Femme tattoo artists open up about sexism in their industry
Tattooing was once considered a male-dominated profession, but women artists everywhere are changing the game, particularly in big cities like LA and NYC. We talked to female-identified artists about what it’s like to be a woman in the industry.
Where? Three Kings Tattoo at the Brooklyn location.
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Amanda has been an artist at Three Kings for a year and a half, which she describes as a ‘dream shop.’
“I used to really want to be a portrait artist because that’s what I drew all the time as a teenager but as I started to learn the techniques of tattooing I became less interested in it,” she said.
However, she wouldn’t recommend tattooing as a profession to anyone else.
“It’s not the glamorous job that TV and Instagram portray it as. It’s not a stable career that’s all fun and games,” she said.
For other womxn looking to pursue a career in tattooing, she advises to only go for it if you have what it takes to push through the obstacles to make it happen.
However, she said these obstacles aren’t a product of sexism in the industry, mainly because she sees that NYC is a city buzzing with other womxn tattoo artists.
“Tattooing used to be extremely male dominated and misogynistic but that has really changed over the years,” Amanda said.
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Where? Her own studio and shop, Nakapatchi, in Brooklyn.
Marina first became interested in tattooing while interviewing artists at Rising Dragon Tattoo about Japanese traditional tattooing for a research project in high school.
After moving to LA to go to CalArts, she began getting tattooed by Jiro Onizuka, where she grew an even bigger fascination with the history and mythology behind Japanese Traditional Tattoo work. When she moved back to NYC, she got her feet wet in the industry from the artist Kiku, at Invisible.
Marina now runs her own tattoo shop and art studio, Nakapatchi.
“I have tattooed in a shop before but I wanted to merge the two mediums together, and I felt a necessity to go into my own workspace where I had the ability to paint instead if I wasn’t tattooing,” she said.
Her studio name is dedicated to her grandma.
“It translates to ‘naked baby bottom,’ since I used to love running around naked as a little kid. She was Viennese, speaking German and Yiddish but there really was no language that the word Nakapatchi, can be traced to,” Marina said.
When it comes to being a womxn in the field of tattooing, she describes feeling semi-disconnected from the industry since she only interacts with clients and other artists at Nakapatchi. She does make an appearance, however, when she gets tattooed herself, and of course, looking at other tattoo artists on Instagram.
Not to say she’s never had a bad experience tattooing someone or getting a tattoo.
“The road to tattooing is an uphill battle. But the majority of a lot of tattoo shops are run by men and some shops can be seen as invite-only clubs and that can really be daunting when you’re trying to get into the field and you feel other than the norm,” said Marina.
With that being said, she remembers only having one womxn tattoo her during the entire time she lived in LA.
“I remember feeling very comfortable and able to really speak my mind to her. It was an experience that I made a mental note of since it seemed like a rarity to find a female tattoo artist in the field,” she said.
Marina feels strongly that that womxn tattooers should not be seen as just eye candy behind a counter, but instead given the same opportunities as male artists.
Where? Three Kings Tattoo, at the Brooklyn location.
The first tattoo Gianna fell in love with was her Uncle Louie’s blurry blue hula girl.
“He would make her dance for me and I don’t know why but that killed me with laughter, I just loved her,” she recalls.
Her older brother also brought home tattoo magazines, where she saw tattoos on womxn for the first time.
In her early teens, she realized womxn existed in the tattoo industry when her brother got a tattoo in south Brooklyn from artist Andrea Elston. Gianna began hanging in tattoo shops in high school, and even worked in one during her first year of art school. But she calls herself a late bloomer, because she didn’t start tattooing until she was 27.
Recently, she’s been experimenting with different techniques, such as stippling and watercolor. Currently, she’s obsessed with goddess centric and prehistoric iconography.
For Gianna, tattooing is a very emotionally complex experience.
“People can walk in with a lot of preconceived notions, but there is something great about watching all the BS, the bravado, fear, the fall away. When you get down to what they really want and how it makes them feel, that to me is everything,” she said.
Right now, she’s working with the most diverse group of artists she’s ever had the pleasure to work with. She believes, however, that the industry’s change comes the femme, queer, and trans forces demanding it.
“The white boy bro culture of tattooing is still going strong, but it’s definitely worlds apart from my first personal experiences,” Gianna said.
She recalls that over the years the industry’s misogyny has shown its face to her in statements like, “we need a ‘female’ artist,” or “we need someone to do the delicate stuff.”
“I think when you occupy a blurry space it tends to make you an outsider to most groups regardless. So it’s hard to say if my perceived femmeness or lack thereof has played a huge role in the obstacles I’ve faced with my own career,” Gianna says.
Gianna believes that being and identifying as a womxn comes with its own set of judgements and obstacles, and these obstacles are constantly changing.
“I think any talented, driven, outspoken strong woman or outsider living in the world has definitely faced the same relentless tiring shit as me regardless of our fields,” she said.
Where? Rorschach Gallery, New Jersey
Believe it or not, Jessi never thought she would become a tattoo artist. She recalls struggling through a lengthy pursuit to find a shop that would accept her. But one day, she got a call from the guy who did her first tattoo.
“He told me he loved my artwork and wanted to teach me the art of tattooing. I’ll never forget that day,” she said.
Now, Jessi works at Rorschach Gallery in New Jersey. It’s an art studio on the top floor and a tattoo shop on the bottom.
“It’s not private or to myself. I work with my friends, the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. There’s no judgement and I feel at home even at work,” she said.
Fun fact, as a crystal connoisseur, she’s had some of her clients hold and focus on one of her many cleansed crystals to distract themselves from the pain during the process.
Jessi’s insta handle and pen name is @thetestubebaby, because she actually is a test tube baby.
“I never really thought the name would stick but it did! It’s been my name on Instagram before I was even tattooing, but I figured why not make a name out of it,” she said.
If she had to pick a favorite tattoo she’s done, it would be the traditional spider she did at the Wildwood tattoo convention. Jessi finished the piece with only 5 minutes to spare before judging, and ended up winning 5th place color of the day. Still, she said its the biggest accomplishment in her career so far.
“Being a female artist in this industry is definitely hard at times, I’ve been turned away from jobs simply because I was female,” Jessi said.
However, she feels that even though its a male dominated industry, many guys she knows are super supportive and even praise womxn tattooers for dealing with the industry’s sexist BS. Every shop she’s ever been to or visited was mostly male, but she still says she felt very comfortable.
“The great thing I’ve noticed about this industry is it doesn’t matter what your gender is, as long as your work is great artists will support you,” she said.
Where? Magic Cobra Tattoo, Brooklyn
Getting her first tattoo on her 18th birthday was what originally sparked Tessa’s interest, who later dropped out of art school to pursue tattooing full time.
“My tattooing style is based in traditional, but varies a lot depending on the tattoo and the client’s vision of it. I like to think my style is constantly evolving. Sometimes it even depends on how I’m feeling that day while I’m working,” she said.
She can’t say that she has a favorite tattoo she’s done because every tattooing experience for her is different.
Tessa explained that she’s experienced overwhelming support from both womxn and men since the beginning of her career.
“I think more and more female tattooers are making a huge presence in the industry, and I personally have almost always been fortunate enough to work with amazing women. That being said, I am super lucky to be tattooing in such a diverse city with a massive tattoo community,” she said.
Tessa’s advice for other womxn who want to pursue tattooing is to understand the dedication and hard work that comes along with it.
“Really consider their willingness to sacrifice for the craft, and you have to be ready to give up everything else you are doing to learn. In my opinion you will be successful as long as you have humility, patience, and persistence,” she said.