The tattoo community has certainly become more aware, more inclusive, and more safe, but there’s always room to improve...while some people feel the effects of positivity, there are still those who feel left out or silenced.
I often feel that the only way we can progress further is through constant communication and education; it helps us all grow. So, to keep up the conversation, I reached out to a few female tattooists for their stories, their thoughts, and their experiences. There are a lot of artists who are evolving the industry through their kindness, compassion, and common philosophies, not to mention their powerful creative output.
It's when you bring all perspectives together that you can have a complete picture. Just as when you bring all hands together in support, you have a solid foundation to build new realities where we're all safe and empowered. Thanks to these amazing womxn, and so many more, for whom this is written.
“I prefer to talk about the feelings and the energies that other women spread and that influences me so much...Now you can meet a lot of female tattoo artists and I don’t know if we can still talk about cultural and gender differences? From my point of view, the world of tattooing is a beautiful melting pot and social media platforms are the new boosters of this global community. But I started tattooing seventeen years ago and things were pretty different.
Around 2006 I went to a painting meeting called “amalgamarte”. At that time I was nothing more than an apprentice and didn’t have much experience in the world of tattooing. The women I met there were just a few, compared to the males participants.
Claire Reid, a tattoo artist and painter on the road. At that time, for me, the concept of “on the road” sounded completely weird and fascinating at the same time. I never met her again but I remember she said she was leaving the UK, moving to Australia and then traveingl around the world. I’ll never forget her energy and curiosity...actually she’s still living in Australia.
Maria Grazia Tolino is a real pioneer in Italy. After that meeting, I went a few times to her studio as a guest and she changed my way of working and approach to tattooing. I changed all my machines and supplies. She was so focused on her work taking care of all the aspects like sketching, setting up the tools and tattooing...so devoted to this art and a real professional.
Genziana, I remember she came with some Japanese guys and their look was amazing, completely different from how I was. Colourful, free, full of energy...the same energy she spreads every time I meet her, even for a few minutes during conventions.
This short story is about devotion for this art and positive vibes. So, go to conventions, meetings, go into a tattoo shop and talk with a real tattoo artist and meet them in person. It’s an experience you’ll never regret."
"I feel like its important that womxn, especially womxn of colour, contribute to the tattoo industry because they can give a different perspective on how tattoos are seen and what they mean, especially today within a heavily dominated cis white male industry and also in social media.
I feel as though I try my best to incorporate all skin tones and body shapes and types as best I can within my portfolio. Also, many tattoo shops, and even artists, can make sessions uncomfortable for some and tattooing shouldn’t be like that (racism, discrimination, fat-phobia homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, et cetera) Finding a way to make clients feel more at home and comfortable by respecting and setting boundaries when they get tattooed is extremely important. I find tattooing to be a spiritual and ritualistic, for myself and the client. So, establishing a safe space where we respect people for who they are and not crossing any boundaries is a must.
Not many artists see it that way and the politics of the industry can be misleading. It’s not just a job for me to make money or get famous on instagram. I tattoo because I am an artist and I think it’s important to share my art in more ways than one and to make connections with so many diverse people. I feel it’s humbling to meet so many different people and listen their stories. Tattooing is a great way to do that all at once and to hopefully set an example for other tattoo artists.”
“I don't think there's any gender difference in being a tattooist. If you manage your physical strength and ability well, the customer will evaluate it as the worker's work, not as a gender. That's the best part. It's not that social and structural problems are preventing me from developing my abilities. It's good to develop and be recognized and judged mercilessly only as work. However, it is very welcome that women are able to stand out without discrimination in the male-dominated world of work. This is the result of not only me but also young artist's steady pursuit of a bright atmosphere, diversity, change and expertise in the genre against the existing dark, gloomy and negative perceptions.
In the meantime, some female tattooists have been very successful in their work. It resonates so much that a lot of female tattooists have sprung up and actually made their debut. They’re showing good work. The perception is that male tattooists can do emotional and detailed work, not just big work. There's an atmosphere in which men are ignored when they do small things, but now both men and women are able to do tattoo what they want. And these efforts have been made in the last five or six years, young men and women's guests has been exploded. As the number of tattoos has increased, they have become a culture that anyone can enjoy, not just certain kinds of people.
South Korea is now standing out from the illegal tattoos and the enormous amount of negative culture. I thank all Korean tattooists for their efforts. When I started tattooing 15 years ago, things were quite different. Tattoos were a harsh culture and exclusive to men. Learning tattoos for them was more like surviving. I gave up learning in Korea and went to Australia and Thailand to study by myself. I opened my studio 10 years ago and now I am here. Unlike now, women were in a dismissive mood at the time. In order not to be ignored, I had to create big work and was hurt a lot mentally so I lived without interaction with other workers.
In many cultures, women tend to look bad with tattoos. However, it is a great pleasure to see more female guests change that view. The genre of engraving ranges from small to large roughness. Rather, it is men's tattoos that still need more change. Men want to do something pretty, beautiful, and lyrical, but they're tied to the "manly" mold. I've seen many cases where the subject matter is limited and they’re hesitant to do it. I think it will change slowly."
"It’s an exciting time being a female tattooer right now. There are so many incredibly talented women who are tattooing and it’s inspiring and motivating to be a part of the industry right now. I think there has been an avenue that has opened up that’s very welcoming and inviting to some people who may have been interested in getting tattooed but have felt intimidated by the traditional stereotypes of what tattooing has been in the past.
Being a woman you can sometimes relate in a different way to another woman or person that identifies as female, in life and body experiences which can create a sense of safety and connection during such an intimate process as getting tattooed. I tattoo people of all ages and stages in life and sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that we can share a space in the tattooing process and they trust me to allow them to have the experience in a way that feels comfortable for them. I personally work with a number of amazing talented women every day and it’s an empowering, humbling and motivating experience to share space, creativity, and positive aspirations with these amazing artists."
"Unfortunately there is still an air of silence in the industry. Kind of this forced: 'don’t speak if you want to get anywhere mentality.' I’ve been in this profession for 10 years now and feel I’ve experienced a diversity of perspectives and treatment. Unfortunately, the negative sides aren’t only perpetuated by men. I’ve experienced some of my biggest blocks coming from women.
I’ve been told by a male boss, whom was incredible on so many fronts, that he wouldn’t hire another female... only one per shop. This was two fold: A, he thought we would ‘cat fight’ and, B, that there only needed to be one token female...After all, clients only get tattooed by women because they need a gentler approach to feel comfortable...Nothing to do with our quality of work. If there were multiple, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around. I will say that per my request that older boss did hire another female and it completely broke down that stigma for him. The other female and I are still best friends and advocates for each other within this journey.
I would love to say women are changing the industry... and in fact, I do, but it’s also important to acknowledge people who don’t identify as a binary such as transgender people and people of color. Diversity is key to enlightening the conversation. Alternate perspectives break down hate, racism, classism and sexism.
I see shops now opening with more of a diverse employee base and it seems to be catching on like wildfire... and from what I gather, the clients are loving it. They feel more safe, seen and less pressure to just 'accept what they get.' Overall, it seems the aggressive parts of the industry are being challenged and alternative ways to operate are being accepted. So, for those reasons, I think the socio-political atmosphere of tattooing is changing for the better.
I’ve been rejected by a female owned shop because she didn’t want to work with other women, and in fact has been very outspoken against other female tattooers. I’ve been rejected by another shop because there was already a woman there and she didn’t want to work with another woman. She felt threatened, or that we’d be in direct competition. So, I know this is probably not the angle you were wanting to spin, but there’s been plenty of challenges. Maybe women can perpetuate misogyny as well."
"To be honest When I start tattooing I was very afraid and intimidated of older women tattooers... I always looked at them admire them and I was thinking, “What they will think of me?” I was thinking that my voice, my work wasn’t strong enough and that my opinion wasn’t going to be taken seriously. But instead I was lucky enough to find an incredible community ..amazing artists that gave me the chance to grow and to express myself, and taught me how to express myself and elevate my work.
In my career I had the chance to collaborate with many great artists, and I’m still in the process of learning...Woman or man? It doesn’t matter. There’s always something to learn! ALWAYS!
I feel like we should stop categorizing...woman/man...we are tattoo artists.
The great thing about the women's community is that they are always ready to support each other or to organize art shows, benefits etc. I’ve literally been overwhelmed by the many initiatives that I get involved with!
Especially now that I’m a mother also I have connected with so many other mother/tattooers sharing our lives, our goals, stories etc...
But I also have met not very nice people in this community but that is life...Woman or man doesn’t matter. We should be focusing more on the quality of work and the soul and love that you put into your work and art."
"It's a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are a lot of conventions, seminars and Instagram pages aimed at promoting and empowering women tattooers, and on the other hand, there is a LOT of people that will focus on that fact alone and not the quality of your or their ink.
Tattooing as a woman shouldn't be any different than as a man. It's not some sport or job that requires X amount of muscle or stamina...we aren't pulling people out of burning buildings on our backs. But unfortunately, it is different.
If you are good and have a following it must be because you sleep with people or that you are promoting yourself only with your looks despite how hard you actually work, or how good your tattoos are. If you don't look like you are "that type" then it's still ok, because you "aren't a real tattooer anyway" which is a direct quote said about me. I have had another woman literally call me a cunt on stage because when I, and several other people, were judging a competition. Their piece didn't win. The men on stage were not targeted.
Being a woman in the industry shouldn't be different, and if it were to be, it should be more empowering, more nurturing, but it's not. It’s harder, colder and more underhanded. Hard conditions breed strong people though, so those of us that stick it out and focus on their art and not the petty politics will succeed."
"I’ve been In the industry since I was 16...now I’ve seen the massive growth of ladies in the industry. I think there were about ten female tattooists in the whole of Australia when I started in the late 90’s. Needless to say it was a different world than the one we live in today. I’ve always believed in helping one another grow by sharing knowledge and lifting each other.
My studio Garage Ink creates a safe haven for dedicated female artists. At this present time the studio is comprised of 11 beautifully talented women, including 9 incredibly inspiring tattoo artists working together on a daily basis. Though we are always searching for more talent to grow our family.
We’re lways lifting each other and helping in all aspects of our lives. We are all super inspired by other ladies in our industry. Without our team we would not be who we are. As individuals the girls are incredible, but as a group it’s a whole new level.
When I see other ladies in our industry finding success and sharing their talent with the world, it warms my heart. The greatest gift we have in this world is kindness. And the ability to inspire someone in a positive way. Share love, share gratitude, lift one another and the world is fruitful. So, so very proud of the ladies in our industry. Go girls!"
“I think everything starts when you learn how to be a human being first. Then realize that we are all so different from each other.
I grow up with men, I never felt different in any case. It actually empowers me about boundaries, my own ones, not the societal ones.
I left my country when I was almost 19 years old; now I am 31, alone, being a woman. I didn’t even know what that means, being a woman, I was just used to being me. I remember that when I started getting tattooed it was just one female artist in my circle. At that time it was a man’s universe. Then I start tattooing and, with time, I was the artist for a lot of women, incredible and beautiful ones! Every single client that came to me was thankful for the sacred space that women create, for making them feel comfortable and giving them the space for asking what they really want and from where they really were.
I think the women are taking place in the "tattoo industry" and giving it tenderness. There’s a subtle beautiful change of atmosphere when you get a piece done by a woman...Of course, in every family there's a problematic one, and I’ve also had incredible experiences getting tattoos by incredible men.
I think we change the mask of being tattooed as something tough, or related to a subculture or just being part of the different one. I think we brought tattoos to a place of carrying them as a piece of jewelry or just as a reminder of who we are.
I think the female connection with nature is also bringing a different inclusion of all the elements that surround us in the creation of the designs. I think we reconnect the tattoos with the meaning of feelings and process that we have as human beings. I feel really lucky to be a woman doing the amazing job of being a tattoo artist.”
As a collector, and as a devoted supporter of the arts communities, I’ve been able to work with so many humans who are making this world a better place. I’m fortunate to have known tattoo artists, tattoo collectors, fine artists, event producers….an incredible amount of people who have inspired me by their strength and love. Some of my favorite moments have been with people like Tann Parker from Ink the Diaspora, or promoting the Kink Out event last year, or having conversations with the artists behind Cover Ups Against Abuse. What is going on in the industry right now is exciting...it’s progressive...it’s revolutionary...it’s fucking changing things, and it gives me hope.
The artists who gave their words for this article are some people I deeply admire and respect. Like Pepa, who I met when I was in London. Constantly traveling, waking up in a new city every other week...it can sometimes be lonely and alienating. But she made me feel welcome, and at home. She lights up a room with positivity. I experienced similar from Sion, who I met in Seoul. Her kindness is so pure and authentic; she’s literally an integral part of Korean artists changing negative perspectives within that country with her poignant dedication to her work. I also have to include Tamara Santizbanez, who is consistently inspiring in all that she does. From teaching art at Rikers, to her small publishing house Discipline Press, and even her projects such as “Shapeshifting: Towards Being Seen”, she brings wholehearted devotion to everything she does. People, like these, make me want to be the best person I can be for the community around me, for my chosen family and friends, and for my coworkers...for literally anyone who I come into contact with.
I hope that these various perspectives from female tattooers, and the diverse experiences they’ve lived, continue the conversation, inspire others, or shed some light on some areas that need change. There’s a lot of work to do because we’re still lacking visibility and empowerment for so many others in this industry. We need to work together to make equality for everyone a reality within our community.