Women in the Tattoo Industry

A tattoo is a form of body modification made by inserting ink, dyes/pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design. The art of making tattoos is called tattooing. The tattoo industry like many others, has always been heavily male dominated. That is until more recent years. Women have predominantly risen and exceeded expectations in the tattoo industry and have paved the way for women in the future to easily make their artwork known and change a long standing male dominant industry into a male and female industry.

Before the 1960’s, women with tattoos were strongly thought of as outsiders to western beauty standards and went on to be considered ‘freaks’ – in a very literal sense. Maud Wagner who was born in 1877, was America’s first female artist in the heavily male Sailor oriented tattoo industry. She met her husband, Gus Wagner – a well-known tattoo artist – at the 1904 World’s Fair whilst traveling as a circus performer. Gus tattooed most of Mauds body, thus making her a circus act of her own – a heavily tattooed woman. Something that wasn’t seen on women back then! Gus went on to teach Maud how to tattoo using the manual stick and poke method exclusively.  As time went on tattoo machines were becoming widely available and frequently used by other artists practicing the same style, they both decided to carry on the “traditional” way of tattooing which was later passed down to their daughter Lovetta Wagner. Lovetta whose style was adopted from her parents’ art completed her last tattoo using the stick and poke method on a tattooist (and collector) Don Ed Hardy, who subsequently carried on the tradition. Maud passed away in 1961 as one of the most world-renowned stick and poke tattoo artists of her generation and quite literally the back bone of women in the industry.

Tattoos started hitting the mainstream media in the 1910s (part of global and Western fashion, mainly depicting someone’s profession. E.g. An anchor for a Sailor) From these times styes have grown and developed exponentially into the classic styles we see today.

Katherine Von Drachenberg (best known as Kat Von D) perhaps one of the best known names known in the present day tattoo industry (and not just for her tattooing) specialises in Realism and has tattooed the likes of Miley Cyrus, Jeffree Star and Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour). She made headlines when she appeared on the hit show Miami Ink for TLC in America. Kat Von D very soon became a favourite on the show. For 16 years Von D has been a pinnacle in this industry for women who wish to follow a career in tattooing considering her success in not only tattooing but going on to launch her own beauty line which you can now by globally.

Ryan Ashley Malarkey (DiCristina) made history when she became the first female tattoo artist to win Season 8 of the popular tattoo competition show Ink Master in 2016, and as of August 2019, the only female champion in its first eleven seasons. Highly recognised for specialising in her own style of black and grey intricate jewellery and lace-like (filigree) designs, people travel from all over the world to the USA to be tattooed by her. Metal musicians have been tattooed by her such as Maria Brink (in this moment) and Ash Costello (New Years Day) to name a couple.

Grace Neutral (born Grace Walker) who is a model and hand-poke tattoo artist based in the United Kingdom may be one of the most known tattoo artists in the world due to her own body modifications. She specialises in the traditional hand-poke method (same as the previously mentioned Maud Wagner) and works out of her own shop Femme Fatale in London, UK. Widley known for her bifurcated tongue (tongue split), stunningly blue tattooed eyes, reconstructed pixie-like ears, a removed navel, and facial scarification.

Whilst the western-fashion standards of tattooing highly consisted of American traditional, neo traditional and realism, we definitely shouldn’t forget the South East Asian traditional style of tattooing practised by “Mambabtok’s”. Whang-Od Oggay currently at a staggering age of 104 years old, to this very day still practises the traditional Kalinga style of tattooing. Whang-Od uses traditional instruments to complete her art, these are a thorn from a pomelo tree, a foot-long bamboo stick, coal, and water. She uses handmade ink which is tapped deep into the skin using the pomelo tree thorn and bamboo to push it in. The results are permanent motifs that range from lines to simple shapes to tribal prints to animals. Each carries meanings such as strength, beauty, and fertility. Tattoos in Whang’s culture signify acceptance, a sense of belonging, and identity -very different to how some people still perceive tattoos in any western culture, very much opposite! Daughters of the ‘Kadangyan’ (the rich) members of the community are obliged to have their tattoos when they reach the age of puberty. The pressure of being labelled “different” from the rest of the community is a cause of shame.

There has been and is currently so many amazing female artists across the world. Some even more influential than the ones we have mentioned but thanks to likes of Maud Wagner spurring off a career for women in the tattoo industry it has further evolved  from careers, into ownership of shops around the world and headline names for female artists. Examples would be Hobo Jack, Bournemouth UK owned by Amy Billing. Femme Fatale previously mentioned being owned by Grace Neutral. Studios and women such as these demonstrate that this industry isn’t just a man’s world, it’s becoming an equal playing ground for all sexes, which, in 2021 we would expect to hear.

Grace Neutral (born Grace Walker) who is a model and hand-poke tattoo artist based in the United Kingdom may be one of the most known tattoo artists in the world due to her own body modifications. She specialises in the traditional hand-poke method (same as the previously mentioned Maud Wagner) and works out of her own shop Femme Fatale in London, UK. Widley known for her bifurcated tongue (tongue split), stunningly blue tattooed eyes, reconstructed pixie-like ears, a removed navel, and facial scarification.

Whilst the western-fashion standards of tattooing highly consisted of American traditional, neo traditional and realism, we definitely shouldn’t forget the South East Asian traditional style of tattooing practised by “Mambabtok’s”. Whang-Od Oggay currently at a staggering age of 104 years old, to this very day still practises the traditional Kalinga style of tattooing. Whang-Od uses traditional instruments to complete her art, these are a thorn from a pomelo tree, a foot-long bamboo stick, coal, and water. She uses handmade ink which is tapped deep into the skin using the pomelo tree thorn and bamboo to push it in. The results are permanent motifs that range from lines to simple shapes to tribal prints to animals. Each carries meanings such as strength, beauty, and fertility. Tattoos in Whang’s culture signify acceptance, a sense of belonging, and identity -very different to how some people still perceive tattoos in any western culture, very much opposite! Daughters of the ‘Kadangyan’ (the rich) members of the community are obliged to have their tattoos when they reach the age of puberty. The pressure of being labelled “different” from the rest of the community is a cause of shame.

There has been and is currently so many amazing female artists across the world. Some even more influential than the ones we have mentioned but thanks to likes of Maud Wagner spurring off a career for women in the tattoo industry it has further evolved  from careers, into ownership of shops around the world and headline names for female artists. Examples would be Hobo Jack, Bournemouth UK owned by Amy Billing. Femme Fatale previously mentioned being owned by Grace Neutral. Studios and women such as these demonstrate that this industry isn’t just a man’s world, it’s becoming an equal playing ground for all sexes, which, in 2021 we would expect to hear.

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