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Screen capture from Tattoo Hero’s homepage

"I've been collecting artwork for 13 years," says Steve Tannahill, on the phone from Ottawa. "I got my first tattoo when I was 18, and I've probably had 50 hours worth of work done since then."

It takes a second for his meaning to sink in. 'Collecting art' has a different connotation to him: There are people who might pick up a tattoo or two here and there, and then there are people who embark on an pursuit that could eventually cover much of their skin. Those are collectors.

Now, Tannahill is the CEO of TattooHero, a freshly-launched startup that wants to bring artists, recipients, and even art collectors together.

Launched just last week, the service is a niche social network that allows tattoo artists to create profile pages, and band together into shops, and make their work searchable and taggable. Tannahill hopes the site will make it easier tattoo artists who haven't invested in websites to have discoverable web-presences, and for prospective clients to get a sense of their product. As it stands, he says, people looking for tattoo artists go to search engines, where artists with the best web-marketing savvy rather than the best art tend to be the most visible.

"Some guys don't have those resources, and care more about their artwork; they rely heavily on their clients to refer them."

Screening the participants is another angle the company hopes to pursue. Right now, the network is focused on signing up new members, but ultimately, Tannahill says that they'll be looking to check credentials, like whether or not a participating artist has a business license in good standing, and has passed their municipal inspections.

"It's very important to us that we keep a good eye on the tattoo artists who are on the website, and don't allow people who scratch in their basement."

This is one part of a bigger plan to grow the service into a money-maker, if investors can be lined up to take the company to the next step. Tannahill wants to build TattooHero into a content- and customer-relations management platform for tattoo artists, a web service that would handle scheduling, bookings, and customer contacts.

He also sees the potential in building out the service to include a telepresence platform by which artists could conduct consultations with clients. Typically, getting a significant tattoo involves an initial visit, followed by a scheduled consultation, followed by an appointment for the work itself. But if artists' work is discoverable online, and the consultation can be done by video-chat, then only one visit to the parlour might be required.

"A lot of people are intimidated by that first visit to the shop," says Tannahill. But an online network of artists, reachable by video-link, could help ease clients into the process. Anything, Tannahill says with a laugh, "that will drive clients into the loving arms of our artists."

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