Tattooing in the community

TATTOOING: James works on a piece that incorporates the cross and means "together we rise."

TATTOOING: James works on a piece that incorporates the cross and means “together we rise.”

BIG RAPIDS — A small challenge led to an idea that sparked a career for a local tattoo artist.

Jesse “Jesse James” Cocking, co-owner of Lighttouch Tattoo, said he drew an octopus in school to prove how an octopus should be rendered with fellow artist and co-owner Sonya Grenell. Grenell then suggested James should become a tattoo artist.

“I tried tattooing out, I was going to school for graphic design at the time. I still finished my degree, but I decided I like tattooing better than design. I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.

James said he has been tattooing for just over eight years. He describes creating his first tattoo as a scary experience.

“Thankfully, I had really cool clients who understood the apprenticeship process, and they wanted to help out and have a tattoo,” he said. “You can always go back over the work, but your first tattoos always suck. There’s no way around it. Every single person sucks at tattooing for a good year, then they get better.”

James said he and the other artists at Lighttouch have been meeting other professionals and competing in conventions. The Lighttouch artists will also be guests at the Teresa Sharpe studios. Sharpe won the second season of Best Ink, a reality show about tattooing on Oxygen.

In the world of competitions, James said, “We pick conventions we can drive to places, like Chicago, Philly and Ohio. We set up for the whole weekend and everyone competes for best tattoo of the day, best small color and such. So far we’ve done really well, we haven’t walked away empty-handed.”

Between running the shop and regularly attending conventions, James said he and Grenell, his wife now of almost two months, have little down time. “We don’t really have days off. We go home and we’re still talking about work 90 percent of the time.”

When in the shop, James said he likes working with bold colors. “I love doing custom pieces, anything where people trust me to execute something for them.”

He suggested coming to the shop with an idea of the desired tattoo. “It works against the art to look on Google for a tattoo. Come with a general idea, then we can come up with something unique that no one else has.”


Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at

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