Emma Griffiths tattoo above.
NYC's The Villager recently published two features on veteran women tattooers, Michelle Myles and Emma Griffiths, who have been tattooing in the city since before the NYC tattoo ban was lifted in 1997.
In the article, (unfortunately) titled "Female tattoo artists are really making their mark," Michelle talks about her start in tattooing in 1991, working illegally on the Lower East Side in a studio on "the worst heroin block in the whole city." [She adds, "I tattooed all the drug dealers and never had problems."] The article also notes how, when the ban was lifted, Michelle wasn't too happy at the time:
Myles had moved to the second floor above the music venue Pianos at 158 Ludlow St., and had just spent money to renovate the loft -- she was living in the back and was tattooing in the front. "And then I was walking down the street and I saw Clayton Patterson and he was like, 'Did you hear, they're going to legalize tattooing?' And I was like, 'Noooo,' " she said with a laugh. "It wasn't really the sort of place you would want a legal shop because it was old-school L.E.S., where you threw the keys out the window when somebody yelled up.In the end, legalization turned out to be a great thing for Michelle, and her partner Brad Fink, with the success of their Daredevil Tattoo. The gentrification of the Lower East Side and outrageous rents pushed them out of the area, but they found a new home in Chinatown, with a tattoo museum being built into the studio.
When asked about being a woman tattooer starting out in a male dominated industry, she says:
I think, at first, people kind of don't take you seriously," she recalled. "I specifically remember somebody once saying, 'Oh, you tattoo, too. That's cute.' But in the long run, it's what set you apart. At first, it might be a drawback, but in the end, it's what makes you stand out. Although, these days there are so many girls in tattooing, it's not like it used to be."That feature also includes the experience of Linda Wulkan, a tattoo artist at Whatever Tattoo, who has been tattooing in NYC for 11 yrs. Read more of the article here.
In the article "A lifelong love of tattooing fuels her artistry," Emma talks about coming to NYC from the UK in 1990 and becoming a tattooer under the ban. Here's a taste of that talk:
Tattooing in the East Village in the early '90s was amazing and something I will honestly cherish till the day I die. Back then it was illegal, it was hidden. Tattooers to me were mythical, magical, scary people who you had to search out and get the bottle up to go into their shop.Emma's appointment-only Porcupine Tattoo is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where she works in a variety of tattoo styles.
Check more of their work on Instagram: @daredevilmichelle and @emmagriffithstattoo.
Michelle Myles tattoo above.
A couple weeks ago, while at a bar chatting with a friend, I felt a tug on my arm and then, without warning or even a word, my arm was being twisted and turned for inspection by guy who, not only felt it was his right to grab a stranger, but who was rather shocked when I took my arm back and told him that what he was doing wasn't cool. He became indignant that I wasn't flattered by his attention, saying, "What's wrong? I like your tattoos," as if his artistic approval of my work gave him a right to touch. I then took his arm, twisted it as he did to me, and asked him if he liked it. Then, completely accidentally, his own fist wound up in his own eye.
My non-tattooed friends were pretty shocked that some random stranger would grab me to look at my tattoos. I wasn't shocked at all. In fact, most of you reading this won't be shocked. It's something we talk about a lot -- how our skin becomes an interactive museum exhibit. This is particularly a common experience for tattooed women.
This discussion of our bodies as some kind of public space, as well as other issues experienced by tattooed women (and men as well), will be shared on March 6, 2014, on the panel discussion "Women's Ink: Tattooing in the New Millennium" at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn. I'm honored to be moderating the panel with Margot Mifflin author of one of my most favorite tattoo books, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.
The panel is inspired by the third edition of "Bodies of Subversion," released by powerHouse Books a year ago. [I interviewed Margot at that time about the new edition.] The book was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was originally released in 1997, exploring the stories of tattooed women from as far back as the nineteenth-century. So many years later, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed women and women tattooists.
The experiences of women tattooists are particularly fascinating, and there are so many questions that arise: Do women tattooers still feel any form of discrimination from colleagues and clients? How do they feel about their representation in the media? How do they see their role as business women as well as artists? ...
These questions, among many others, will be addressed by a phenomenal group of artists: Roxx of 2Spirit Tattoo in San Francisco, and NYC's own Virginia Elwood and Stephanie Tamez of Saved Tattoo
We'll also open up the discussion to all. The panel, which will take place from 7-9 PM, is the day before the NYC Tattoo Convention -- it'll be a fun way to kick off the tattoo weekend celebration. I really hope to see you there.
More details on the event via the Facebook invite.
While we rarely highlight an artist with less then five years experience, I'm happy to make an exception and share the work and words of Jasmine Wright, 26-year-old rising tattoo star, who has been tattooing 4 1/2 years (yeah, ok, it's close to 5 years) and is based out of Buju Tattoo in Mission Hills, San Diego. Jasmine has been on an intense 4-month travel streak, which concludes with her guest spot at New York Adorned from April 1st through April 5th.
I chatted via email with Jasmine about her work and also her thoughts on being a woman tattooist today. Here's how it went:
What type of tattoos do you love to do?
My favorite types of tattoos to do change all the time! More often than not, I'll prepare for a piece that I think I'll be super stoked on, and it ends up being a nightmare, and vice versa. I'll be dreading an upcoming tattoo, and then it ends up being a favorite. It's weird. But speaking in generalities, I always enjoy color pieces, things with lots of smooth, organic shapes. And as much as I like "feminine" tattoos, I also love a good "mean, manly" tattoo as often as possible.
I particularly love your renderings of female characters because they have a lot of soul to them. What goes into creating these types of works to give it the personality they have?
When I draw out women, I've recently tried to add as much expression as possible, usually based on the client who's getting the tattoo. Most of the female images I've tattooed are on male clients, so sometimes I'll try to envision what kind of chick they'd be into in the real world. The ones that are on female clients, I try to keep more whimsical and soft, to really draw an ultimate feminine vibe. I try to reference old Playboy models, vintage fashion magazines, makeup models, things like that. Especially the high-end fashion models who always have those intense expressions, which make for awesome reference material. Dramatic features n' whatnot.
What other references do you look to?
My reference material is all over the place. I have a ton of books, old magazines, botany, and animal anatomy illustration books. I also keep an eye on a handful of other tattooers and try to pull bits and pieces of stuff from everyone. I'm afraid of being categorized into tattooing too closely like another artist, so when I reference other tattoos I've seen, I always try to just use a small bit I've seen, or just the color palette, and not too much of the entire tattoo. It's hard to stay original, so it's a definite challenge.
Have you ever been met with any difficulty -- or any benefit -- being a woman tattooist?
If it were my choice (or even remotely realistic) I would love to tattoo anonymously without a name. Only because I want to be respected as a tattooer, not a FEMALE tattooer. There are a lot of instances that prove women tattooers get many things with less effort, or lower skill, or are just less deserving in general than their male counterparts, and I really hate that...There's a huge population of chicks that have come up recently, who only got to where they are by putting out half-ass tattoos and showing way too much skin to gain clients & popularity--simply by being a cute chick...I never want to ride off of being a girl to get anywhere in this community. I've really been working my ass off to just do good work that I can be proud of and gain respect of tattooers that I look up to from the work I do, not because I flirt. In that sense, I suppose it's an easy thing to fall into, and it's a difficult thing to work to avoid.
Also, I've met other tattooers who basically have spit in my face for being a girl; they told me I'll never make it, and that there's nothing I can do to ever be worthy. I think those people can kiss my butt, but I also agree in a small sense for those half-ass female tattooers I mentioned previously. There's a fine line that separates the legit women *artists*, versus the ever-increasing number of trendy "chick tattooers." Personally, I've had both benefits and hang ups by being a girl. I wish it wasn't the case in either direction.
Are you all booked up at NY Adorned (NYA) yet? If not, what's the best way to make an appointment?
I actually have no clue how my schedule at Adorned is looking yet, but I know I've got a handful booked. I'm sure I still have time left. Clients can email me through my website to discuss ideas and time frames, and follow up by calling NYA to pick a date and leave a deposit.
What other future guest spots and conventions are coming up?
I have a tattoo road trip in the works, most likely July/August, which will probably include multiple cities across the country (definitely Portland OR, Austin TX, Tempe AZ, and a handful of East Coast cities for sure). Those plans will be locked down by the end of April. I also guest spot in San Francisco at Seventh Son Tattoo almost every other month, and Unbreakable Tattoo in Los Angeles pretty often as well.
Anything else you want people to know about you?
I love my Aussie shepherd puppy, Albee, and I also love eating big awesome steaks! Haha! Otherwise, I'm a total old lady. I travel and tattoo, and sleep.