Shelton tattoo artist inks to end Lyme disease

SHELTON — Carolyn Hawkins loves having a lasting impact on people.

For more than two decades, Hawkins has used her talents as a tattoo artist to make that impact — leaving thousands of personalized designs on customers in her Shelton location on Howe Avenue.

“I’ve always loved art. I love illustration,” said Hawkins, owner of Shelton Tattoo since 2004. “I always thought tattoos were fascinating. There is something personal about the art. It is something you take with you. It’s all yours.”

And Hawkins has spent the past four years making her mark in the battle against Lyme disease. Each February she participates in Ink to End Lyme, with the funds going toward a cure for the debilitating disease as part of the Lyme Warrior Project.

Hawkins’ Shelton Tattoo was one of 22 such shops across the nation which spent one day this past February raising awareness about Lyme disease and funds in the search for a cure. Hawkins held her day Feb. 19.

“Carolyn’s been such an amazing support to the Lyme community,” said Lauren Lovejoy of Lyme Warrior Project.

Hawkins said when she first heard about the Ink to End Lyme Disease benefit, she felt an emotional connection to the cause that made her obligated to participate.

“It’s troubling that we still haven’t gotten closer to a cure. It’s a terrible disease and there needs to be more information about it out there,” Hawkins said.

Lovejoy said Ink to End Lyme has been a huge success in the past, not only in funds raised but awareness being brought to a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans but is rarely talked about.

“Some of the artists who support the campaign are Lyme fighters themselves, have had family affected or pass from this disease, or are just sympathetic to the suffering,” said Lovejoy, adding that Hawkins and the fellow participating shops raised more than $20,000 in 2020 prior to onset of the pandemic.

Hawkins said a friend has the disease but did not get an early diagnosis, leading to more chronic pain. This experience, she says motivated her to fight to bring more awareness about the disease and the need for early detection.

“It saddens me that her and many other people are burdened by the disease so when I was made aware of the cause I knew I had to do it,” said Hawkins. “My hope is that through this event and others like it that we will begin to see a difference.”

Hawkins, who now calls Shelton home, began her apprenticeship at a shop in West Haven in 1998.

“Once I started getting tattoos, I realized it was something I really wanted to get into,” Hawkins said. “I would not swap it for anything. I think my customers are fantastic people, and I like the art very much. This job is always interesting, endlessly interesting.

She added she loves working with all the different types of people that come to her shop.

“Everyone’s individuality assures that every job will be different. It keeps things exciting,” she said. “Making customers happy is one of the greatest feelings.”

She says she has done tattoos of all sizes, some of which take multiple sittings with the client to finish. Roses remain popular, as are skulls and crossbones, and names of loved ones. She said eagles are a common choice too, in honor of military service. Ravens also have become a popular choice.

“There are tremendous artists out there, and it’s a humbling experience to see what people are capable of crafting and that I am part of this group of artists,” Hawkins said. “I try to do the best for my customers, try to treat them well.”

She also works with clients, especially first timers, to see what personal touches she can add to the requested tattoo.

“I always plan for the unexpected,” she added, saying she has had to turn away some ideas, most of which are of a more negative nature or might be more focused on hate or anger. Others may be too complex or intensive.

“There is a line between what is possible and what really can’t be done — a very fine line,” she said.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com