Chattanooga was home for only one year. But during my stay, I formed friendships that went far and deep. I lack sufficient explanation for why or how; all I can say is that my friendships felt like they entered an accelerator. Within a month of living in Chattanooga, I found myself in a two-story historic home near downtown with five other roommates. Two of which were Johnny and Katrina Payne. Johnny and Katrina evoke an irrepressible atmosphere of joy. Johnny speaks of the outdoors as one would his own brother, and currently works as an outdoor guide and gear consultant. Katrina collaborates with local coffee shop and Anglican Church, The Mission, helping with their student ministry. One thing is certain: they care about people. They have shed the hidden agendas and adopted the practice of unbiased love. They walk the path of life with intentionality as their guide. And yet, they would be the first to reveal that such lifestyles are not void of mistakes and missteps. The art they chose as permanent identifiers illustrated their life’s intent, making them the ideal archetype for Woven Ink.
I initiated the interview in an older, industrial building: one of many sibling buildings in Chattanooga. The windows ran floor to ceiling allowing light to flood the room. The multi-colored brick about us gleamed, exposing it’s age. Johnny began telling about his induction into tattoo culture. He spoke of how he had to overcome particular stereotypes he held before even considering permanently inking. He described his internal struggle with a sly humor: “For a long time, I went back and forth on getting tattoos, and why I should get one. I wondered why they were important or what they meant. For a long time I moved away from getting them. I would see old ladies with Tweetie Bird on their forearm and I thought, ‘this is weird.’ That was my experience: Tweetie Bird forearm tattoos. I didn’t really want any part in that.” He goes on to describe his tattoo Conversion Experience. Appropriate to Johnny’s personality, it begins at a summer camp where he worked as a counselor. He narrates a daily ritual where he would draw a particularly meaningful symbol on his forearm. “I kept a sharpie on my dresser and I would wake up, take a shower, get dressed, and write it on there again. [..] I had the opportunity to share and encourage people simply through something that was written on my arm.” This process took place for nearly six months before Johnny took the plunge for a permanent version. His tattoo artist? A homeless man named Kevin. The place? An apartment in a government subsidized housing project.