Richmond is Loverly

I have a darling new client. She’s getting a large scale piece I’m particularly excited to do, so already she’s got alllll the points. But then she tells me she read my blog and she thought I was still in Maryland at first. Cue “oops, I forgot to update my blog!”

Cuz who reads my blog?

Anyway, here’s the news. RJ and I have moved, like so many are doing right now, to Richmond Virginia. Richmond is amazing, everything you could want in a city- culture, nightlife, murals and monuments everywhere, a river running through it, tattooed people everywhere- and it’s still affordable… for now. We’ve already seen more bands in the last few months than we saw in our entire stay in southern Maryland. We feel as if we’ve gotten our lives on track to a picture of our own design.

My mom retired and my parents moved up to Richmond and they watch the kids for us. After years of living a prohibitive distance from each other, it is so heartwarming to reconnect with them. No one loves you like family.

What’s more is that I’m working at one of the best shops in the city, possibly the country, Loose Screw Tattoo. Owned and operated by Jesse Smith (on seasons 2 and 7 of Ink Master, but before that he basically pioneered the new school/illustrative kooky character genre all by himself), the shop boasts long time new school tattooing veteran Jason Stephan, Ink Master star Christian Buckingham, spooky power couple GWooKi and Sabrina, zombie caricature artist to the stars Nick Mitchell, future rock star illustrative artist Chris Jenkins, black and grey realism wizard Juan Canales, apprentice Jen Bean and one of the best support staffs I’ve ever seen.

I know right? I can’t believe it myself. I don’t know what I’m doing there. I was just the thing that wouldn’t go away and Jesse took pity and hired me. He sits with me biweekly and critiques my work and points me in the right direction. I wanted growth and boy am I getting it, and all I have to offer in return is a naturally sunny disposition and a drive to be the best I can be.

I’m not really on Facebook much anymore. It feels like a huge waste of time, especially my business page. Every time one of my friends likes or comments on a tattoo I post, some elderly relative who doesn’t yet understand how Facebook works comments about how much they hate tattoos in general because it popped up in their feed and they can’t read the fine print that tells them why it’s there. Facebook is the dumpster where people put their useless opinions. So Instagram is my platform of choice now. Follow me @fronkietattoos to keep up to date with my progress, travels, and special deals.

Thanks for reading!

A Brutally Honest Examination of My Progress

It’s been a few months now since I came back to work, so I decided it’s time to check in on how things were going.

As I returned to work, I found it all coming back to me like riding a bike. My machines sprang back to life with very little tuning required. As I held them in my hands, I felt as if a limb I had lost and forgotten was suddenly reattached. The warmth spread up my arm and straight to my heart. ”At last! My right arm is complete again!” (Sweeney Todd)

But something was different this time. Something good. I was humbled. I approached the craft with the respect it deserves without my ego getting in the way. I hadn’t done so much as a doodle aside from class assignments in the 2+ years I’d been away from my professional home. This left me open to start at the beginning again, focusing on the traditional elements of design as they pertain to tattoos. It also helps that I had taken a class on the elements of 2d design in the interim. Now instead of approaching a tattoo as a painter or a sketch artist, I approached the tattoo as a tattooer.

In some ways, I’m not sure if my skills have regressed or if I’m just now recognizing shortcomings I’ve always had as an artist. Imperfect lines, blurry details in pieces meant to be photorealistic, a need to push past the initial drafts of a design to create one more complete and harmonious, with depth and feeling. In other ways, possibly related, I think I’m coming along better and faster than I did before, and those ways are absolutely rooted in my newfound humility and deepened respect for this medium. My approach to clients is more professional and warm, and seeks to peel back the surface of the mundane and get at the heart. This not only makes the experience better for all of us, but makes the tattoo better as well. I very rarely settle for the Pinterest tattoo someone brings in, I almost always get to redesign the image in a way that serves the individual in a way more unique to that person. But I’ve also gotten better at accepting when the Pinterest tattoo is what the client really truly wants, and still treating it with all the reverence due an original piece of art. My compositions and general processes have gotten stronger, too.

I look back on my career and the development of my abilities and see a weak foundation, missed opportunities to grow, a lot of time wasted. Though I began tattooing in 2005, I almost want to discount those first 5 years as 1 year of progress. The things I see apprentices doing these days blow my mind. To be fair, the industry has changed immensely since I was an apprentice too. I think I’ll always go along feeling like my apprenticeship never ended, I’m just looking for new mentors everywhere. And that’s a good thing.

Announcing The Return

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!

Back to School

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!

Lost photos of my last weeks tattooing, and new thoughts on why I stopped.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

As The Beginning Eats the End

image“So, how did you get into tattooing?”  They all ask.  Every time.  Here’s the real story.  Beginning to end.

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!