At one point the youngest licensed tattoo artist in Rhode Island, Chrystal Santos has brought her love for body art and modification to downtown Warren.
Chrystal Santos sees life, and the people in it, as one big palette. And if you pop into Eclectic Body Art at 446 Main St., she’d be more than happy to implement whatever artistic vision you can imagine in a permanent way, wherever you’d like it on yourself.
“Basically, I don't even remember the first time I started drawing,” Santos said of her lifelong passion for art. “I would literally just study everything, like the way the light would come in the room and how it would cast shadows on people's faces. I just saw everything in a way of art.”
A resident of Bristol until she was four, Santos grew up in Tiverton, and said she was inspired to become a tattoo artist when she saw her mom get her first tattoo. She was driven enough that her senior project involved tattooing a piece of pig skin. Shortly after graduating, and while apprenticing with established tattoo artist Stephanie Winters of Portsmouth, the 18-years-and-three-month-old Santos would actually earn the distinction of being the youngest person in Rhode Island to receive their tattoo license, in June of 2016.
And although now she readily admits that her first tattoos — performed on a couple of friends who volunteered — were certainly not up to her current standards, eight years later, a lot has changed.
“I wasn't sure if it was gonna work out because I was like getting chatter from other people saying, you know, you should probably get a side job just in case it doesn't work out,” she said. “So that was obviously nerve-wracking. I certainly didn't expect to be here.”
Main Street in Warren wasn’t where she initially tried to open her first shop, but she feels it turned out to be exactly where she was meant to be. Her first attempt to get a spot was in East Greenwich, but various demands from municipal boards and even a legal issue regarding the property itself blew up those plans.
Eventually, her realtor found her the vacant storefront at 446 Main St., which happened to be right next to the Galactic Theatre, a place Santos fondly recalled walking by with her childhood best friend. Santos signed a lease almost immediately after viewing the property.
The process with Warren was night and day from East Greenwich, Santos said. “Everyone at the Town Hall has been so friendly so easy to work with,” she said. “So nice. So straightforward.”
After receiving all the necessary approvals from the Town, then began the process of sprucing up the 220-year-old building. “It was very yellow,” Santos said with a laugh. It took her months of painstaking work to bring about the vibrant and uniquely decorated store that you can visit today.
Some items on display hold a special place for Santos as well, such as an antique cabinet that her grandfather made by hand. She also salvaged a lot of artwork and oddities from her grandparents’ Bristol home after they passed away, which are now displayed proudly throughout the shop. “I’m keeping them alive now, in a different way,” she said. “It’s exactly what I was going for, in terms of the vibe and making it feel like home, so that people aren’t afraid to be themselves when they’re here.”
The community in Warren has also embraced Santos with open arms. “I love it here,” she said. “It’s so friendly and the people are very personable.”
When you talk to Santos about her art form, it brings her to tears — an indication that finding creative ways to make people feel beautiful has a profound importance in her own heart as well.
“Being able to make art for people that people love, and seeing their faces light up afterwards, and changing people's lives because they feel more comfortable in their skin afterwards — I’ve literally had people say that to me,” she said. “Like they finally appear on the outside as they feel on the inside. I just think that’s really powerful.”
Eclectic Body Art will be hosting a grand opening celebration on July 8 and July 9 from 12 to 9 p.m. You can find out more, or schedule a body art appointment of your own, at their website, EclecticBodyArtRI.com.