This artist opts for a living canvas

Eric Zuerlein's art might be right next to you. You could unknowingly pass his work in the halls of your office or see a new piece on Facebook without knowing its creator.

Zuerlein is a tattoo artist, and his canvases are walking all over the country.

Zuerlein, owner of American Tattoo in Omaha, began doing tattoos in 1998. He went into American Tattoo to get a tattoo and ended up talking to its former owner, Ira Handlon. He never got that tattoo, but he did get an apprenticeship.

He graduated with a degree in art history from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, but tattooing was much more interesting to him.

"It was intriguing," he said. Zuerlein's work spans tiny designs and huge, colorful pieces. He likes doing portraits and black and gray images, and he loves doing pop culture pieces.

That has led to a job with Ink-Fusion, a group of tattoo artists who travel to pop culture conventions to do tattoos. They officially license characters and designs from companies such as

ERIC ZUERLEIN

Occupation: tattoo artist

Age: 38

Education: Westside High School; University of Nebraska at Omaha

Family: wife, Tiffany; son, Ban

Hobby: soccer

Lucasfilm, and this year they'll be at Star Wars Celebration in London and C2E2 in Chicago, among others.

It's no surprise, then, to see action figures and giant posters of Frankenstein's monster all over the walls of his shop, which has five employees. And don't be surprised to see them duke it out with one of the lightsabers normally hung up on the wall.

Of course, there are lots of interesting clients and artwork coming through the door.

Zuerlein permanently puts his art on a client's skin, and often hears their personal stories. He's become quite close with lots of customers, including a man in his 70s who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Zuerlein gave him lots of tattoos that basically told his life story.

"You don't know what you're going to get every day," Zuerlein said. "It forces you to stay fresh and on top of your abilities."

Contact the writer: kevin.coffey@owh.com 402-444-1557, twitter.com/owhmusicguy

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