Scott Black just can't get comfortable.

Suffering from terminal liver cancer, the 53-year-old tattoo artist sits down in his Newberry Township home. Native American art, dream catchers and feathers hang from the wooden walls. His grandmother was part Cherokee, he said. She taught him how to draw.

His pain is visible: He moves slowly but with sluggish vigor. He stands up, sits down. He changes his shoes twice and puts on a new shirt. It belonged to his lifelong best friend, Mike Miller. He plans to wear it to his own funeral.

Black has some trouble concentrating and apologizes. He has these brain aneurysms that make it hard to think, he said.

He's been wandering around for a while now. His fiancee, Heather Shoff, who's been with him for about eight years, says he's probably fixing his hair in the bathroom. It's very dark, with wisps of silver at the tops of his ears.

A bunch of friends walk through the door, which has a funny way of sticking so it's hard to leave. They file in, sharing stories and telling dirty jokes.

When Black comes in the room, everyone smiles. Holding three squares of lean, red meat in his hand, he returns to life.

"Want some deer bologna?" he asks.

Life of an artist: Up until about last year, Black had been tattooing since he was 14 and growing up in Dallastown. He started off with a bamboo machine dipped in ink, developing a signature freehand style and drawing right on the skin.

He's unsure how many tattoos he's done in those 38 years.

"I don't even know how to explain that," he said, thinking hard. Thousands and thousands, definitely.

In his prime, clients had to wait six months to get in his chair, said Troy "Musky" Myers, a professional fisherman from West York. He met Black about 17 years ago, when he got his first of several fishing-themed pieces.

"The day I met him, he put a tattoo on my body, and I've loved it ever since. ... People go crazy over my ink," he said.

Artist Scott Black, low center photo, of Newberry Twp., is battling cancer. Over his career Black has been recongnized for his tattoo work as well as art
Artist Scott Black, low center photo, of Newberry Twp., is battling cancer. Over his career Black has been recongnized for his tattoo work as well as art designs on custom guitars. He was featured in Tattoo Magazine's August 1991 issue, which he is holding. Some of Black's customers show off their tattoos. Clockwise, starting from lower left: David Dill of Red Lion, Heather Shoff of Newberrytown, Cody Wright of Newberry Twp., Joey Wayne Herman of York, Troy Myers of West York, Shawn Lapham of Emigsville and Dale Ritter of York. John A. Pavoncello photos - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Myers has some 50 hours of Black's work on his body.

The two became great friends over the years, going on fishing trips in Minnesota and laughing constantly along the way, Myers said.

"If anything in the world could make me laugh, it'd be Scott Black," he said. "What a great person to spend time with."

Showing off the ink on his arm, Myers points to a tiny squiggle on the bottom right. It's Scott's initials, he says with a sense of pride, the mark of the best tattoo artist in the area.

"There's nobody in York that could touch him," he said.

Fame and fortune: Then there's the list of famous people who have Black's art on them, such as Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister and Chad Taylor of Live. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler even called him up once, but Black hung up because he thought it was a prank.

And Blue Oyster Cult, Motorhead and Dragonforce all have his artwork featured on their guitars.

"I know he's made over a couple million dollars in his life," Myers said, noting that Black bought him crab cakes the first day they met.

Although Black has made his share of money — one guitar with his art on it sold for $10,000 — he said he never really cared much about his wealth.

He used to burn money, friends say — literally light it on fire and throw it out the window.

Instead, his most cherished accomplishment is his only child, 24-year-old Marshall Black.

"That's Scott's life right there," Shoff said. "That's his heart."

Marshall grew up to become a tattoo artist in his own right, and his father has quite a few tattoos from him.

"He's a part of my world," Scott Black said.

Mixed emotions: Tattooing is a clever mix of pleasure and pain.

Since Black got sick about 10 months ago, he's lost about 60 pounds. He's a lean 150 now. His eyes look tired.

"Some days, I feel ready to go; some days, I just feel down," he said.

And the ride hasn't been easy for his many friends, either.

"You catch yourself laughing then crying," said Karen Miller of Newberry Township. "We're all doing it."

But they'll soon be able to reminisce together.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, a benefit at Wheelie Bar & Grill will honor Black's life with live music, raffles and a special surprise.

"There's not going to be a dry eye in that place — that's all I've got to say," Miller said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.