Not only does she do badass tattoos, but Debbi Snax overflows with the type of energy and positivity that makes clients and tattooers adore her. A lover of old school tattoo culture and iconography, Debbi does beautiful work that blends American Traditional with the best of Black culture; many of her designs are pieces of creative imagery that are integral additions to the juggernaut of empowerment for people of color within the industry. Her dedication, work ethic, and passion for tattooing speak for themselves, but in this interview Debbi gives us a peak into her inspiration, artistic philosophy, and hopes for the future of this community.
Feature image a portrait by Autumn Harris.
How did you get into tattooing? What was it like learning the craft?
I got into tattooing purely just by getting tattooed. I met my mentor by chance. I honestly never expected to become a tattooer. I thought I would be an art teacher or something. But when the opportunity to learn to tattoo presented itself, I jumped at it and I’m happy I did. Learning to tattoo has been such a journey. Even after 7 years, I’m still a student in this craft; I'm learning new things every single day. It is starting to finally be rewarding for me...I’m liking what I put out more often these days. My mentor always told me that learning to tattoo would teach me patience and it truly has.
What have been your favorite moments during your tattoo career? What do you love about this industry and community?
One of my favorite moments was doing my first tattoo convention with one of my best friends and my favorite ATL tattooer Kandace Layne. I was so nervous tattooing in front of so many people in a corner booth. Kandace really helped level me out that weekend and kept my anxiety at bay with her kind words and sweet spirit. Another one of my favorite moments was going to London and getting tattooed by Valerie Vargas. Everyone at Modern Classic Tattoo was so sweet and welcoming. We chatted about conventions and tattooing; she gave me great advice. It was exactly a year to the date of me quitting my day job and totally committing to the tattoo lifestyle. It was so special to spend that day with one of my idols and get some much needed reassurance from her.
These are just 2 examples of what I love about this tattoo community: I love how I've been able to build lifelong friendships with people I've worked with. I love how you can go anywhere in the world and still be connected to a total stranger by being in this craft. It's a loving community if you work hard at it and believe in it. It's really beautiful.
How do you bring your background and culture into your artwork? Is there any iconography that really resonates with you in particular?
I think I bring my African American culture and background into my artwork by drawing black figures and tattooing people of color. I'm drawn toTraditional American tattooing mostly and I've always been inspired by vintage magazine spreads or pin up calendar art. Growing up in a hair salon I was always looking at Hair books, EBONY magazines and JET magazines. I think those images of confident black women truly rubbed off on me and show up in my art a lot.
What is your artistic philosophy or goals? Do you think artists have a responsibility to the world?
My artistic philosophy and my main goal as a black woman existing in a traditionally cis white male space, is to use my art and my presence within this realm to change and challenge the norms as well as pave the way for other black women like me. I feel like the only responsibility an artist has to this world is to be 100% themselves and to be as honest and purposeful with their art as they possibly can.
What have been your greatest accomplishments and struggles over the years? How do you define success?
My greatest accomplishment was being able to quit my corporate job and take care of myself and support my lifestyle off of my art and tattooing alone. My biggest struggle was getting my art seen and taken seriously. I struggled for many years getting a job in a reputable shop in Atlanta where I could be in a safe space, learn more and expand my tattooing. I guess that would fall under an accomplishment now because I've finally done that after all these years of grinding. I define success as being able to do anything and everything you want to do without even thinking twice.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I think the future of this industry is so bright! I know a lot of tattooers around my age who are really changing the game and making waves. I think the blatant racism that thrives in this community towards client's and tattooers of color is the main thing that needs to change. But I definitely hope the sense of community that I feel with my fellow tattooers and the love that we give to each other stays the exact same. I'd never want to change that, just want to include more people.
Do you have any projects, events, or plans coming up you'd like to share?
The only thing I'm working on at the moment is this tattoo giveaway I'm doing with Gillette razors! We have picked 10 people that were impacted by Covid to give them a free tattoo as a way to uplift people in these wild times. Kinda my way to give people a sense of normalcy. Other than that it's just business as usual tattooing 5 days a week.