The day before I left NYC to go home to Florida to straighten my head and life out, I figured it was a good time to get a tattoo to commemorate the big goings-on at the time. I usually get a tattoo when I have a fresh lesson or I just feel the plates inside myself shifting. I wanted to get a black, lined anchor on the middle finger of my right hand. Yes, on my hand. I was going to do it. Especially since I realized I was only a short walk from White Rabbit Tattoo, the shop a friend had recommended after getting some beautiful work done by an artist named, Rachel. When I reached the shop who would be the only one there but Rachel, ready to inform me that she tries to get her clients to really think before tattooing a place like their hands. Which I realized I was in no real rush to do. So, instead we talked for nearly an hour about New York, comic books-turned-movies, and her path to becoming a tattoo artist when I realized it was time to ask for an interview. She’s such a good sport. Thanks, Rachel.
How did you come to the decision you wanted to tattoo and what were the first few steps that you took?
Okay, so um, I’ll say it as if we weren’t talking about this before. Basically, I was working as a printer in college and I had this awesome job lined up for me, blah, blah, blah, and it didn’t work out. So, I was continuing getting tattooed throughout college and even in high school and it was something I was constantly pursuing throughout college kind of on the side, secondary to printing and then after I got out of school, um, I was looking for jobs in the art field and realizing more and more that I didn’t actually need to be in the art field to be an artist and that I could pursue something that was maybe, without the connection that uh, you know, working in arts management or something like that has, but was a lot more fun and what I was really passionate about. Um, and the way I started tattooing is that I did a traditional apprenticeship uh, for about a year which didn’t– which involved me cleaning toilets. Uh, so I left. ‘Cause the guy was clearly never gonna, it was a long story, but he was never gonna teach me how to tattoo. So, uh, I left and learned elsewhere. I worked after, you know, learning all the proper health and safety things from my prior apprenticeship and all that other stuff, took what I learned, and went to a street shop in a very depressed area and started tattooing gangsters–
On their face and necks and hands, and yeah. Uh-huh. So I have a lot of experience that I feel like a lot of tattoo artists maybe have or don’t have. And that I know about faces and necks and hands and that type of stuff doesn’t scare me anymore.
Where were these street shops you were tattooing in?
Uh, it was in Mastic Beach. Which um, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but, –
On Long Island?
Yeah, on Long Island. Uh, it’s not a nice place. But that’s where I was, where I worked for almost a year kind of uh, getting my grounds and, you know, so that’s basically it. That’s that part.
That’s interesting. Um, so you said that you skipped out on that apprenticeship that was not leading you anywhere–
And you learned about the health…
I actually learned about that from my, I had two kind of apprenticeships. I had one very, very brief one where I had gotten my first tattoo done. I went back there and there were two other apprentices, but the owner was very nice and he knew who I was. But he let me sit and watch him for about two to three months. And um, my official apprenticeship for a year, the guy was actually pretty dirty, in my standards, I mean. Not, you know, no dirty needles or anything like that, but he could’ve been cleaner, I think. Um, I learned a lot of it from my very, very, very, very first unofficial apprenticeship, where I was, and I think that’s the most important part of tattooing is to, how to prevent cross contamination and all that other stuff. You know, I highly advise against people picking up a kit and just starting. I’ve seen it before, it’s disgusting. You know, get an apprenticeship. Most people will at least tell you how to be clean, you know, if not teach you how to tattoo.
Okay. You mentioned before a thing that, about tattooing, that maybe it’s kind of, um.. I can’t remember the words for this, but that tattooing is like a regular job. People might think that you can like, skip off and travel here or there and call up a shop and say, ‘hey, I’m gonna come out for a week’ but you can’t until you’re really established. If you could do that now, call a shop and say ‘hey, I wanna come out for a week,’ where would you go?
I would love to go to Sweden. I think Sweden has a really great tattooing tradition and some of the, I think, the best artists in the—
[Pause -- I was checking to make sure my phone was still recording since it left the recording screen.] It’s still recording.
Okay good. So, Sweden.
Is there anything else that kind of like, draws you to Sweden? Like that you’d also like to try out or…
I hear it’s a nice place. It’s supposed to be very peaceful. Um, they’ve got good healthcare, right? I think.
Yeah. I’m pretty sure they do.
I dunno, it looks like a cool, Socialist.. is it Socialist?
It is. They– they’re a, everything you look at they’re at the top. Scandinavia.. I don’t even know if they have any homeless people.. everyones got jobs. Like, they’re doing pretty well.
I mean, I’ve even heard we’re going to have a guest artist who I believe was New York born and raised, or at least American and he moved to Sweden.
I feel like it’s a commonly accepted like, ‘okay, they know how to tattoo there.’ So, a large history of tattooing in Sweden.
Pretty neat. So, what’s something New York has taught you?
New York the city?
Well, since you’re from here, maybe the state. Or both.
I don’t know.. it taught me to never come back here. No. Um.. let’s see. Uh, not to trust people? I don’t know. Not good things. New York never taught me to like, learn to love strangers. [Laughs] Um, I don’t know. I would say New York taught me how to walk at night and not be afraid. I don’t know. There’s nothing really good that New York taught me. It’s all bad things. It’s all just skin-thickening things. So, you know. From having to work with so many New York– people that are actually not even from New York, you know, the street shops and whatever… Yeah. New York. [Chuckles] That was a very intelligent answer.
No one’s taking notes. [Laughs] So, what’s something tattooing has taught you?
Um, let’s see. It’s taught me to be more comfortable with people. You have to be, if someone’s getting a tattoo on their butt or something like that, you have to be more comfortable with someone’s butt than they are, with showing their butt. If that makes any sense. You have to be kinda like a doctor. It’s really taught me to, you know, about personal boundaries or the lack of personal boundaries. Just how to be close to people, and not have to worry about it, you know what I mean? It’s– I mean, I would say that’s it. Tattooing has taught me a lot about tattooing, but uh, in terms of like social stuff, you know, I get to work on my comedy act while I tattoo people to try and get them to calm down but, I don’t know. It’s just a– I would say the biggest thing that has changed about me is that, you know, I mean there’s still people on the subway that gross me out and I don’t want to sit next to them or whatever, but it’s taught me, you know, new things about being comfortable with strangers. I don’t know if that really goes any further than only in tattooing, though. It’s not like a vast, uh, comfortableness. [Laughs]
I think the juxtaposition of the answer to this question to be more comfortable with strangers and then with the question before it saying New York taught you to beware of strangers and to be careful like, I think that’s really interesting.
[Laughs] Yeah. Well, it’s not to be comfortable with them, it’s to make them feel comfortable.
So, I guess.. let’s see. New York, I’d say makes me wary of strangers, because you do have to be wary of even your customers, because they can steal your money, they can steal, you know… You have to watch them and make sure they don’t touch their tattoo like everyone wants to right after they get it done. You have to put trust in them to keep their tattoo aftercare proper, which nobody does. So, it’s like you still have to be very untrustworthy of everybody, but you have to be very trusting for your client. So, you have to kind of be available to them, but don’t be too avail– I don’t know.
There’s a lot of like– I feel like there’s a lot of jumping through hoops there. You have to be trusting, but there’s this like, whole other layer behind that of being aware of all these other things.
Yeah, I guess you learn like a doctor’s, I guess what I learned is to be doctor, kind of, you know, but you can’t be trusting because someone could write ‘no’ on the form that they have no communicable diseases, but you have to believe that they have something. They could say, ‘no, I don’t have AIDS’, but in your mind, they have to have AIDS. Because you have to treat everybody like they have something, otherwise, you know. You know, the reason why, most cases of AIDS or HIV or Hepatitis or whatever is not because the person is lying and saying, “oh, well I don’t have anything.” It’s because they don’t know that they have anything. So you have to assume that they don’t know they have anything and that they have this disease and you treat them as if they had it. And some people get offended by that, but you have to realize that you did that same thing to the person before them, who might’ve had something even they’re like, “I don’t have anything.” You took the same precautions with the people before and after them, too. So, yeah. Be a doctor.
Uh, what are some words or a saying that you live by?
No! Life is too complicated to live by a saying. Um, I only have one phrase tattooed on me and that’s ‘home sweet home’ and that’s about where my home is, where I grew up and stuff like that. But, um, no I don’t think there’s one thing to really live by. You know, we have a phrase on the wall of the shop here, which I personally, people really like it, but I personally just hate it. Don’t tell, don’t tell my boss that–
But it says, ‘create like a god, command like a king, and work like a slave’. Um, and I always add on to the end of it, like, ‘and sleep like a baby’. Like, I don’t know, take things as they come. The world is your oyster. You know, maybe something like that.