorials, not pieces of skin for sale or as sideshow art. 

Both Mike and Kyle are very aware that there are people who hear “skin removal” and think about Ed Gein’s lampshades, which is why they’re sure to turn down any requests that may make people question the integrity of their craft. Instead, they focus on creating a new way to preserve the work an artist has done and allow body art to be shared in the same way as a painting or some other work.

“It goes back to the art that these tattoos are,” Kyle says about the work of professionals they encounter at tattoo shows and through work. “These guys are the Rembrandts and Picassos of tattooing. Just because it’s ink and skin, why are we to knock it or degrade it because it’s not on a canvas or parchment?”

In addition to the artistic value of their preservations, the Sherwoods also note the importance of the emotional attachment people have for the ink they save. One daughter saved her mother’s matching frog tattoo – the mother got hers after she became sober because “frogs don’t drink.” Another mother wanted to save her son’s chest piece to hold on to a piece of him while the rest of his body was cremated. Each tattoo and individual has a story, and the Sherwoods have developed several relationships in the process.

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“Honestly, we’ve met some friends,” Mike says. “They feel a special bond to you and I feel a special bond with them because we’re working with their loved one at the most difficult time in their life and it’s a bond that you wouldn’t think about, but it’s happened.”

From free tummy tucks to ongoing friendships, a simple idea over drinks has developed into a new way for people across the country to memorialize those who have passed – and it’s all thanks to a couple of guys from Northeast Ohio. If you ever need someone to preserve part of you or a loved one’s story, Save My Ink Forever has plenty of skin in the game.

How to Save Your Ink Forever

Do you or a loved one have some skin you’d like to save? Turns out it’s a fairly simple process (at least for the people not preserving skin).

As you may expect, the process starts with death. Once the person with the tattoo in question dies, it’s important to have your funeral home or crematory contact Save My Ink Forever within 72 hours. If you don’t have one in mind, you can check out their website to find a preferred provider in your area. Once Mike and Kyle hear from you and your business of choice, they’ll email over a permission to excise tissue form. Once the form is notarized, it’s time to get to work.

Before they excise the skin, Mike and Kyle have the embalmer take photos of the skin the client wants removed and measure any applicable tattoos. If neither Mike nor Kyle can come out to the location to excise the skin, they’ll send an instructional video to train the embalmer how to remove, store, and ship the tattoo to Save My Ink Forever so Mike and Kyle can begin the three-month-long preservation process.

So how much does the whole process cost? A five-by-five-inch tattoo will cost $1,599, which includes tattoo removal, preservation, framing, and shipping. The framing is done to archival standards, which includes UV-protective glass to further protect the art. In general, the total cost goes up $100 per square inch, although Save My Ink Forever provides custom pricing for larger pieces and multiple tattoos.

Need to know more? Head to savemyink.tattoo for more information about Save My Ink Forever.

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