The North Bend Eagle


Tory Larson, a 1997 NBC grad, opened Affinity Tattoo Studio in North Bend in October.

Larson making his mark in tattoo business

by Nathan Arneal
Published 4/1/15

For most, those doodles in the margins of their notebook made during history class are simply distractions.

For Troy Larson, they led to a career.

“I’ve drawn or colored ever since I can remember,” Larson said. “It’s just something I was always drawn to, even as a little kid. It’s always been a love of mine. I’d draw Loony Tunes characters, the stuff that was popular when I was a kid.”

Now, Larson gets paid for his artwork and knows it will last a lifetime.

Larson, 45, opened Affinity Tattoo Studio in North Bend last October, but he’s no newcomer to the tattoo business.

He started out 22 years ago sketching artwork for a professional tattoo artist. Eventually he learned how to do the tattooing himself and struck out on his own, opening Ground Level Tattoo in Fremont in 1994.

After running his own shop for nearly a decade he took some time off to earn an associate’s degree in computers. He returned to tattooing as part of the management team at Dr. Jack’s Ink Emporium in Fremont. When Dr. Jack’s closed its Fremont location, Larson again went solo.

His new shop is just north of North Bend on Highway 79, behind his mother Sally Zvacek’s house.

The majority of his business is repeat customers – some of which he’s been working with for 22 years. It took a while for his clientele to find him after the move, but business is starting to pick up as he gets his name out there more, mainly through social media.

“Tattooing is an art where you gain a following,” Larson said. “You tattoo one person in a family, and pretty soon you’re tattooing the entire family and all their friends and cousins and it gets bigger and bigger. The longer you can stay in one spot, the better the business becomes.”

He’s seen a lot change in his two-plus decades in the business. The most noticeable change has been the people that come through his doors.

“When I started it was bikers and, you know, ‘unsavory’ people,” Larson said, using his fingers to put air quotes around unsavory. “Now it’s worked into more mainstream. It’s become more acceptable. I’ve worked on doctors and dentists and lawyers. Business professionals. In that aspect it’s changed a lot. It’s become almost commonplace to have tattoos now.”

His clientele has also shifted more towards the fairer sex. Larson said about 60 percent of his tattoo clients are women.

Like most industries, safety has become a larger issue over the years.
When he started out, Nebraska didn’t have regulations covering tattooing, so he copied regulations from other states to set his own cleanliness and safety standards. That led him to use an autoclave – a high pressure steam sterilizing machine used in hospitals – to clean his instruments.

“I made sure right from the very start I was autoclaving everything,” Larson said. “Above all else, I don’t want anybody getting sick. That’s something that has always been a concern of mine.”

It wasn’t until 2005 that Nebraska passed regulations to standardize health and safety practices in the industry.

While technology and the client base has evolved over the years, it has always been about the art for Larson, a 1987 NBC graduate. As trends change, so does his style.

“There’s always the trendy tattoos,” he said. “Infinity knots were trendy for a while. Lettering is kind of a trend right now. A lot of people are getting lettering, phrases, quotes, verses.”

He does a lot of traditional black and gray work, but he also specializes in portrait realism. His clients often bring in pictures of people or wildlife they want to see replicated on their skin. He said reality TV shows about tattooing such as Miami Ink and Ink Masters have really opened up people’s imaginations as to what can be done with a tattoo.

“Everybody wants something that looks a little more realistic,” Larson said. “Even bright, colorful stuff has that photo-realism in it. It’s not the traditional stuff with the solid black outline with the one monochrome color across it.”

Larson draws customers from all over eastern Nebraska and beyond, so setting up shop in rural North Bend hasn’t had a negative effect on his business, once his clients knew where to find him. He hopes Affinity Tattoo in his one-time hometown is his last career move.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I might end up back in North Bend,” he said. “It felt like this is where I should have been, I guess.”

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