January 28, 2022
“I once met a tattoo shop owner who said I shouldn’t be working in the industry and that it was no place for a woman. But his words just lit a fire inside me. I kept my nose to the grind, and used his hatred as fuel. Here I am, 12 years after I began my apprenticeship, and I’m still doing the work I love.
When I was in High School, tattooing was just starting to become a little more mainstream. It feels silly to say, but I kind of got hooked watching reality tv shows about tattoo artists and their process. Back then, it was such a male dominated industry. There was a lot of stigma around female tattoo artists and a lot of questions about what they could bring to the table. Over the years, things have certainly changed for the better.
Besides watching those shows, I’m not sure if there’s a particular moment in time that I can truly pinpoint where my love of art came from. I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. My parents would let me paint jungles on the walls of my bedroom as a kid, so they were really great about facilitating my artistic endeavors.
When I went to college in New York to pursue a degree in psychology with an art minor. I went through the typical pressure of feeling like I had to choose my career focus based on what society would approve of. When it comes down to being a doctor or being an artist, you’re supposed to be a doctor. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Honestly, I went to school, I genuinely hated it, and I came home after my first year. It just wasn’t a great fit for me. I did, however, enjoy this particular art class I took with a wonderful teacher who I could tell loved his job. That class was kind of my saving grace among a lot of dislike for where I was at in life at that time.
Arriving home, I wondered how I could apply my artistic skills in a career. I decided to bring my art portfolio into a nearby shop and follow-up on my childhood dream of being a tattoo artist. Soon after my inquiry, I began an apprenticeship, and the rest is history.
I think I had waited so long to get into this industry not only because I was victim to societal pressures of success, but because I was afraid I couldn’t handle the pressure of creating a piece of art that would stay with someone for the rest of their life. Thankfully, that fear eventually wore off and I had the courage to give it a shot — and the more I worked at it, the less intimidating it became.
In this industry, we like to say ‘tattoo artists don’t make mistakes, they just find a better way.’ The truth is, we mess up all the time. We’re working on a living, moving canvas that feels pain from what we do, and their movement greatly affects the artistic process. We’re not printers, we’re human.
But really, it’s all about having the confidence to adjust your work on the spot. To be willing to accept that no one is perfect. To allow yourself to open up to others and be open to new ideas. How lucky I feel to do this for a living.” — Tori Gilliam, Tattoo Artist in Portland, ME