Not long ago, I announced that I was going back to school to pursue a BFA in Illustration. Today I make yet another big announcement. While I’m still actively pursuing my degree, I have also decided to begin tattooing again. I will be back at King of the Bay Tattoo in Solomon’s, Maryland, the best shop I’ve ever had the pleasure of working in, starting next week. Our family is complete and the youngest is becoming more independent, so the timing feels right. I missed tattooing deeply and look forward to picking up where I left off and continuing to grow as an artist in this ancient yet constantly innovative medium. I’m honored to work alongside these talented, hardworking artists again!
That’s right! I’m back in school, picking up where I left off in 2007 when I was medically withdrawn from classes and subsequently lost my scholarship for having too few credits in the required time. I’ve been attending classes at College of Southern Maryland, I have a 4.0 average, and I’m applying to the best art schools around the country for a BFA in Illustration.
There are some barriers for me, especially with the kids. But for once I can say those barriers are no longer internal. I return with the work ethic I learned from years of experience. I return with a new attitude- not “what can the school give me?” but “what can I give the school?” And there is nothing I can’t do if I decide I’m going to do it.
If you’re checking out my page looking for my portfolio, click the 3 little lines at the top left of the page for a site menu. Thanks for looking!
This one was actually one of the last tattoos I did, on a very dear friend of mine and former bandmate. The quote he sent me (from Moby Dick) as the inspiration for this tattoo was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes. This was one of those dream pieces- where the person tells you what they want the tattoo to represent, what it means to them, and then lets you conceptualize the piece yourself.
I actually did this Crimson Peak piece at Megacon in early March, months before I stopped tattooing. My dear friend and respected artist, Josh B referred his client to me since at the last minute he would be unable to attend. She was a blogger and had seen a sneak preview of the film, and was already a huge fan. I never posted this picture because I was waiting for healed photos. Working with so much black after I had already completed the details on the face, a lot of that dark pigment seeped into the surface of the skin and muddied all the color in his face. I wanted to wait to get a picture of the healed tattoo. The face looks perfect now, but unfortunately a lot of the ink fell out of his glove. The following picture is how the face looked before the black ink muddied up the color on his face.
This was done on a young client of mine within the last few weeks I was working. His mother brought him to me before his 18th birthday to get a tattoo in tribute to his sister. Before he got this blue rose tattoo, a tribute to his mother, he went and got tattooed by a friend in his friend’s house. So I spent a good deal of the time while tattooing this blue rose to give him a lecture on being in a rush to get covered in tattoos at such a young age.
This tattoo was one of the first I began at King of the Bay, back in 2013. One thing about tattoos on peoples’ backs, they can’t see them on a daily basis and are therefor less motivated to come in and finish them. 🙂
This was another piece that took a long time to complete, but for obvious reasons. It’s one of my favorites, very fun subject matter. In my final weeks, I filled in the background and tattooed the ship in the inner arm.
This client got in with me too late to actually get a sleeve, but we did complete several of the components, and now all he needs is some filler.
This was another piece that took a very long time to complete, again, a client who came in in my first few months at King of the Bay. Her reason for not coming in to finish it was the hardship of being a mom and finding childcare, but also just the fact that she can’t stand being away from her little one. I get that.
This was the finishing session on a sleeve for a young man, basically encapsulating his values. This part was for the piece dedicated to the Bible story of Sharach, Meeshac, and Abednigo, who were ordered into the furnace for not bowing to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. A fourth figure appeared in the flames, and the guards were ordered to keep heaping more and more fuel into the fire, to make it hotter, so much so that many soldiers died from the heat, but the men inside survived unscathed.
It took me a ridiculously long amount of time to come around to doing this blog. Largely, I blame my first trimester of pregnancy. All I seem to have accomplished in the last 3 months is keeping a toddler and a fetus alive. No small feat, I tell you. The hormones knocked me out, I felt as if I needed someone to peel me off the floor on a daily basis. But as I begin my second trimester, I find both energy and mental clarity returning slowly.
As one may have gathered from my post, As the Beginning Eats the End, at the time I decided to stop tattooing, my reasons felt flimsy but my resolve was certain. My boss, self-appointed “Psychic Ass-hole”, who is rarely ever wrong, told me that if I wasn’t pregnant in 6 months, I’d be back. And if I did get pregnant, I’d be tattooing again when the kids were older. I didn’t believe him, but I knew he’s rarely wrong. It’s one of the many things I respect so much about him.
Yesterday, my friend who has just started tattooing in recent months, after years of being part of the community through photography, posted a status on facebook that reminded me of how I felt those first few years tattooing. Not getting enough work, not doing enough of the tattoos I want to do. It’s why I kept waiting tables– I preferred to be busy. I didn’t realize that the secret to tattooing is slowing down and focusing. That means using all your down time to study other artists, to draw things that you’re not comfortable with over and over and watch your growth. To seek out the knowledge of more experienced artists. To develop your eye for color and composition. The desire to be busy is a by-product of our fear of being a slave to time. To create something timeless, you must learn to make time your slave. This is one of the most beautiful things tattooing has taught me, and it never crystallized into words until last night.
My time tattooing at King of the Bay brought me to a precipice. I could see my art and my career going everywhere I ever wanted them to go, without limit, if I would only dedicate my life to it fully. I had finally come to understand the truth about what kind of devotion my craft deserved. I finally had the right mentor, the right mindset, and years of experience in my corner.
But I also have a very young child– some might still call her a baby– and another on the way. These fragile years, they go so fast. These children need so much and they drain the mind and body. At conventions, my colleagues would often say, “I don’t know how you do it, man.” I was treading water as a parent and as an artist. That’s not enough for me. If I’m going to do anything, I have to do it to the best of my ability. And if that meant doing just one thing, at least for now, I’d have to do the one thing I can’t abandon. I didn’t realize that was the choice I had made when I made it. I made some half-hearted attempts at pursuing other careers before ultimately admitting to myself that this was my purpose, my sole focus… for now. Being a mother. Our society places very little value on caring for people, subjugating your needs to those of your family. It’s all about what you produce, how we serve ourselves. It wasn’t easy for me to choose to turn my back on that mindset. When the children are more independent, time will reveal my next great purpose. And perhaps that will be tattooing again.
I realized I do love tattooing, passionately. It wasn’t just a means to an end. I love it so much, I can’t bear to do it half-assed, as mothering the very young forces us to do with everything but that very sacred duty.
I was 18 years old and my whole world had become, in the previous year, much bigger, much deeper, and much wilder. I was newly created. Where once I had been a devout holy-roller who raised her hands up and sang with tears streaming down her face about the Amazing Love of Christ and to whom the only book that mattered anymore was the Bible, now I’d become a science-fiction-reading, philosophizing, world-tasting, third-eye-opening deviant. Everything I had ever judged as immoral, everything I had never been allowed to do, I suddenly needed to do. It became my new religion. So, of course, I needed tattoos and piercings. Lots of them.
For my very first tattoo, I appropriately sketched up a miniature version of a pastel drawing I had done called “Man’s Last Moment of Innocence,” wherein an innocent Eve looks up wide-eyed at the Serpent, holding the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, deciding whether or not to take a bite. Everything in her world is innocent, because she sees through innocent eyes. She knows nothing of sin or suffering. Though I had already plunged into a world of “sin” I was still shrouded in a shield of naiveté. I took my drawing, and a drawing of an angel for my mother to get tattooed with me, to an artist named Rob B. who owned Bison Tattoos in Cutler Ridge, FL. He was a big old biker Santa Claus, and I remember being surprised at how expensive our tattoos would be. It instantly got me thinking- hmmmmmm… this guy must make a ton of money. Everybody always told me I’d never make money as an artist, and whenever I pictured myself as an adult making my way as an artist, I saw hours of solitary studio time, a lonely hermit splashing her feelings on a canvas, just the way I had spent all my childhood and teen years shut in my room writing short stories and drawing pictures and comics. This guy was making money and didn’t seem to be a hermit. Why, here he was talking to me and my mom and we’d never met before. I bet he meets a ton of people doing this!
I had brought some other art with me as well and showed it to him, with future tattoos in mind, and the day I came in to get tattooed, I asked if he was hiring. Turns out he was, and he offered me an apprenticeship based on my artwork. I had never thought about tattooing before. Seemed at least like a good way to get through college. Oh yeah, college. I already had a Bright Futures scholarship and was enrolled at FSU for the fall semester. But I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And it seemed unfair that I had to choose when I knew nothing of the real world. I didn’t want to waste my time flitting from major to major until I figured it out (I wish I had known that wouldn’t have been such a waste of time), I wanted to know for sure. I withdrew from classes after a couple months and worked in restaurants hoping I’d figure it out and get back in school with a plan. After about a year of doing that, I finally decided tattooing was the way to go. I could cover all my bases- make money, meet people, create art for a living, and bonus: no school! I found a tattoo shop in Tallahassee where I wanted to apprentice and came straight from work every day to talk to the owner (who was never there) and show him my portfolio. After a few weeks of this, someone at the shop took pity and told the boss to stick around one afternoon and check it out. Soon I had my apprenticeship.
And that’s when I got my first anxiety attack. I remember calling my dad from the parking lot. It wasn’t the shortness of breath and panicky feeling like I might die that I eventually would experience, it was just a heavy sense of foreboding. I took it to mean that I was taking my future as a tattooer seriously and anxiety was a natural reaction to settling down and getting a real job that would require my devotion.
Let’s fast forward 10 years. I’ve got an experienced hand, a great bed-side manner, a growing clientele, a unique style, and I’m working in the best shop I’ve ever worked. I occasionally travel to epic comic/pop culture/sci-fi conventions to tattoo with my friends in Ink Fusion. I’m making better money than I’ve made in my entire life. And yet, I’ve decided to bring this 10 year journey to its close.
WHY??!! Why would I do that?! When people ask, every short answer I can come up with sounds hollow. I can’t say I don’t love tattooing as an art form. It is, after all, Earth’s most ancient. We have found tattooed mummies that predate the first cave drawings. It is fascinating, always growing, always changing. It forces me to sit and focus and finish what I begin and do nothing else, captivating me in a way no other medium has. So why quit? Well maybe it was never really what I wanted in the first place. As a child, I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. Maybe act or sing or both. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t want to starve, because above all I always wanted to be a mother.
My family is a huge factor. My husband just got a new job that will make it so that I don’t have to work if I don’t want to, which is ideal for whenever the next baby comes, but it takes so many more hours from our family during the week, that if I want to see him, it’s got to be on the weekends. There’s only one tattoo artist I’ve followed that has come out and said “I don’t work weekends” and he can afford it. He’s the kind of artist people will request off work for. I’m still doing tattoos of pictures people bring me on their phones, pictures of other people’s tattoos. Sure, not all the time, but I never turn them away unless they’re ill-advised (and yes, I always alter the image or try to talk them into something better.)
Then there’s the incident. A sudden, crushing loss to our family sent me into some serious soul-searching. I heard echoes of myself telling my clients over many many years, in comments here and there, how tattooing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I thought of how much I spend on childcare and how foreign my own daughter seems to me on the days that she’s all mine. How I’ve lived here almost 3 years and haven’t cultivated any friendships outside of work, and only realized it when I had to suffer alone.
My EUREKA! moment came while reading an issue of the graphic novel, Saga, written by Brian K Vaughn and stunningly illustrated by Fiona Staples. The main characters are meeting with the author of the book which brought the lovers together, and he says something to the effect of, “Illustrated children’s books are the only true art form.”
I announced my last day (June 24th) to all my followers on facebook and instagram, and have been devouring works of fiction, free writing classes, books by Austin Kleon ever since.
Yesterday, the man who was apprenticing under Rob B. at Bison Tattoos when I first stepped into the world of tattooing sent me a message. It was the photocopy Rob had taken of my drawing for my first tattoo, with my name, my mom’s name, my phone number, and our appointment written on it. He had just found it this past weekend when visiting Rob’s daughter. He’ll be sending it to me in the mail, and I’m going to frame it.
I got Man’s Last Moment of Innocence tattooed on my left shoulder blade, and always wanted to get a piece for Original Sin on the right side. But now, I think I shall get a tattoo of the snake eating its tail there instead. I recall the metaphor as it was used by a conductor in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle. After watching a child prodigy play the flute beautifully, he reflects on the people of the symphony- where once they all may have played simply for the joy of playing, and now they play for the money to live to continue playing. Here, he compared them to the snake eating its tail. Hmm… methinks I have an idea for a new illustration!
Armed with new colored pencils and a new sketchbook, I did some drawings this week that I really enjoyed and hope to do more like, only better!
I did this one because our family suffered the loss of a friend a couple weeks ago. Since then, the holy days of Valentine’s Day, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before the observation of Lent begins), and Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) have passed. With the passing of Mardi Gras so close to the passing of our friend, naturally I thought of the beautiful traditional funerals in New Orleans- the black parasols trimmed with feathers, the parades of mourners through the streets. Ash Wednesday is a Catholic holy day when the faithful are blessed with a cross of ash on their foreheads, to carry through the day as a symbol of the faith and a way to spread the gospel. In this drawing, I expressed the need for us to celebrate life to combat the grief of loss, and to strengthen our faith to carry us through the struggle.
“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” -Dolly Parton as Truvy in Steel Magnolias.
These ladies had less thought behind them. I was just practicing drawing this style of portraits from looking at small, grainy photos as reference.
If you, like me, believe that your body has value, that you yourself have value, and that you deserve to get a tattoo that you will always love, then this blog is for you. If you’re a bit more nihilistic, perhaps you don’t take things so seriously, you could still learn something from it 🙂
If you’re already pretty experienced with tattoos, you can probably skip right through #1, because it’s pretty common sense, but believe it or not, common sense ain’t so common.
1) Never ever ever, and I mean this with no exceptions, get tattooed in any establishment that is not a licensed tattoo studio. I originally wrote “never get tattooed in someone’s house” but some of the best tattooers in the world have a private studio in their homes, because they ball like that. But they are licensed and they tattoo out of their homes to avoid the hassle and overhead of a street shop. They have paid their dues, worked hard to become renowned to the point that people from around the world seek them out specifically and will travel any distance to have their skin imbued with these artists’ work.
99% of people tattooing out of their homes are NOT these artists.
So if your cousin invites you to a tattoo party, I’m begging you DON’T GO. Sure, a $20 tattoo sounds like a great deal, especially if you’ve been drinking. Or even sometimes maybe your friend knows a traveling artist who’s “legit” but just doesn’t have a shop to host him or her in your town. BUT remember these guidelines
- “Legit” tattooers work in licensed tattoo shops- if they are not working in a shop, chances are it’s not just because they don’t want to share their commission- it’s because no legitimate shop wants to be associated with them.
- Cover-ups are waaaaaaayyyyyyy more expensive and time-consuming than if you had just gotten the right tattoo in the right place by the right person in the first place.
- Bloodborne pathogens and communicable diseases. Look em up. They are no joke. Come on, don’t risk it.
2) Look At Portfolios! Sure, the shop came well-recommended from your friend who just got some pretty high-quality work, but if you walk in and get tattooed by the first available artist, you could get stuck with the apprentice and walk out wondering how you ended up so unlucky. Maybe you’re a little more experienced and know to ask for a certain artist that you’ve heard good things about. And that’s great, because you’re a few steps ahead already. But what if they don’t do the style you want? What if you want a portrait and this person specializes in traditional?
The first thing you should do when you’re thinking about getting tattooed is look up the tattoo shops within a 3 hour driving radius of you, and look at the portfolios. Select your top 10 artists and call the shops to schedule consultations. And that brings us to #3.
3) Don’t give your money to a shop/artist with bad customer service. If you call the shop, and they sound bored, irritated, or condescending, don’t go there. If you arrive at the shop and they don’t greet you with a smile, turn around and leave. This is a service industry, don’t let the old taboos fool you into thinking it’s normal to be intimidated when you walk into a shop. If they don’t make you feel good when you walk in the door, how do you think you’ll feel being cozied up to them for the next 30 minutes/several hours while they literally take your skin in their hands? And sure, maybe the artist has a better personality than their front-counter help. But chances are, the attitude of the person sitting behind the counter reflects the attitude of everyone who works there. They are hired to be the face of the shop, and if that face isn’t smiling, they don’t care if you stay or go. They do not aim to please. When you get a tattoo, you’re paying for the whole experience, and you deserve the best for your money.
4) Trust your artist to give you good advice, but be very clear about what you really want. A lot of times I tell people it’s best to come in with a very flexible idea of what you’re looking to get. Select a theme and a location and if you like the artist’s work, trust them to take your idea and run with it. Trust them when they tell you something you want to do will not work the way you’re hoping it will (this is, of course, assuming you’ve followed the first 3 tips). Trust them when they say that they have a great idea and would like to run it by you. Be open minded when they show you a custom drawing they seem passionate about, because those make the best tattoos. Good artists know what’s been done to death, what can be done, what can’t be done, and what needs to be done, and chances are they have a much better idea of what will make your tattoo great. But they don’t know YOU. So be very specific about what you want and don’t want. Don’t feel pressured to get something that isn’t really what you want. A great tattoo is a delicate balance between the artist’s knowledge and ability, and the tattooed person’s desires. If you can’t nail down something you really want and the artist has drawn something for you, offer to compensate them for their time and find another artist that “feels” you more. This will get you off the hook and leave the working relationship open- you never know if this artist may be better suited for another tattoo you want in the future.
5) Don’t let time and money factor in to your decision-making. So many people want to get tattooed right there on the spot, and there are a lot of artists who thrive on walk-in business. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that… until there is. If you’ve followed the first 4 tips, and you’ve found an artist who gets you and you want them to tattoo you, but they have a waiting list or the price they quoted you seems a little daunting, don’t let that deter you from getting your tattoo from them. Your skin will always be with you and that can be a blessing or a curse. Let’s say you don’t get burned by a fly-by-night tattooer, and you don’t regret turning down the artist you really wanted in favor of someone available and within your price range. Ten years from now, you could have a mediocre tattoo that came a lot cheaper and you got it when you wanted it, or you could have a piece that you saved up for and waited to get and now it’s your most prized possession, and you’ll have it with you as long as you live.