Confessions Of An Aging Tattooer on National Tattoo Day

When it comes to National Tattoo Day, there’s many topics I could write about: Tattoos as therapy, being a female tattooer, what tattooing has done for me- which is a lot. I could write about the changing trends and acceptance of tattooing. Who knew what previously labeled you as a criminal, or unsavoury character in the not so distance past is now what opens doors for you today! It’s hard to choose a single topic when they are all related and so important to me. 

Photo by Jared Reid

I remember the concern on my parents’ face after I told them I was going to become a tattoo apprentice. I had finished my degree just two years prior. This wasn’t a lucrative or socially acceptable career to their generation. I couldn’t explain it to them because I honestly couldn’t even see what that apprenticeship would do for me in the future. They eventually accepted this was what I wanted to do. They watched me blossom from a fledgling apprentice to an award-winning tattooer and shop owner with a steady clientele.

As I close in on 16 years of tattooing, it’s interesting to me to look at the evolution tattooing has had since I started. Most people begin tattooing right after high school. I didn’t begin my apprenticeship until the mid 2000’s when I was 26. We were coming out of the era of tribal sleeve & Chinese characters. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Looney Toon (my apologies if I did and don’t remember…!). Maybe one or two barbwire armbands. I cut my teeth during the time of ‘Live Love Laugh’, and the rise of what tattooers came to refer to as ‘Bird Pox’: the little black silhouette birds breaking out of every object you can imagine. Again – no disrespect if this is a tattoo you have. It was just something done in excess at that time.

Getting tattooed by Dave Munro during my apprenticeship

I never thought I would take on an apprentice myself because I didn’t have the time or space. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how good a teacher I would be. I had such a great apprenticeship in an amazing shop (Trouble Bound Studio under Dave Munro) with four to five tattooers who were all gracious to me and helped me learn. One point I try to drive home is that it took me two years to get my apprenticeship. Two years of showing up, of bringing drawings, of listening to Dave’s critiques and advice to better my skills. That surprises a lot of people, but I knew it was what I wanted to do, and I knew Dave was the guy I wanted to learn it from.

I did take an apprentice two years ago (Jen Power) and I’m kind of sad she didn’t get the same type of family style apprenticeship I got all those years ago. When I was an apprentice, we made our own needles and hand-scrubbed our tubes. I’m sure some tattooers still do both, but  I’m not sad to see those practices go! It took years for me to build a clientele or develop a style of work. Jen has already done both in her two years of tattooing. Of course I’m happy for her, but there might be a small bone of contention that she got to skip those steps. Yes, I tell her that regularly 😇.

My first international client at the Manchester Tattoo Expo 2010, England.

I post often on social media about learning to accept and love the bodies we have instead of lusting after the bodies we wish we had. What I love the most about tattooing is when it helps people love their bodies more. Many of us struggle with body issues and self-love. When someone sees their tattoo complete for the first time and tells me how they always hated their (insert body part or issue here- scars/ veins included) and now they love looking at this area, my heart radiates. When I can cover up a painful experience or help someone heal through a tattoo – there’s no greater feeling (see this blog I wrote about tattoos as therapy here).

On top of all of this, my mind is continually blown that through my other business, Truro Buzz, companies have hired me to be the face of a campaign or advertisement. Turns out, in some cases, my heavily tattooed skin also makes me relatable.

All the years of being told I was ruining my life, my prospects and mutilating my body – here’s where I stand tall and proudly proclaim, “LOOK AT ME NOW!” Law offices, government agencies, agricultural organizations, high end retailers -all clients of mine that have had me represent their businesses.

I live in an incredibly supportive town where I’ve never had to hide my tattoos at a meeting for fear of not getting the job or project. I don’t even know if they realize how big a deal it is. How I have other tattooed people write me on social when I post about choosing outfits for formal functions about putting on a cardigan or blazer to cover my arms. That’s what they have to do to be accepted in their places of work…it’s sad. There’s been a major shift in acceptance as we all know, but there’s still a ways to go. 

Tattooing my friend Tim with a cancer ribbon as a cancer survivor.

Tattooing continues to give me so much out of life and every time I can tell a kid in high school they can make a living with art or see adoration on a client’s face looking at their new tattoo, I’m reminded of all the good it brings the world. I’m incredibly grateful to be even a small part of that.

Thanks for reading these confessions of an aging tattooer on National Tattoo Day. Thank you for the support over the years, or if you’re new here, thanks for being here. Go get tattooed!

Winning an award for Medium Black and Grey in Moncton, 2016

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