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Conscious Intention: Reprogramming Systemic Racism in Tattooing

Conscious Intention: Reprogramming Systemic Racism in Tattooing

Tattoo Artists22 min Read

Summary

Tattoo artists Sanyu, Jade Chanel, Quiara, and Laet talk about racism in the tattoo industry, plus a list of BIMPoC tattooers you should know.

In this article, four artists talk about how to enact change, where to find tools of education, and how to take accountability within the tattoo industries racist system that leaves Black, Indigenous, Mixed Race, and People of Color without visibility, safe spaces, and support. For those who are not aware of the whiteness in tattooing, and even for those who are, please read on with an open heart and mind. Tattoo industry racism needs to end now.

Thank you to Jade, Sanyu, Laet, and Quiara for your sharing your words and work with us.

Feature image above by Oba Jackson aka omoori

Sculpture installation by Nari Ward #NariWard

Jade Chanel Interview

To see more of Jade Chanel's work please visit her Instagram or check out her full interview!

A lot of people need to understand the problem with the tattoo community itself, but also how it is indicative or a reflection of issues within society as a whole. What has your experience been within the industry, and how do you think that connects to other experiences you’ve had?

Honestly, since starting my tattoo career, I've tried my best to not involve myself in the tattoo community because I quickly realized that there was a lot of division whether it be with studios, race, even the style of work you do. It’s a constant battle of egos and everyone is competing with no motive behind it. I love tattooing and I love connecting with people. Its a privilege to be able to make art and get paid to do so. I've worked in studios where I’ve felt unwelcome, undermined and even been bullied by my co-workers for looking “different” to them.

I’ve worked in studios where artists have made the entire shop conversations about my hair, skin tone, heritage and how “hard” it must be to deal with. A lot of studios still carry old school traditions and only people “like them” are worthy of being respected. When these establishments make you feel less than, LEAVE and do not give them your time or money. I’ve heard too many stories where people have felt uncomfortable and have still felt pressured into getting tattooed. That's a huge issue in itself.

Tattoo by Jade Chanel #JadeChanel #jadechanelp

How can tattoo studios, blogs, platforms, artists, and further, be more mindfully diverse and accepting? What tools/books/resources, etc. do you think work best for self-education? How can we help beyond listening and learning?

There just needs to be more diversity. Black/POC tattooists need and deserve more publicity. Simple. They need to be given the same opportunities to thrive and practice their skills as their white counterparts. I believe a lot of these platforms don’t publicize POC because they’re afraid of “offending” the majority of their white, racist audience. But why would you even want an audience like that in the first place? It can only come down to money and potentially a backlash of negative comments.

Another important factor is the tattooing itself. A lot of artists don’t know how to work on darker skin tones and often scar the skin or compromise the complexity of the design which I feel is unfair. Any artists who want to learn how to apply their work to darker skin tones, feel free to reach out to me for advice. The chain has to be broken and now is the time to do it.

Illustration by Jade Chanel #JadeChanel #jadechanelp

What advice do you have for tattooers who aren’t finding themselves represented and aren’t given an opportunity to work due to systematic racism in the industry?

You can’t fight with people who don’t care or see an issue. I often revert to my younger self and ask myself “what do/did you need?” and thats always my starting point. What I needed was encouragement, support and drive. Don’t try to fit in, find your tribe or try to create your own. Luckily now there are studios which are a lot more diverse and safe for POC to flourish. Validate yourself, provide compassion, and be kind to yourself. Don’t let ignorant narrow minded people misguide you or put you off wanting to pursue your career.

Tattoo by Jade Chanel #JadeChanel #jadechanelp

Self-care is a hugely important aspect of resistance, direct action, and inciting change. How do you tackle burn-out, and how do you stay hopeful amidst the onslaught of so much heavy news?

I think it’s important to take things one step at a time. Firstly, I’ve begun looking inwards and thinking of ways that I can not only help myself but how I can be a positive influence to people who are wanting and willing to learn. I wish to teach others how to work on darker skin tones as they react differently and it's important to learn the qualities that differ so beautiful tattoos can be made without scarring or damaging the skin. POC clients should feel safe and happy with the outcome of their tattoos because they have been made with the same care and skill used on lighter skin tones. By setting a good example myself, hopefully it will have a snowball effect on the industry and that is what I'm here for. 100%

Tattoo by Jade Chanel #JadeChanel #jadechanelp

Sanyu Interview

To see more of Sanyu's work please check out their Instagram or Threadless!

A lot of people need to understand the problem with the tattoo community itself, but also how it is indicative or a reflection of issues within society as a whole. What has your experience been within the industry, and how do you think that connects to other experiences you’ve had?

Issues of racism and colorism for myself are definitely not contained to only certain spaces. In the past, I’ve worked in shops where white artists mostly viewed black clients as a monolith, as though black clients don’t have a wide range of creative concepts and ideas they’d like to flesh out. Black clients tend to already be apprehensive when dealing with white tattoo artists so it can help to engage and ask questions and help an idea really come to life.

As it pertains to the tattoo community, I think it’s also important for white artists in positions of power or those who have larger followings to think a bit deeper when it comes to diversifying their shops or platforms. If you want to intentionally hire poc artists, it’s important to spread out a bit and hire more than one “token” person. Think about how that one person feels in this situation and balance it out because more likely than not they may be experiencing micro aggressions and feel all alone. It can also make a big impact to refer some clients to black tattoo artists that you also admire to help lift them up also.

Tattoo by Sanyu #Sanyu #sanyutattoo

How can tattoo studios, blogs, platforms, artists, and further, be more mindfully diverse and accepting? What tools/books/resources, etc. do you think work best for self-education? How can we help beyond listening and learning?

I believe there is a level of conscious intention that has to go into how these platforms are being curated. It all has to start in the mind. Reprogramming years of an aesthetic narrative can take a long time but it can be done and at this point it must be done. It’s the only sustainable way for the industry to continue and grow. I think curators who are internally only pleased aesthetically when viewing tattoos on white/light skin tones must look at tattoos on darker skin tones and start a deep process of introspection. Asking yourself questions like "why do I keep doing this? Where does this pattern stem from?" Then truly seeing the amazing work being done on dark skin for what it is: amazing. There has to be a shift of mind to finally see what has always been there.

Illustration by Sanyu #Sanyu #sanyutattoo

What advice do you have for tattooers who aren’t finding themselves represented and aren’t given an opportunity to work due to systematic racism in the industry?

Keep going, keep networking and connecting with artists that you admire. Really focus in on what your goal is, what your style is and how you’d like to see it expand and follow, email or msg artists you admire or who have a similar style to yours. Don’t even bother trying to connect with racist artists, they won’t help you grow and growth should be your main focus. So, give yourself time to recover from any shitty experiences and then get back in and network. The wonderful thing about social media is that you have the power to curate what you want to see. You have the power to follow artists who make you feel represented and pages that actually make you feel good and empowered.

Tattoo by Sanyu #Sanyu #sanyutattoo

Self-care is a hugely important aspect of resistance, direct action, and inciting change. How do you tackle burn-out, and how do you stay hopeful amidst the onslaught of so much heavy news?

I try my best to listen to what my body needs, what my mind needs. I think boundaries are a major part of self-care. Setting boundaries for myself on how much I’m willing to do in a day and stop when I need to rest is important. As someone with a chronic illness and an immunocompromised system I don’t have much wiggle room for burning the midnight oil and all of that.

When we rest we allow ourselves better physical, mental and emotional clarity and fortitude to continue fighting for change. And self-care doesn't only look like face masks and bubble baths. Sometimes it's primal screaming or hitting on a punching bag. All energies need to be thought about when thinking about self-care, not just the gentle ones. I stay hopeful because I’ve witnessed the resilience of black people and all people across the diaspora and hope has kept love and life going since the beginning of time. Even in our darkest hours hope is our first and last force to envision a more bearable present and a more incredible and sustainable future

Tattoo by Sanyu #Sanyu #sanyutattoo

Laet Quote

To see more of Laet's work, please check out their Instagram or interview!

I do not believe tattooing to be a racist industry in the way that it used to be. If it once was, it is no longer so. The client is not looking for that type of ignorance. The time has come to shake off these old and out-dated views as the social climate and conversation moves forward. Let it be common knowledge that tattooing was started by indigenous people of color. Let that fact be celebrated, by every tattooer, in every tattoo studio. Equality and diversity is my continued hope for society, and therefore that must be reflected within the industry of Tattooing.

Detail of a tattoo by Laet #Laet #laettattoo

Quiara Interview

So, first things first. I want to address who I am. My name is Quiara Capellan, and I'm an Afro-Dominican artist. Tattooing is not my only medium, but it is the one I work the most in. I was born and raised in New York City and I want to emphasize that I have only been tattooing for a little over two years. I am in no way shape or form an expert and am still learning new things every time I go into a fresh piece of work.

A lot of people need to understand the problem with the tattoo community itself, but also how it is indicative or a reflection of issues within society as a whole. What has your experience been within the industry, and how do you think that connects to other experiences you’ve had?

There are a lot of issues with the tattooing community. The biggest issue is probably pride. A lot of people don't know how to acknowledge when they mess up and take accountability for their actions. Social media has made it easy to call people out, but it has also made it easy to block out what we don't want to see or hear. We all know that racism, capitalism, sexism and all these other -isms are an issue in our industry. They all exist under the umbrella of white supremacy. I have been getting tattooed in shops for over 5 years now. Personally, I've experienced a little of it all. Whether it was a white tattoo artist being a little too rough on my skin or feeling an artist undress me with their eyes. It's an experience some of us all know a little too well.

I left my "apprenticeship" because there were often times that I felt I was not being taken seriously because I was pushing the idea of Black people having fine art on their skin. There were often times that I was told my flash was too intricate and my lines were too thin. "Bold will hold" culture does not sit right with me and my personal style of illustration. There were also instances when I felt I had to behave a certain way or just shrink myself to make myself less noticeable in a room full of men because I am a woman and needed to protect myself.

Tattoo by Quiara Capellan #QuiaraCapellan #fairytatmother

How can tattoo studios, blogs, platforms, artists, and further, be more mindfully diverse and accepting? What tools/books/resources, etc. do you think work best for self-education? How can we help beyond listening and learning?

What has been interesting to see, personally, is how Instagram has given people this sense of superiority in the tattoo world. My fellow peers and I have been seeing White tattooers who do not have a diverse portfolio but have 10K+ followers give their insight on what it means to tackle racism in the industry. It's all lip service. What's even more interesting is those with platforms who have chosen silence. People need to be humble and implement new methods into their practice. Follow Black artists. Share their work. Share images of tattoos on darker skin tones. Representation matters, give us the space to tell our own stories.

Tattoo flash by Quiara Capellan #QuiaraCapellan #fairytatmother

Google is free. Learn how tattooing has been stripped from our culture then sold back to us. The thing about books and education is that education itself needs to be decolonized. It is up to us to take things for face value and critically think about information being presented to us. Learn about skin - skin infections/conditions, what melanin actually is, how pigment exists inside of the skin, etc. Our work is more than simply placing a stencil and tracing the lines with ink and a needle.

Tattoo by Quiara Capellan #QuiaraCapellan #fairytatmother

Self-care is a hugely important aspect of resistance, direct action, and inciting change. How do you tackle burn-out, and how do you stay hopeful amidst the onslaught of so much heavy news?

Honestly, I still don't know how to tackle self-care. I have felt burnt out for months. I put my all into the work and healing that I do for my clients and I feel that it is hard to sit back and chill at times. I have built various personal connections with some of my clients and allow them to come to me with their problems because I care about them and see more than a dollar sign when they show up to my work station. Having a strong sense of self and an extremely supportive group of family members and friends has provided me with the guidance and support I need during these times. Hopefully once it's safe to travel again I can take a vacation.

Quiara has put together a Guide to Tattooing Darker Skin Tones, which you can download and share! Please make sure to credit and give back for the shared information and skill!

Tattoo by Quiara Capellan #QuiaraCapellan #fairytatmother

List of BIMPoC Tattoo Artists

Below is a list of Black, Indigenous, Mixed Race, and People of Color Tattooers. It is by no means complete! If you would like to be added to it, or if you know someone who should be, please email justine@tattoodo.com. Thank you for your consideration!

Anderson Luna

Anderson Luna is a tattooist based out of Brooklyn. He's been tattooing for 13 years and got his start at the iconic Bronx shop, Tuff City. He's known not only for having an incredibly diverse style that covers Hindu deities, Japanese dragons, Mesopotamian and African sculptures, and so much more, but he's also an outspoken member of the community who consistently shows up, speaks up, and helps others to be their best. Check out the film where he talks about The Experience of the Black Tattooer.

Tattoo by Anderson Luna #AndersonLuna

Andre Malcolm

Born in Jamaica, and currently based in Berkeley, California, Andre Malcolm got into tattooing through graffiti and familial connection to the arts. Inspired to get into Irezumi after experience a lack of it in the Bronx, Andre is now highly respected for his large Japanese works that mainly consist of full bodysuits. He's been a mentor and influence for many tattooists in the industry due to his humble perspective, devotion to always pushing his work to the next level, as well as his altruism and activism within the community.

Tattoo by Andre Malcolm #AndreMalcolm

Arne Asaumi aka secretbunny_holdhand

Creating sweet Illustrative pieces that remind of 70's animated Surrealism, like Wizards, and Fineline manga cuties, Arne is a tattooist in Chicago who does machine-made artworks on skin. Sometimes dark, sometimes poetic, their fluid florals and fun furry animals are incredibly playful, as well as intimate.

Tattoo by Arne Asaumi aka secretbunny_holdhand #ArneAsaumi #secretbunnyholdhand

Autumn Blaze aka dirty.band.aid

Based in Chicago, Autumn is a queer Trans Non-Binary Mixed-Race PoC who creates scream-worthy, crazy cute eye candy. Their IG bio may say "Mediocre af person making mediocre tats", but we'll respectfully disagree. Merging candy colored cartoon aesthetics with a cutting wit, you'll find subversive kawaii Kewpie's, Care Bears, and the like, surrounded by hearts while also giving you a huge metaphorical, or literal, middle finger. Floating above may be lettering that announces things like, "D is for don't fuck with me, baby." or "Eat the Rich". Cute and killer combo.

Spongebob tattoo by Autumn Blaze aka dirty.band.aid #AutumnBlaze #dirtybandaid

Becca Iturralde aka softbarrio

Becca is queer PoC tattooer based in Chicago who makes hand poke tattoos in a wide variety of styles. Whether portraits of Rihanna and Frank Ocean that literally make you giggle with glee, tiny sparkles and flowers floating on the skin, or clean af lettering, Becca is sure to give you something, custom or flash, that you'll love. Becca is also a very outspoken activist, not only for Chi-Town socio-politics, but everywhere.

Frank Ocean tattoo by Becca Iturralde aka softbarrio #BeccaIturralde #softbarrio

Brittany Randell aka humblebeetattoo

Known for her intricate Illustrative designs that focus on florals, fauna, and African iconography, Brittany Randell is a tattooist who is based in Toronto. Taking the rejection and lack of support she found within the industry, Brittany turned that negativity into positivity by teaching herself to tattoo and carving out a safe space for people who need it most. Currently she has prints for sale with half the proceeds going directly to organizations that are working towards equal land access and ownership. To learn more, read an interview with Brittany.

Tattoo by Brittany Randell aka humblebeetattoo #BrittanyRandell #humblebeetattoo

Cake aka tattoosbycake

Cake, based in Brooklyn, uses the craft of tattooing to give back to the communities that mean the most to her, such as those within her Coney Island neighborhood. Empowered by her personal experience as a lesbian woman in the tattoo industry, Cake is deeply devoted to the mission of creating safe spaces for women and LGBTQ+ folks within the tattoo community. Adding to the positive progression of more visibility and inclusivity within the industry, Cake imbues a personal touch to her work that is essential to the health of contemporary tattooing in NYC. Check out the film where Cake talks about giving back to the community.

Tattoo by Cake #Cake #tattoosbycake

Charissa aka Rizza Boo

Known for doing hyper-colorful Neo-Trad meets New School meets Illustrative and Lettering, Charissa, aka Rizza Boo, is an incredible talent within the industry today. Her tattoos are full of energy, power, and innovative creativity. Charissa also just started the Shades Tattoo Initiative. In her words it is, "A safe space to build community, educate artists, help build skills and showcase the work of Black and POC tattoo artists working in U.K." Check it out!

Tattoo by Charissa aka Rizza Boo #RizzaBoo

Cierra aka finest_trash_ink

Based in Bed-Stuy, NY, Cierra is a tattooer who has a style that brings together tons of various inspiration into one unique perspective. 90's skulls, tribal, cherries on fire, classic cartoon favorites, and more, are only some of the bold babies you'll find on Cierra's flash sheets. Cierra is also involved in many New York pop-ups, events, projects, and initiatives to support the community.

Tattoo by Cierra ak finest_trash_ink #Cierra #finesttrashink

Cynthia Spleen aka plasticmessiah

This QPOC tattooist, Cynthia Spleen, also known as plasticmessiah, has cornered the market on surreal sketchy designs, often with a lovely and poetic dose of vivid tones. Resident at Crucible Tattoo Co. in Melbourne, OG Narrm, this tattooist and the studio they work at is super dedicated to providing a safe space for queer, POC, trans, and GNC artists, as well as clients. The gorgeous emotive undertones of Cynthia's work is no accident, this artist cares very much for the community.

Tattoo by Cynthia Spleen aka plasticmessiah #Cynthia Spleen #plasticmessiah

Dana James aka stoneylonesome

Based in Berkeley, CA at War Horse Tattoo, Dana James admits to liking a low profile, but the output of work from this tattooist is far from low key. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dana has been putting out a slew of gorgeous pin-up paintings depicting various femme fatales. When tattooing, Dana mainly focuses on Traditional, Illustrative, and Japanese, but don't be surprised to be something different pop up from this talented tattooist.

Tattoo by Dana James aka stoneylonesome #DanaJames #stoneylonesome

Doreen Garner aka flesh_and_fluid

A juggernaut of strength within the NYC tattoo community, Doreen is not only a skilled tattooer but also creates haunting works of art that dissect racial, class, sex, and gender constructs with various materials like silicone. Many of Doreen's tattoo are Illustrative in nature with a concentration on African heritage patterns, objects, and symbols. Recently, Doreen revealed MAD PAIN, a podcast that talks with tattooers about ways to dismantle the racist system within tattooing, and beyond. The first episode also includes a talk with Andre Malcolm, so tune in! It's available on Apple and Spotify. 

Tattoo by Doreen Garner #DoreenGarner

Dylan Long Cho

Resident tattooer at L'Encrerie, perhaps the most inclusive and diverse studio in Paris, Dylan Long Cho is a tattooer who mainly whips out insane Fineline pieces that glean inspiration from old school 90's icons, Chicano classics, and the lavish Art Deco affluence of 80's LA. Dylan has an incredible eye for style and design, which you can check out via his paintings, doll art and clothing line. 

Tattoo by Dylan Long Cho #DylanLongCho

Emma aka thorn_pokes

The sweet, poetic, heart felt of Emma, aka thorn_pokes, are well known to the tattoo community. Currently based in Unceded Coast Salish Territory, fka Seattle, Emma has a knack for imbuing tattoos with a compassionate and inspiring strength. She, and other awesome LGBTQIA+ and BIMPOC tattooers, recently started a worker-owned collective tattoo studio. It still has yet to be named, but right now they're having a print raffle with 100% of the proceeds going straight to the WA Black Trans Task Force!

Tattoo by Emma aka thorn_pokes #emma #thornpokes

Gesiye

Co-founder of Bald Babes Ink in Port of Spain, Gesiye recently just parted ways with the other half of the Bald Babes duo to open Studio Lolia! Still located in Trinidad and Tobago, the studio is dedicated to not only being an expressive space Gesiye can create incredible things, but also a space that will be for all bodies and all skin types. Gesiye's tattoo style is incredibly diverse, but one thing all of the pieces have in common, is that they're full of love.

Tattoo by Gesiye #Gesiye

Gossamer Rozen aka Grelysian

Gossamer shared in an interview that when they first came to know the tattoo industry, it wasn't something that was attractive: it was a landscape that only consisted of cis white men. However, Gossamer's natural inclinations took them down the path of tattooing...something that has been cathartic for both Gossamer, and the clients who collect their work. Blending the heritage of African and Filipino, Gossamer creates hand poke tattoos, and many objet d'art's, that have a gorgeous infusion of folk designs, fine art, cultural classics, and doses of playful color. A powerhouse of compassion, inclusivity, and knowledge for the community, Gossamer was also recently made Editor of TTTism.

Tattoo by Gossamer Rozen aka Grelysian #GossamerRozen #grelysian

Hellen Zumbi aka zumbi.art

A resident tattoo in São Paulo, Hellen Zumbi has a magnificent reverence for nature, and it isn't just something a beautiful element and motif to tattoo, Hellen could be likened to an eco-warrior. Her Illustrative flora and fauna have a formidable poeticism that endows every body blessed with them a frame for their inherent empowerment.

Tattoo by Hellen Zumbi #HellenZumbi #zumbiart

Henry Lewis

Henry's style is wild, and that's putting it extremely simply. Merging various styles, Henry's works are influenced by everything from Japanese, 70's movie posters, 80's metal, and so much more. He's collaborated with the likes of lettering master B.J. Betts and is consistently putting out works that show his top notch skills, natural talent, and sick techniques.

Tattoo by Henry Lewis #HenryLewis

Jalen Frizzell

A tattooer since 2015, Jalen Frizzell is dedicated to visibility, diversity, and destroying the systemic racism within tattooing. Not only sharing resources, words of advice, and updates on protests, Jalen has used the art form of tattooing to promote BIMPOC from the beginning. Her style and technique hijacks aspects of American Traditional, but Jalen has subverted the genre by making artwork that is high in contrast and density. Her stand out pieces, many inspired by 70's blaxploitation aesthetics, pop on any skin color.

Tattoo by Jalen Frizzell #JalenFrizzell

Janani Nathan aka great_gma

Janani, based in Chicago, is an artist who lovingly creates hand poke tattoos for clients. Their designs are truly a personal perspective for Janani, who bases the creations off of the Tamil immigration culture they were brought up in. Not only do they have a sliding scale for PoC, but they also focus on making their work accessibly physically and emotionally for all bodies. Whether you want a custom piece, or a flash tattoo, Janani will make sure that the designs are powerful, but not appropriative, and made with love.

Hand poke tattoo by Janani Nathan aka great_gma #JananiNathan #greatgma

Jayaism

Mainly self-taught, Jaya Suartika has been tattooing for about 8 years and hails from Australia. His Blackwork tattoos bring a variety of influences including Indonesian batik and folk patterns. If his adoration for humanity is shown not only in the tattoos that he create, but in his street photography as well. An integral empathetic force within the industry, he also started a project A World in Isolation, which connects photographers and creatives across global boundaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tattoo by Jayaism #Jayaism

Jaylind Hamilton aka jaybaby.tattoo

Jaylind's IG bio basically says it in a nutshell, "Black, genderless & made to love". Mostly self-taught, Jaylind's experience getting into the tattoo industry was very difficult but their dedication was unwavering. In general, their vibe is deeply imbued with a sense of strength, tender tenacity, and caring consideration. You can read more about them in this interview. Also, keep a look out for the release of the film where Jaylind talks about their Experience of the Black Tattooer!

Tattoo by Jaylind Hamilton aka jaybaby.tattoo #JaylindHamilton #jaybabytattoo

Jusontask

Based in Los Angeles at Sang Bleu, Jus Ontask is known for an incredible Finaline Illustrative take that merges iconic Chicano aesthetics born in The City of Angels, with the bold graphic touches of current kawaii culture influence. In his portfolio, you'll find ACAB lettering with cop cars on fire, like the tattoo below, leather covered doms, and chain enraptured Hello Kitty cuties.

Tattoo by jusontask #jusontask

Katie McPayne aka katie_mcpaynetattoo

Devoted to creating a safe place for everyone, Katie McPayne embraced tattooing when it became clear that the conversation and landscape of the old school industry was slowly cracking open. Flourishing with the inspiration of other floral, hand poke, queer, and similar artists, Katie continues to learn their craft to produce lovely mementos of positivity, body love, self love, and every good thing on planet Earth. Located in Paris, make sure to check them out for a true experience of what getting tattooed should be like for everyone.

Tattoo by Katie McPayne #KatieMcPayne

Maya Cross-Lovelace aka _mayaxl

Based in Trinidad and Tobago, Maya is a tattooer who focuses on Black and Grey. With an Illustrative approach, Maya creates depictions of the natural world such as snakes and florals, but also works with intimate symbolism. Once co-owner of Bald Babes Ink, Maya has spread her wings and is looking forward to evolving her creative output in exciting ways.

Tattoo by mayaxl #mayaxl

Nadia Castigo aka tattoosbynadia

Based in Chicago, Nadia Castigo is a trans queer artist who focuses mainly on Black and Grey in various styles, but has also done some gorgeous color like a portrait of Whang Od and birds flitting across the sky. Realism, Illustrative, and even New School, Nadia is relatively new to the tattoo industry with about 2 years in to being a professional artist after finishing an apprenticeship. A much-needed voice for QPOC, Nadia has a positive, uplifting attitude that is absolutely inspiring.

Tattoo by Nadia Castigo #NadiaCastigo

Oba Jackson

Like so many tattooists in this article, Oba Jackson saw the acute absence of representation within the industry. He ended up opening his own shop, Push Tattoos in Wilmington, Delaware, in hopes of creating a space where he could truly give back to the community. Using his studio to help young Black artist flourish, Oba hopes to take on many talented apprentices in the future. Although he mainly focus on Black and Grey Realism, he also whips out bold color and other aesthetics like the Neo-Trad influenced ultra-babe below.

Tattoo by Oba Jackson #ObaJackson

Obasi Springer

Focusing primarily on Black and Grey Realism, Obasi Springer is based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He's also been known to create Japanese pieces, Watercolor, and Traditional; Obasi is not only well-rounded but a proponent of hard work and dedication. Since he began tattooing, he's also evolved his work through a devotion to evolve as an artist and reach new heights of skill every single day.

Tattoo by Obasi Springer #ObasiSpringer

Ocean Gao aka Baby Phag

Based in New York City, Ocean Gao, also known as baby.phag, is a multi-media artist whose tattoos are mainly Illustrative with the influence of Chinese arts, reflecting Ocean's personal cultural background. Via their website, "Their work focuses on diasporic nostalgia, forms of queer kinship, and creating homes in liminal spaces." One of the ways that Ocean is supporting equality within the industry is by giving tattoos on a sliding pay scale dependent on privilege and access.

Tattoo by Ocean Gao aka babyphag #OceanGao #babyphag

Roxann aka roxann8roxann

Currently based in Dallas, Roxann has a bold graphic Illustrative style that often incorporates touches of red. Roxann inspires with her striking pieces, but also her incredibly free spirit that flows through her work and social media presence. A kind artist who travels on the regular, make sure to catch up with Roxann if you're feeling her cool custom pieces.

Tattoo by Roxann aka roxann8roxann #Roxann #Roxann8roxann

Ruby Wolfe

"The Wandering Wolf Witch" is an insanely talented tattooer with a style that is unique and incredibly expressive. Many of their tattoos are depictions of nymph-like deities and dryads...these portraits are of empowered beings with magic gliding through their body and into yours. Ruby is self-taught, and their projects span tattoos, illustrations, and photographs all of which has the glow of ancient alchemy.

Tattoo by Ruby Wolfe #RubyWolfe

Sema Tattoo

Co-owner of Time Being Tattoo in Chicago, Illinois, Sema Syrian-American queer creator of tattoos and paintings. Empowerment is the impetus behind all of their pieces; Sema partly got into tattooing to make others feel an ownership over their bodies through the tattoo art form. An outspoken proponent for revolutionizing the industry, Sema has used their platform to support the conversation and direct action in the community.

Tattoo by Sema aka Sema Tattoo #Sema #Sematattoo

Tamara Santibanez - read an interview with Tamara

Self-proclaimed "adult anarchist", Tamara Santibanez is a multi-media artist based in NYC. Known for her incredible Chicano style tattoos and masterpiece paintings depicting deeply loved leather landscapes, Tamara is not only a tattooist, but a fine artist who has done residencies, artist talks, and gallery shows. She also runs Discipline Press, which "is inspired by the intersection of the personal and political in creative expression, and focuses on art, subculture, and sexuality."

Tattoo by Tamara Santibanez #TamaraSantibanez

Tosca aka tattoosca

Hand poking sweetly lyrical pieces in London, Tosca is an artist who mainly focuses on magical depictions of plants, animals, portraits, and more. Creating pieces that have an intimate reflection of the client who wears them, Tosca is a tattooist who has a unique visual vernacular that is full of heart. Incredibly vocal about the lack of representation in the industry, Tosca is devoted to doing her part to create a more healthy, inclusive, and supportive tattoo community.

Tattoo by Tosca aka tattoosca #Tosca #tattoosca

Yokai Hermit

Based in Paris at one of the most diverse and culturally significant tattoo shops, L'Encrerie, Yokai Hermit is young in the game, but has intense skills that are revered. Concentrating completely on anime, manga, and Japanese culture icons, Yokai Hermit's Fineline pieces are a treasure trove of pop culture nostalgia for many Otaku fans. Almost completely self-taught, Yokai Hermit is full of the dedication, skill, and talent that it takes to become a legend in the industry.

Tattoo by Yokai Hermit #YokaiHermit


Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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