A mere decade ago people still didn’t think of tattoo artists as being women. As an apprentice, I even had someone walk past my door then stop and actually stand there before going “it’s a woman!” in the most confused and amazed tone. Twenty years ago some shops wouldn’t even consider female apprentices. I’ve been called the “shop girl” more times than I can count, and been expected to answer phones, get lunch, and wash tubes like a secretary just because I’m “the girl”.
Women artists are quite a novelty still and it wasn’t so long ago when women weren’t even allowed to be tattoo artists. The first woman tattoo artist in America is Maud Wagner who was born in 1877 and operated in the early 20th century and was a Tattooed Lady circus performer. Tattooed ladies were an oddity, something to be stared at and ogled rather than emulated.
Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand
Back in the 1960s tattooing was essentially illegal. Working on a tattoo exhibit for the Museum of American Folk Arts she was fascinated and drew her first tattoo, a flower, soon after. While she can’t claim to be the first woman tattoo artist she is considered the modern Godmother of tattooing. In 50 years her spot as the single best known female artist in the country means she opened the doors for thousands of others. She is undoubtedly the longest tattooing woman still alive since she has no plans for retirement yet.
Almost every shop now has at least one female employee. Whether they’re an artist, shop girl, apprentice, or piercer, women have invaded the body modification industry. There is at least one female tattoo artist in almost every town, and even some shops which are owned and run entirely by females. Women aren’t just booming, they’re taking over.
On December 6 2016 Ryan Ashley Malarkey won the realty TV show Ink Master. She was the first female champion, and one runner up was also female. There had also been 2 female runners up before then. While realty TV isn’t a standard most artists aspire to the fact that there are now several shows focusing around female tattoo artists and most tattoo shows have female artists on them too. Tattooing is still a male dominated industry, as the disparity of men/women on the show shows.
Kat Von D
Google “Best tattoo artists in America” and the number one spot is occupied by a woman. While it’s debatable if her skill level really defines her as the best she is by far the most well known female in the business and it’s not just for her pin up looks. Kat Von D was the first woman tattoo artists to make it mainstream for women to be tattoo artists. Her placement in her husband’s shop was the springboard that launched her television career which inspired women from all over the world to aspire to be tattoo artists.
Female Only Tattoo Expos
There are now tens of conventions dedicated to female only artists. These showcase the best of women working in the tattoo industry and are a huge draw for other women. While there are plenty of mixed conventions the world over the fact that these even exist is a huge step forwards.