Tattoo artists say gender doesn't matter

Thursday , July 31, 2014 - 11:07 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — Gone are the days of America’s traditional culture of tattooing; sailors and military servicemen are no longer the only participants in the art form. And, perhaps in the last few decades, the culture of tattooing has seen yet another shift as more women have become visible as artists.

As women have become a larger part of this industry, some artists feel the northern Utah area is still experiencing a shortage.

Jenn Aviles, owner of Liquid Jade Art and Tattoo in Salt Lake City, began her career in tattooing 11 years ago, a time when female artists in the area were scarce.

“It’s becoming more common, but it is rare to find female artists that have been doing it for quite some time,” Aviles said.

When Christina Walker began tattooing at Lucky Bamboo Tattoo in Layton, clients would mistake her for the “counter girl.” Six years ago, while living in Michigan and starting out her career as an artist, Walker said she worked in an all-female shop, where she recalls a time when a man laughed at her co-workers because he thought women couldn't be tattoo artists. 

“I thought it was ridiculous,” Walker said. “He wasn't even willing to look at our (portfolios) or anything.”

But, Aviles feels that the climate has become more inviting of women as the industry has matured.

“I think there are a lot of freethinking people in the field, true artists in the field, other than people who are using it as a trade,” she said. “And with that, there’s more intelligence in my colleagues. There are more college degrees and more life experience. So, I think with that comes more open mindedness.”

Milli Fitch is one of two female resident artists at Skin It Tatto in Ogden. Fitch said when she began seeking to apprentice three years ago, she did not experience wariness from seasoned artists because of her gender. She says the industry is hard to break into, regardless of gender.

“It’s super competitive because, when you apprentice under someone, you eventually end up taking their clients,” she said. “So, a lot of people don’t want to teach because it’s a competitive industry.”

But Aviles believes that gender inequality does affect the industry, and will continue to do so until attitudes about what women can and cannot do, change.

“There is such a dominate, male-induced religious spirituality and thought of what a woman’s place is and what she should be doing that I don’t think there will ever be a true balance between a man and a woman, regardless of the field,” she said.

Walker said her gender was a hindrance when beginning her career, which meant she had to work even harder to build a reputation. 

“But you get out what you put in, and it was a lot of long hours and a lot of drawing,” Walker said. “You just have to do more work, but that’s going to be true for anybody if you want to be big in an industry. I think once you get a big enough reputation and clientele, you’re going to be solid either way, but just walking into a shop in the beginning, it’s going to be harder to get them to want to come to you.

Fitch said she loves the honesty of the art form; her artistic ability and hard work correlate with her success. 

“If you don’t put in the work, you don’t get the money,” she said. “Some people go to these 9 to 5 jobs and put in double the effort as somebody else and will get paid the same. Here, you have to put in the effort to get the rewards.”

Some clients peg female artists to stereotypes, assuming women have a lighter hand or are more capable of creating feminine pieces. Walker said these assumptions aren't accurate for every woman.

“I've seen tattoos by a wide variety of people,” she said. “It doesn't matter if it’s a male or female (artist). It’s just however their style of tattooing is.”

The stereotypes don't bother Fitch, nor does she question what brings a client to her chair. 

“My arts speaks for itself,” she said. “If somebody wants to say that it’s not good enough, then that’s on them... I don’t work hard to better myself in front of men; I work hard for my clients. I care more about my clients than what somebody’s opinion is.” 

Aviles also said she does not believe one gender owns specific characteristics, making a female artist more or less capable. 

“Art is subjective and you have people gravitate to what they enjoy doing,” she said. “Gender doesn't matter. There’s some pretty aggressive female artists out there and there’s some effeminate male artists out there; gender has nothing to do with it.”

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