Thea Fear isn't your typical “hardcore kid turned tattoo artist” story. But no matter what, she knew she was born to hold a tattoo machine.
Thea Fear's tattoo story isn't the usual “girl from the wrong side of town” nor was she the kid who grew up admiring her dad's tattoo sleeves and eventually picked up the career with both her folks cheering her all throughout. The Arizona native grew up in strict household where pursuing art isn't seen as a career.
“My parents were strict, and they told me they didn't want me to do art for a living,” Fear tells OC Weekly. “I went to [Arizona State University] for journalism, but I dropped out and moved to San Francisco.”
Her well-meaning parents instead sent her to Arizona State University to take up journalism. But it was clear to the headstrong teen what she wanted to do for a living. She landed a waitress job at her aunt's restaurant in San Francisco and met several people she thought would open the doors to tattooing for her but none of them really took off. They all held the same, empty promise of taking her as an apprentice and teach her everything she needed to know. That wasn't how Fear hoped it would turn out.
The distraught teen returned home and finally sat down with her dad to get things straight. She expressed her strong wishes to start tattooing as soon as possible, especially at that time when her 19th birthday was approaching near. It wasn't what her dad had in mind for his little girl but he bought her a kit to put the smile back on her face.
At that time, Fear's parents' marriage was also crumbling down and with her father supporting her decision to pursue something he's very opposed to meant the world to the budding tattoo artist. “It just really taught me how to work hard for something you want, even though it may seem like it's taking forever and so many people are telling you it's a waste of time and a bad idea,” Fear says. “I feel like that is entirely what my character has been made from.”
Things didn't go too smoothly from there, either as Fear found it difficult to make her way in the tattoo scene in the Bay Area. Being a woman didn't make things easier for her as many tattoo shops weren't willing to take in female tattoo apprentices then. This made her return to Phoenix to pursue tattooing in her hometown.
It was in OC where Fear got her break. She landed a job at Garden Grove's Saints and Sinners Tattoo where she worked at for the next four years. She developed her own style and a line of clientele and it's also in Saints and Sinners where she also had her first taste of tattoo shop life. In her last days there, tattooing took its toll on her in a way that she feels her skills and vision was limited. “I loved working at a shop where everybody gets along like family, but sometimes I felt like an employee, and that wasn't what I wanted,” she says. “A lot of street shops are based on money. I'll do whatever someone wants me to do, but it gets repetitive to just do infinity signs all day.”
Fear believed that it was time to move on to the next chapter when she decided to open up a private studio in Stanton. It's no easy task especially to a young tattoo artist but Fear is handling all the stress that comes with the joy of opening up her own studio very well.
The female tattoo artist may miss a lot of things she got used to while working for a tattoo shop but the new experience opening up a private studio brought her is incomparable as well. “It's not just gangbangers and bikers anymore,” Fear says. “I tattoo lawyers, doctors, business owners, all different people I never would've met. People should be able to do whatever they want to their body. I get to hear their stories, and it opens my eyes to their lives.”
Fear currently tattoos at a private studio in Stanton, California. She lives with her boyfriend, Kyle who she considers as her favorite client and her biggest supporter.
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[Main image courtesy of Black Market Art]