By SHELDON BERMONT, Petaluma Towns Correspondent

When tattoo artist Jimmy Bruce saw a chance to buy into a state-of-the-art tattoo parlor in the heart of Petaluma, he jumped at it. The price tag was hefty for a 21-year-old just starting out, but Bruce came up with the solution.

He raised the $20,000 he needed by selling the two-tone black and red, four-speed 1969 Camaro he and his father had been building from the ground up since he was in the seventh grade.

Over the years Bruce had passed on at least 15 offers to sell, but this time, he said, “it was a super easy to make decision. I knew that it was a once in lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to it let pass me by.”

Bruce joined tattoo artists Cody Holyoak, 42, and Jake Yarnal, 25, in buying the business they named Aces Over Eights at 130 American Alley, a highly visible spot overlooking Petaluma’s upscale Helen Putnam Plaza.

“Once we decided to open our own parlor, we ran into a streak of good luck,” said Bruce. Owners of the Union Tattoo Shop, which previously occupied their location, were ready to sell just as the trio was ready to buy.

Holyoak says the business has been profitable since the day they opened in January 2011, and the neighboring businesses have been more than hospitable.

The three-way partnership began while Holyoak was working for a Santa Rosa tattoo parlor where Bruce and Yarnal were customers. Eventually he mentored the pair as they learned the trade.

The process works like any other two-year union apprentice program, he said.

“First you have to learn how to mop a floor, scrub a toilet and get the daily burger order right. The second year consists mostly of observing and learning how to clean and sterilize all the equipment.”

And then there’s homework. Students make drawings and paintings of tattoo symbols and figures on 11-by-14 “flash sheets,” creating five-item, palm-sized designs drawn with a single theme.

“I had to learn every aspect of the craft before I was ever allowed to work on a client,” Bruce said.

Tattoo tradition dictates that your first customer must be a friend. The tradition also stipulates that the artist will give that friend free tattoos for life.

“It’s amazing how trusting they are, even though they know you’re completely inexperienced,” Bruce said with a grin.

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The stupidest tattoos they’ve ever been asked to create?

Bruce: “A head of Jesus made to look like a zombie.”

Holyoak: “A Betty Page model as a grandma pin-up.”

Yarnal: “Everyone who happened to be in the shop wrote down an idea. We put them all in a hat and we drew five at random, combining them into one piece. The result was a beer-drinking carney in the form of a half-eagle/half-koala bear.”
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Body art has come a long way since World War II sailors sailed back home wearing tributes to Mom and Betty Grable. In the 1960s, it became associated with rock ‘n’ roll superstardom. The well-appointed walls at Aces over Eights parlor are blanketed with photos of the stars who boasted tattoos: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Gregg Allman and AC/DC’s Bon Scott.

“By the early ‘90s,” Holyoak said, “the clients wanted the world to see their individual statements, and body art has become a means of self expression found at every income and society level.”

At Aces Over Eights, Bruce said, “We offer a friendly, open-door policy. We’re not a tattoo-wearer’s clique. We’re able to make our clients feel at home with fully-curtained private booths and 2,000 square feet of floor space, double the size of the average shop.”

Owning and operating the shop is a dream-come-true, he said. “I get to make my own schedule, every day is different, and I get to hear some really cool stories.”

Adds Yarnal, “After I work a 10- to 13-hour day, I go home and spend a few hours with my family. I end up drawing until 3 in the morning, and then get up and do it again.”

Says Holyoak, “This is not a job; it’s more like a lifestyle. Making our own hours doesn’t mean we work any less.”

Giving back is also part of their business plan. Bruce said the business regularly assists Art for Animals, American Cancer Society, Avon Breast Cancer Walk and Save the Tatas.