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Local woman builds tattoo studio in paradise

February 27, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

On a Friday afternoon, the buzz of tattoo guns hum away in a tiny shop hidden in the corner of Seagrape Plaza.

The walls of Paradise Tattoo are covered in portraits of rockstars painted by the shop's owner, Dawn Webb.

It's her hobby - an escape from designing art for other people for a living.

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The studio is decorated with Webb’s paintings of her favorite rockstars, like LJ Witherspoon of Sevendust, who she had the chance to tattoo in 2014.


The Southwest Florida native always wanted to be an artist, but didn't think the dream was realistic, so she took a front desk job at a radiology center out of high school instead.

"I worked in doctors' offices for 18 years," she said.

One day in the early 2000's, her mother asked her to come along for moral support as she got permanent make-up done at a shop in North Fort Myers owned by tattoo artist Becky Neaves.

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Her mother told Neaves about Webb's interest in tattooing, and she and her husband decided to give her a shot at an apprenticeship.

Webb cashed out her 401K to pay for it, and worked part-time in the shop everyday after she got off her day job.

"I did that six days a week. Saturdays I worked all day, and Sundays I worked by appointment, but I wanted it so bad," she said.

There weren't many female tattoo artists then, and Webb faced harsh criticism in the male-dominated industry.

"It was pretty terrifying when I started. Putting my tattoo work on Myspace, people would see it and they'd rip me apart," she said.

"Critiquing can hurt, but it can also make you stronger and make you better."

Five years later, Webb and Neaves moved the shop to Fort Myers Beach in hopes of better business prospects.

A tattoo shop was moving out of their space in Seagrape Plaza and wanted to sell off their lease.

Soon after, her mentor decided she was ready to move on, and she left the shop to Webb.

Her dream had manifested.

"I really believe in the law of attraction. I remember saying within in five years I wanted to be a tattoo artist and in ten years I wanted to own my own shop. And it happened," she said.

Webb, a heavily-tattooed heavy metal fan who describes herself as soft-hearted, worked in the shop alone for four years.

"I didn't want to go through the trouble of having to tell people what to do or having to fire anyone," she said.

But in 2015, Steve Sweredoski asked if he could do a guest spot at the shop for a couple days a week.

They hit it off, and he's been tattooing at Paradise ever since.

"I've been living on the island for a few years...I love being on this island. I hate leaving it," he said, bent over a large tattoo of a Buddha on the calf of Eric Radcliff, one of his favorite regulars.

"I followed him for most of two years before I got a tattoo from him, just watching his work. And we've been hanging out every since," Radcliff said.

One of his legs has been dedicated to Sweredoski's art, and the other he's saved for Matt Lawrence, the shop's third artist.

Webb hired Lawrence a year-and-a-half ago, rounding out what she calls their family.

They all have different artistic interests.

Steve specializes in traditional tattoos with bold lines and bright colors, Matt loves comic books and video games, and Webb said her favorite subject matter is nature.

"I can do almost anything, but none of us really do portraits," she said.

Across the room, Lawrence is bent over a mermaid design on the forearm of Sydney Rolocut, a first-time client in the shop.

She called that day looking for someone who could do a watercolor-style piece.

"I seem to do a lot of my tattoos on a whim," Rolocut said.

Webb agreed that many people like to be spontaneous about their work, but recommended making an appointment, and being willing to wait for a good artist.

"Don't just go to whoever. Check out their portfolios," she said.

The shop only does custom pieces, and there are a few things a client can do to ensure the process runs smoothly.

"(We like) when a client gives us just the perfect amount of input, a couple of references, pays a deposit for their appointment, they show up on time, they tip us well, and they give us an idea, but let us run with it," she said.

Webb also recommended showing up for appointments fed, sober, and, if you're a tourist, on the last day of your trip, as fresh tattoos have to be protected from sun, sand, and water.

While their client base of tourists grows during the busy season, they have a steady following of local regulars.

Last year, Paradise Tattoo was voted Best Tattoo Studio in the Observer's Best of Fort Myers Beach.

Webb said she hopes to get her team into some tattoo conventions this year, but for now, they'll keep humming away at the shop.

For more information, visit their website at or call the shop at 239-233-8559.



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