“It’s something that’s come naturally to me,” Eye said about his focus.
About a year before Eye met his girlfriend, she had had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in her battle with breast cancer. To get a well done restorative nipple tattoo, she had to travel to the east coast.
“Her story, it really kind of spoke to me. I understood it on a very personal level how much of a transformation it had made for her,” he told CHS.
Not safe for some people’s work warning: A couple nipples below.
Before meeting his girlfriend, Eye said he had been approached about doing restorative nipple tattoos previously, but he didn’t have experience with that type of work.
After meeting his girlfriend and hearing her story and the impact the restorative tattoos made for her, he pursued specializing restorative cosmetic tattoos for breast cancer survivors and transgender people.
With First Hill’s medical centers and support systems for breast cancer patients, Eye thought neighboring Capitol Hill would be a good spot to offer the final, optional step in a long process for cancer survivors.
To get the experience he was missing before, an extremely generous friend let him practice on his leg. Last fall, he met his first client for restorative tattoos, Shelly Murney.
Ironically, Murney, who has “a fair amount of tattoos,” learned she had breast cancer after doctors decided to take a closer look at a swollen lymph node that was filled with tattoo pigment.
On Thanksgiving 2014, Murney learned the biopsy had revealed she had stage 0 breast cancer. After receiving her diagnosis, she considered her options and had a bilateral mastectomy. Following breast and nipple reconstructive surgery, Eric tattooed Murney in September 2016.
“Talking to Eric about it and his perspective on it was just so unique because of his partner having a similar surgery,” Murney told CHS.
For Murney, of Port Townsend, having experience getting tattoos already provided her with the knowledge about what to look for in an artist. While nurses can and do tattoo patients following reconstructive surgery, it’s not their expertise, Murney noted, and the tattoos are one flat color.
Eye showed Murney samples of areolas and pigments to determine what Murney was looking for.
“I knew Eric had a vision. He was able to make it look like my normal nipples,” she said.
After getting the restorative tattoos, Murney saw her doctor, who brought in five other breast surgeons to see Eye’s work.
“That was the first time I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really gifted,” she said. From there Eye’s business has taken off. Doctors recommend patients to him, and he is seeing multiple breast cancer survivors for restorative tattoos each week.
“There’s a tremendous need for it,” Eye said. “It is really disheartening how many of the clients that I’m working with have several of their friends who also need (restorative tattoos).”
Some clients decide to embellish their restorative tattoos with flowers or birds while some don’t get nipple tattoos at all and just go with a creative design. Other clients come to Eye needing a botched cosmetic tattoo improved. Eye does tattoos on clients with and without nipple reconstructive surgery, achieving a realistic, 3D effect either way. He’s also worked with clients who had reconstructive surgery years ago.
Unlike Murney, many of Eye’s restorative cosmetic tattoo clients have never gotten a tattoo, and for them to get their first tattoos following a battle with breast cancer requires a lot of trust.
Eye also sees transgender clients, but he said they only make up about a small portion of his restorative tattoo clients.
He still does standard tattoos, but he said the more time that he spends with clients seeking restorative tattoos, the better he feels, he said.
“It’s so different from the traditional tattoo work that I do,” Eye said. “It’s a much more fulfilling way of using a skill that I’ve been trying to perfect for 27 years now.”
In following up with clients, they’ve told him it marks an end to their long journey with breast cancer.
For more information visit Eye’s website, ericeyetattoo.com.