Indian Female Tattoo Artists Are Making Their Mark

Indian Female Tattoo Artists Are Making Their Mark

The concept of tattoos has always been a polarising one, with some believing in it as an art form and others cringing in horror at the permanent etching of human skin. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, one fact can’t be denied, there is singularly intense dedication, skill and confidence needed to be a tattoo artist. When you’ve been entrusted with the job of forever altering someone’s appearance, every stroke needs to be decisive and ideally, flawless. Even for people with inherent artistic ability, the steady hand and careful eye that you need to develop in this field often take years to cultivate.

For many years, the art of tattooing - like most other professions - was dominated by men. This simply relates to the fact that most early recipients of tattoos were male, whether the stereotypical sailors straight of the boat or the ‘rugged’ army recruits, tattoos were seen as a decidedly male accessory. But the clientele base expanded to include more women, with it came the demand for more female artists.

You would believe that in an alternative field like tattooing, draws a more enlightened type of man and the quality of the artist is more imperative than their gender, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. People trust women to create small, floral based patterns, but not so much full sleeves. Why this bias occasionally presents itself is unknown but there it is, the uncomfortable reality.

Luckily India is proving itself to be better than gender stereotypes (if even in minute ways) and there are a number of women who are not only established names in the tattoo industry, but even finding traction in leadership roles. They and the many that have come before them are bridging the divide, making it clear that we’re finally in an age where gender should never be considered a limitation.

We caught up with five women who are rocking the tattoo world to find out more about their journey.

I. Shreya Josh, 21 | Specialist in Stick and Poke Tattoos

“Many a times guys don’t find my style manly enough for them.”

What are Stick and Poke Tattoos anyway?

It’s a form of art very similar to machine tattoos, same sterile steel needles and tattoo ink, permanent and hygienic. The only difference is I hold the needle in my hand and poke instead of putting it in the gun. This way there’s no buzzing noise of the gun which really calms first time tattoo-getters. Since this style of tattooing is very accessible and casual I mostly work from my house, or sometines my friend’s art studio or maybe even at the client’s house.

When did you first get into the tattoo industry?

I’ve been fascinated with tattoos since I was in high school, I got my first one when I was in 10th grade. But I was introduced to the art of stick and pokes in college, I studied at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and lots of my friends would give themselves DIY tattoos at parties.

Have you ever had people question your skills based on your gender?

Not really question my skill, maybe sometimes because of my age I see some apprehension but no one has ever not wanted to get a tattoo after finding out my gender or age. But my art style is tiny thin line work tattoos so I do end up getting mostly female clients. One time a boy specifically asked me if I could draw something else for him cause my flash design sheets were “too girly” so I mostly get questioned for my tiny tattoos rather than my skill. But I think to be able to give thin detailed tiny tattoos is a skill in itself and many guys do appreciate it.

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I really enjoy the idea of my art permanently on someone else’s body. It’s like a free walking marketing sign too!

How would you sum up the experience of being a female tattoo artist in 3 words

To be a female tattoo artist is to be gentle, patient and passionate

This was one of the first tattoos I did, having a friend trusting you to permanently mark (and possibly damage) a very visible part of her skin was special. It also encompasses my style of contemporary thin tiny tattoos.

II. Priyanka, 27 | Freelance Tattoo Artist, Bangalore

There people who will put you down regardless of gender while on the other hand there will be others who make the entire struggle seem worthwhile.”

When and how were you introduced to the tattoo industry?

Unlike most professions now, I hadn’t studied to become an artist. I have no background in art nor did I attend an art school like most might assume, I just drew because I loved to. I studied to get into the field of Clinical Psychology and during my final year of college I met Deep and Shashi from Kraayonz. I went to the studio initially to get my tattoo fixed. What got me into tattooing was intrigue mostly and that turned into passion. For someone who didn’t plan on becoming a tattoo artist, as things stand now, I cannot imagine doing anything else for a living.

Have you ever had people question your skills based on your gender?

From when I started as an apprentice in 2012, we have come a long way. Initially being a female artist in this line of work did pose a few problems and hiccups, but then again every person male or female does struggle a bit when they just get into this industry. It’s not all roses and there’s a whole lot of work that goes into it.

Do people question your career choice, what do you think about that?

I have a good support system and encouraging parents and friends, touch wood! As is with any non-mainstream career, everyone has apprehensions. To people who might still question it and ask “why?, well why not! People become doctors or architects or what have you, because they show some interest in it. Well, I like drawing on people’s skin. I love my job!

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

Art on skin is a whole different ball game. It isn’t anything like drawing/painting on paper or a canvas. I love the permanency of it. The commitment one needs to stick with something for life. Tattoos are definitely not for the fickle minded. They’re one of those things you literally take to the grave.

How would you sum up the experience of being a female tattoo artist in 3 words

A Real Privilege!

Priyanka MP
Priyanka MP

III. Kelsey Anderson, 27 | Artist at Kraayonz Tattoo Studio

When and how were you introduced to the tattoo industry?

I was 21 when I started my apprenticeship at Kraayonz with my mentor and the owner of the studio, Sameer Patange. I’ve always been fascinated by tattoos from a young age and decided pretty early on that this was all I wanted to do when i grew up.

Have you ever had people question your skills based on your gender?

Unfortunately yes, there were a few who were apprehensive about getting tattooed by a woman, cause they weren’t convinced I was as good as a male artist.

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I love that I’ve been able to put a piece of art on someone forever. Its honestly the best feeling in the world.

How would you sum up the experience of being a female tattoo artist in 3 words

Beep Beep Madafakas.

IV. Debanjali Das, 26 | Owner at Guiding Monk Tattoos, Bangalore

“Times have changed and tattoo artists are now good artists first and good tatooists second”

When and how were you introduced to the tattoo industry?

I was introduced to the tattoo industry because of a few TV shows which got my interest and since I use to sketch from childhood I thought I might give it a try, and that I would get to learn a new art form, so I started my apprenticeship 5 years ago with Tshering Sherpa who helped me without any haste.

Have you ever had people question your skills based on your gender?

To be honest yes, for small cute little tattoos, Clients never hesitated but when it came to half sleeves or full sleeve tattoos, they look a little hesitant, doubting whether she be able to pull it off. But now it’s been transformed so positively, none of my clients come looking to me for a small size piece anymore, they all are open to suggestions and aren’t afraid of going big, and they thankfully also agree to get something different which is more artistic and natural, so I was questioned and doubted but it has changed so no complains.

What do people say about your position as the owner of a studio?

People did question my choice of career since I was graduating from an art college where painting, sketching, sculpture and graphic design would be considered a more respectable profession out of the whole ‘artistic scenes’, it was still not widely accepted as an art even by the art community itself but then again times have changed and tattoo artists are now good artists first and then good tatooists, you know.

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

The favourite part of my job is that I get to meet a whole bunch of new people and when I consult for a tattoo I get connected to them in so many levels! I try to understand them and convey a piece of art that would be perfect for them and I get to travel a lot and meet different people, that is also something precious to me

How would you sum up the experience of being a female tattoo artist in 3 words

Hard, fun but a lot of realisation.

This guy had just had blind faith in me saying I just want something on travel and he likes to travel anywhere be it in the air water or land and I had all depicted in the composition

V. Shyamli Panda, 28 | Designer Turned Tattoo Artist

“I want people to remember me for bringing them meaning and joy through either my art or my presence. Someone who did everything with earnestness and passion.”

Working at a small graphic design firm after graduating from Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in 2010, Shyamli Panda had a very idealistic view for her life. “I soon found out that most of the work in the market was self-contained, corporate and largely unromantic,”

Shyamli tried her hand at illustrations for children’s books, but after some time felt the unidimensional approach to art wasn’t helping her grow. “I wasn’t learning or growing, rather I was actively regressing.” Broken hearted at another failed attempt at artistic exploration, she found solace in picking up another, different skill altogether, one that gave her the gratification that she’d been searching for—tattooing.

Having mentored under Devilz Tattooz’ artist, Lokesh, Shyamli honed in on her tattooing skills and has been at it for over five years now This shift in profession has taught her real focus and precision in drawing, she shares, “It’s really gratifying to know that someone out there loves wearing your art permanently on their skin.”

Tattooing is a rapidly evolving industry with constantly changing trends, styles and technology, one that keeps you on your toes and constantly pushes you out of your comfort zone - you never stop learning. “The competition is stiff and you need to work with all kinds of visual mediums to keep yourself sharp and ahead of the game,”

Shymali Panda

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