Diversity in Tattooing Opens Up Art Form to People with Different Identities
By Taryn Courville
Tina Poe has been a tattoo artist for six years. Even in that span of time, she’s already noticed change in both society’s view of tattoos and diversity in the industry.
Tattooing wasn’t originally in Poe’s plans, but art has always been her passion. From dreams of designing book covers to a job in graphic design, art has always played a role in what she does. When Poe realized she wasn’t happy with the level of creativity of her previous job in graphic design, Poe’s partner, fellow tattoo artist David Poe, told her she might be happier in tattooing, she said.
Poe began her journey in tattooing by opening her own studio, Moon Tattoo. She transitioned slowly from her old job to manage the business side and learned how to tattoo along the way. Even if she found she didn’t want to tattoo, she would still have the experience and knowledge necessary to run the business side of things, Poe said. Though, over time, Poe has found her love for the practice.
“I love that I get to draw every day, which is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Poe said. “Create and make artwork.”
Poe’s tattoo style focuses primarily on black work only and fine line designs. Outside of tattooing, Poe’s art is vibrant and colorful, but while learning to tattoo, she decided to scale back and focus on black work to grow her skills, she said.
“It was just a different challenge stripping all of that color away and then just having to rely on line and basic shading,” Poe said. “I’ve really enjoyed that challenge, and I think it’s made my work better.”
In the years she’s been a tattoo shop owner and artist, Poe has witnessed more body art studios opening, increased diversity in artists and more creative work being put out. It’s exciting to see more demographics being represented in the industry, she said. One demographic Poe noted was women. The majority of Moon Tattoo’s clients are female now, she said.
“I would think that the same number of men and women would have loved to get tattooed all the time,” Poe said. “It’s just like, it wasn’t a comfortable experience for women to go get them, so it wasn’t popular.”
Now that tattooing is more accepted and more people from different backgrounds are becoming artists, Poe sees more artists of different genders, races and sexualities now. The diversity of artists in the industry then opens the industry to more clients, Poe said.
“Those spaces are now here, and that’s giving a wider range of clients,” Poe said. “They feel a lot more comfortable going into those spaces, which maybe they hadn’t before.”
Amaya Martinez is pursuing a career in teaching. She has 10 tattoos. They are small and spread out, but generally visible.
Before starting a new job, Martinez said she makes sure to ask about the district’s policy on tattoos, because it varies depending on where the school district is and how tattoos are viewed in that area. Growing up, Martinez didn’t have many teachers that had tattoos, and if they did, they were generally in hard to see places, she said. However, now that she’s beginning her own career in teaching, she’s spotted teachers with visible tattoos, though she’s noticed more of them are around her own age, she said.
Martinez likes the patchwork style of tattoos, dainty tattoos spread randomly over her body, and some of them are meaningful, but others are just things she likes. She enjoys tattoos because she sees it as a way to celebrate the artwork of others, and she already has plans to get more. Though she’s never had anyone say anything negative about her tattoos or the fact she is a woman with tattoos, she knows what she’d say, she said.
“My body has nothing to do with you. The way I look has nothing to do with you,” Martinez said. “I think it’s just my teacher like views, just like if you don’t have anything nice to say, just keep your comments to yourself.”
Denaey Castillo also has 10 tattoos. They work at Hot Topic, but in the future, they’ll be helping their family open a café or going back to school to become a chiropractor or masseuse, they said. They’ve always wanted tattoos, and since the moment they first saw people with tattoos it’s been their goal to have them, Castillo said. They used to worry about how tattoos could impact their career, but now they wonder why tattoos should affect where they work.
“Like if I sadly can’t become this, then so be it; I’ll just pursue another career,” Castillo said. “Who is my ink hurting?”
Castillo thinks tattoos are just another creative and beautiful form of art, they said. Art is a way for people to express themselves or show their story, and tattooing is just another, albeit more permanent, way to do that, Castillo said. Castillo knows they may face judgment for their tattoos, but they’re prepared for it.
“They can judge me, but this is who I am, and this is what I want to show,” Castillo said.
No matter what gender, race or age people are, everyone loves art and self-expression, Poe said. Tattoos can tell someone’s story or show their interests, but they also have the power to help change how someone perceives the parts of their body they may not be happy with. By putting something they love in that area, a person can change their relationship with their body, Poe said.
The level of trust clients put in her is so humbling and wonderful, Poe said. Poe continues to push herself to become better and works hard to live up to that trust.
“I definitely feel that trust is huge,” Poe said. “It’s such a position of power, like you really have to take that into consideration.”
As for the future, Poe is excited to see where the industry goes from here, she said. Tattoos are becoming more accepted, and the industry has changed a lot already, but it will continue to change as years go by. Poe’s looking forward to seeing the artwork and styles of the future.