Back in the early 1980s, when she first apprenticed as a tattoo artist, Jill worked in a world where women were considered eye candy and served to draw clients into the shop. “It was a female submissive situation,” she says. She was expected to dress provocatively, serve drinks and color in the lines that the male artists laid down. Because tattoo artists must apprentice to work, the male-dominated tattoo profession set the rules for the entry of women artists.
Now the owner of her own shop, things could not be more different for Jill than when she entered the business. She has been clean and sober nine years, is in school studying counseling and substance abuse, and provides a place that is not just a tattoo business — but a refuge. “American Beauty Tattoo is a sanctuary studio for artists to work on projects their busy shops would not allow them to do, and for clients to talk about the images and ideas in their heads.” Jill’s goal is to help clients work with imagery — no matter how stark — in a positive way. She seeks to help them use the images to become the people they want to be. Vidya attests to this fact. “Jill is mentoring me and moving me to the next stage in my development.”
“There are approximately two hundred female tattoo artists in North America,” says Jill. The industry is about 20 percent women. “Most are working in shops owned by men. I am looking for a way we can know each other and support each other rather than the old way where men told us what to do.”
Tattoo artist Jacqueline Beach is a hip, sharp-as-a-tack, energetic woman who has had the pleasure — she would call it both a luxury and an honor — of working only with women tattoo artists. One of the artists at Madame Lazonga’s Tattoo in the Pike Place Market, Jacqueline laid down her first ink on a client in 2003 as an apprentice at that shop. She appreciates the good fortune that has come to her from the hard work of her predecessors. “I’m spoiled,” she says. “I learned from a woman. The women who came before me broke down those boundaries and allowed women like me to learn from other women.”
Jacqueline has become the resident “tattoo herstorian” for the Women’s Tattoo Forum. With a master’s degree, experience teaching college courses and a past job in editing, she is a natural for the job of researching the connections and stories that comprise the evolution of women in tattoo. She tells the stories of the grandmothers of the tattoo profession with a mix of reverence and passion. “These women who were tattooed before World War II were some of the first feminists,” she declares. “They actually lived feminism every day of their lives — they didn’t just talk about it!” By getting tattooed heavily, she argues, these women freed themselves from societal norms.
Jacqueline is collecting the photographs and stories of every woman tattoo artist who has ever tattooed in the Puget Sound area. Additionally, she has put together some elements of a worldwide “herstory” of tattoo that starts with a 1500-year-old Peruvian female mummy. Stories she has found of circus women and of the first fully tattooed woman to participate in the Miss America Pageant in 1939 portray a very subversive tattoo culture in modern times.