Tattoos are not just pretty pictures and ink. Tattoos are more than just ink and cute graphics. They tell stories, involve intimacy, and often cause physical and emotional pain. Getting a tattoo traditionally involves selecting a photo and biting for several hours. This can be a very vulnerable experience, requiring nervousness, uncertainty, and intimidation. Women-led tattoo studios, run by talented and nurturing female artists, are changing how people experience getting a new tattoo. It is now empowering, if not ritualistic.
Here are three female tattooists who discuss their work and how to create a more inclusive environment for their clients – especially women.
Phoebe O’Regan owns Awen Soul Co Cork.
Phoebe O’Regan, owner of Awen Soul Tattoo and Healing Studio in Cobh (Co Cork), is spiritually centered. She spent three years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the ancient Sak Yant tattoo ceremony is still practiced. O’Regan states that tattoos are often chosen after reading the person’s energy and determining what they need in their life. The tattoo will then be blessed.
O’Regan received a tattoo of the ancient Celtic symbol Awen while living in Ireland. This symbol celebrates imagination, creativity, and aesthetic sensibility. It was a transformative experience for O’Regan inspiring her to return to Ireland and her ancestors. She also decided to become a tattooist after the incident. Awen was the name she chose for her tattoo studio, which women run. Tattooing has become a spiritual experience for her.
She says, “I thought the tattoo industry was rough and tough.” Tattooing has been around for thousands of years. It’s an innate human desire to create and claim ourselves. This was a spiritual practice that mostly involved medicine women. Since the 1950s, this space has been dominated by men.
O’Regan did not feel she belonged in the tattooing business until her trip to Cambodia led her to return to tattooing. She saw tattooing as healing and a way to reconnect with our roots. She studied and brushed up on her business and tattooing skills.
“For me, tattooing is a privilege; it’s like collaborating,” she says. “Most clients I work with have experienced very emotional, deep-meaning experiences. When I know someone is grieving, I create the space and energy to support their pain. It often starts by exchanging messages or making a phone call. Suppose they come for a particular reason and are comfortable with ceremony and healing. In that case, we might begin with a meditation or a cleansing ceremony to help them let go of any issues that may arise. It can either be straightforward or it can be multilateral.
We always ask about the comfort level of our clients, their expectations, and what kind appointment they would like to have.
— Phoebe O’Regan, Awen Soul
O’Regan wanted Awen’s clients to feel comfortable and welcome in a female-led, queer-friendly, nurturing space.
It’s like a womb. It is very cozy, healing, and nourishing. It’s like a movement away from the kind of traditional ‘rock and roll,’ loud music studios,” she says.
“I have learned through negative tattoo experiences that giving and receiving a tattoo are energy exchanges,” she says. “And how important it is to provide excellent customer service in this industry.” It is essential to connect with people and make them feel safe. Many women who got tattoos have felt uncomfortable or scared in certain studios.
Many female shops sell unique products, but they all have their uniqueness. But I’d say they generally care more about their customers in the small details. Even something as simple as having drinks and snacks for them. It is a small thing, but it makes a big difference.
To create a safe studio environment, it is vital to have boundaries, understand, guide, and respect. On our intake forms, we always ask about someone’s comfort level, the type of appointment they want, and what they expect. Someone with ADHD may be overwhelmed by music and would prefer no music. Maybe someone has a special connection to their grandmother and would love to hear her music. It’s all about creating a comfortable space for people.”
Lucia Dzurkova is the owner of Art Lab Tattoo in Cork City.
Lucia Dzurkova, owner of Art Lab Tattoo Studio located in Cork’s Victorian Quarter, did not intend for it to be exclusively a female-run studio. However, as spaces became available for new artists, this happened.
“I could not have asked for a better group of female artists. I also had an amazing piercer and a receptionist who was just as talented,” says Dzurkova. We want our studio to be a relaxing and comfortable place. The process can be long and painful if it’s your first tattoo or you get a huge piece. We want our customers to be happy not only with their tattoos but also with the experience. Our customers are primarily female, and I believe they feel safer and more comfortable with a woman artist, especially when they get a tattoo on an intimate part of their body. Our studio is an inclusive space that welcomes everyone, including all genders, cultures, and LGBTQIA.
Karolina Bala works at Art Lab. She finds it to be a space that empowers and is inclusive. “For most customers, it doesn’t matter who we are. However, for some people, it does. Both male and female customers have told me they feel safe and comfortable in my studio. “I’m surrounded with highly motivated, ambitious, and hard-working females whose attitude, support, and encouragement help me become a more successful artist and person.”
Dzurkova began tattooing as part of a college class to gain work experience. She then completed an apprenticeship at a studio. Internships usually aren’t paid and require much patience as there is much to learn. After five years, I am still a student, which is a joy. She is a vegan and an animal lover, and she’s conscious of the eco-friendly and vegan supplies used in the studio.
It is just as important to find the perfect design as it is to feel at ease and trust your artist.
— Anna Boccato, Art Lab
She says, “There aren’t any ingredients that come from animals. They haven’t been tested on animals.” This would include inks and aftercare creams as well as stencil paper. I always do my research and check what we are getting. We also want to be eco-friendly, as we are trying to reduce the waste created by this industry, which uses only single-use products.
Anna Boccato is a tattooist who studied as an illustrator before she became a tattooist. “I thought if I cannot illustrate books, maybe I can illustrate other people. “I did a very long apprenticeship in an Italian studio and came to Ireland as a fully formed artist.” Boccato didn’t make a conscious choice to work in a studio with a majority of women, but she likes the atmosphere at Art Lab. “For a woman, it can be hard to work in a shop of only men – there’s still a bit of sexism in this industry.”
Creating a safe space for the artist and client is essential. “This shop is my haven.” “When you get a new tattoo, you are vulnerable. Finding a shop where you feel safe and can trust your artist completely is just as important as choosing the perfect design,” says she. “I am proud to be able to offer that service for queer and female people. It was a natural thing. I don’t believe we did anything special to make it happen. We all know that we are human and other people too. We respect each other and treat them with care.”
Ali Crawley, tattoo artist at Heartbreak Social Club in Dublin and co-founder of We Are Mná.
Ali Crawley’s station is at Heartbreak Social Club. This beautiful tattoo studio in Dublin, Ireland, spans three levels and has a team that includes tattoo artists and piercers under the direction of Irish artist Ryan Sean Kelly. Heartbreak Social Club’s interiors combine quirky collectibles and soft furnishings with an eclectic collection, including an imposing Sacred Heart Statue, neon lighting, and pink tiles.
The studio employs a mix of men and women as artists, piercers, or front-of-house personnel. Crawley says that the studio’s ability to make clients feel safe and comfortable depends on its staff, regardless of gender.
We all stand for the same message, which is to support and help women.
— Ali Crawley
She says: “It’s almost a certainty that you are in a safe environment with a woman artist, but I don’t want to separate male and female artists because I see day after day how the men with whom I work respect their clients and ensure they’re comfortable. If you want to feel comfortable, relaxed, and safe, a shop with professional artists won’t allow inappropriate behavior. It’s just professional.”
In 2020 soc,ial media criticized the insensitive behavior of some tattoo artists who were male in Ireland toward their clients. This led to a discussion in the industry about the need for safer, more inclusive environments.
Crawley says, “By nature, tattooing involves entering someone’s space and touching their skin.” It’s unfortunate for women to have to consider who tattoos them. [whether] It’s a well-known shop. [whether] The male tattoo artist shows respect. I am a female tattoo artist who asks for permission for anything. “If I’m going to do a sternum painting on someone, and I want it posted on Instagram, I make sure I get their consent and that they are okay with the picture.”
Crawley has been fascinated by tattoos since a very young age. “Given me, a piece of paper, and I will be happy.” I always knew tattooing was my niche. It was like a calling – and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
She has collaborated with tattooists Cissa Spoerl and Ellie Carley to set up. We Are Mná, a queer female-led group of female tattoo artists who design and offer “Mná” (Irish for women) tattoos, with all proceeds going to charities such as Women’s Aid, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, and the Danú Project.
Crawley says, “I was thrilled to be asked to participate in something bigger through my art.” “It is a kind of solidarity thing. We’re all standing up for the same message: to support and help women. And I think the fact that it’s an Irish word hits home for us and is part of why so many people want to be a part of We Are Mná and get an Mná tattoo to wear as a badge to honor our identity and inclusion.”
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