Caleb Neff’s body first became a canvas at 17 years old when he had his family crest tattooed on his back. Just over a decade later, Neff – of Blacklist Tattoo – is sharing his passion with inked customers throughout the community and across the country as a tattoo artist.
“I’m kind of a hillbilly who knows how to draw,” the Bellefontaine resident said with a smile. “I’ve always been obsessed with tattoos.”
Neff, winner of Best Tattoo Artist in this year’s Best of Dayton contest, embarked on the artistic endeavor at Kenton Ridge High School.
“I took art class as a senior and while other kids were working on projects, my teacher gave me a notebook and encouraged me to draw,” Neff said. “I bought a tattoo kit when I was 17 and started on my friends.”
After graduation, Neff moved out and needed a job to pay the bills, taking a position as a janitor for the Springfield City Schools. Cleaning bathrooms day after day was the push he needed to pursue his passion. Neff used his one-year bonus to buy his first station and spent four years working as a tattoo artist in Springfield before setting out to establish himself in the Dayton area.
“I think, personally, that Dayton artists can tattoo against the best in the world, they’re that good,” he said. “It’s the mecca of tattooing.”
Neff met with several property owners during his search for a business location with similar outcomes.
“Everything would be good until I told them what I did and then they wouldn’t want to rent to me,” he said. “They put me on a blacklist because of what I did.”
Neff had unknowingly found the name for his studio because of the stereotypes that tattoos can elicit.
He finally found a home for Blacklist Tattoo in Beavercreek four years ago and has been developing his craft and earning accolades ever since. Neff has been featured in Inked and Tattoo magazines and has won numerous competitions but remains modest about the Best of Dayton recognition.
“In my head, I’m not even close to being the best. I’d say 100 percent of this is probably my mom campaigning for me,” he said with a smile.
Neff’s work and client list is expansive, particularly running the gamut from bartenders to surgeons, mothers and daughters and several Ohio State University football players.
“It used to be if you had a tattoo, people assumed you’d been in prison,” Neff said. “But that’s changing.”
Neff has tattoos from head to toe although admittedly, there are a few he no longer likes. He has a few favorites, namely the portraits of his dogs – Lady, Baxter and Floyd – on his leg. His admiration for other local tattoo artists runs deep.
“Kevin at Rebel Tattoo, I trust anything he does, he’s next level,” Neff said. “Everyone in there is unbelievable.”
He appreciates Dayton’s tattoo community overall for helping develop his artistry.
“The most important thing is being willing to learn and having an open mind,” he said. “There are always going to be people who are better than you and there’s always room to improve.”
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