The 'Ladies and Ink' Tattoo Blog has disappeared from the interwebs, but here is an archive of an interview I did with Dana Melissa Dixon for that site in 2011:
"I was born in Pasadena, Southern California, and live in Santa Barbara, Southern California. I am Scottish in ancestry, Clan Campbell. I have my own studio."
How long have you been tattooing?
My specialty of creating sculptural Celtic knots that wrap around a body part is unique and challenging. It is wonderful to live in a time when tattoo artists across the world can share our designs and gain inspiration from each other.
I am from Southern California in the USA and have traveled to tattoo in the UK, Ireland, and Amsterdam. I find the appreciation of tattoos to be similar everywhere I have gone. Good work astonishes, and is appreciated as art. Poor quality work is mocked."
Before the female tattooist was the tattooed woman.
"Actually, in many primitive societies it was the women who tattooed other women as they came of marriageable age, marking them as having come into womanhood."
Choosing to be heavily tattooed offered a traveling career in the circus and, unlike other opportunities available to women at the time, the circus provided an income even in their elderly years. The social change of power women have gained over the past century has women tattooing alongside men today. This tattooed lady performer is still in the shadows of our work. Her mystery and exotic freedom attracts those who would not otherwise walk inside a tattoo parlor. Her image was the first step that opened the doors to the careers we hold now. Who are the old time tattooists and/or performers who have inspired you most? What stories can you recall about the legends left behind from these women?
"I am fortunate that when I entered the tattoo industry many of the past generation were still alive and had stories to tell of the carny days.
I was fortunate to have been very close to Pati Pavlik for the past 20 years until her death last year. She was one generation back from me, learning to tattoo from my mentor Cliff Raven in the 1960's. She was also instrumental in the establishment of organizations that trained cosmetic tattoo practitioners, and owned several tattoo studios of her own. She put up with a lot of the sexism and prejudices that did not affect me."
Do you suspect or have you seen any evidence of Native American women tattooing before the development of mass transportation?
"Absolutely. In California the women of the tribes tattooed lines on the chin extending down from the edges of the mouth, each region using a slightly different pattern. They indicated puberty, and when a woman married if she left her home group she could be instantly recognized years later at big gatherings by her tattoos. The resemblance to Ainu and Maori placement is striking."
I have also heard fables of tattooists who traveled ships overseas, tattooing the crew, natives and sailors. Have you ever heard of such a tattooer?
"Fables! Of course tattooing would have been a practical way to while away time on board ship, especially if they had been to the South Seas and observed the hand work techniques there."
Besides Gus & Maude Wagner (1900s), Stella & Deafy Grassman (20s), Ann & Tex Peace (50s), and Felix & Loretta Leu, what other tattooist couples are you aware of? Prior to the 60s?
"Cliff & Bob Raven. They were together for 27 years until Cliff's death in 2001. Because homosexuality was not something to be public about they both used the name Raven and let people assume they were brothers."
I heard rumors that Mildred Hull committed suicide in her tattoo shop. Is this true? Has any tattooist been known to die inside their shop?
"Yikes. Bob Montana shot himself in an outbuilding behind his studio. And I think Suzanne Fauser died of a heart attack right after finishing a tattoo, though I don't know if she was taken to a hospital and died there."
For some of you women, safety and protection are a necessity and still remain so. Many shops maintain a “two man rule” where no less than two men (or women) are allowed alone in the shop with customers. Most shops have at the very least a baseball bat. And while physical boundaries may or may not come into play, maintaining control verbally and within your station (at least) is vital. Considering your experience, as well as what you’ve been taught, what rules have you learned can not be compromised? What rules or boundaries have held true throughout your career? What dangers or precautions do women need to take that a male artist might not?
"In the early years I always had a guard dog present in the back of the studio, not in the actual tattoo area but accessible. I keep some pepper spray under the counter, but usually I can pull out my Scary Nun voice and that is enough to cause a miscreant to exit."
Rules, Regulations & State Involvement
Some states have more strict rules and regulations required for obtaining a tattooing license in order to work in a licensed facility. In the state of Oregon, it is a felony offense to tattooing outside of a licensed facility. Some states require written and computerized testing. Many of the standard cross contamination and basic biohazard treatments vary from state to state. The state of Oregon also requires proof of tax records for several years in order to apply for a permanent license. What are your views on state regulations and/or lack of involvement being performed by professional tattooers today?
"In California it is a misdemeanor to tattoo without a license and outside of a licensed facility. That makes it something the police are uninterested in going after unless there are underage kids or a parolee involved, so it is rampant.
For many years I gave slide shows and lectures to the health department officials who were inspecting studios, trying to get them up to speed on what to look for. They are still very poorly educated, and obsessed with physical plant regulations and unable to see the life-threatening cross-contamination situations that many studios operate with. I think having inspectors know their job and do it well, at least as competently as restaurant inspectors, would be a good step towards protecting the credulous public."
On The Human Body
Our hands are blessed, in that, we work on the most sacred medium of all: the human body. With this comes a certain level of power, responsibility, even duty to remain respectful of these abilities and of humans themselves. Our career is focused in exploring the durability and permanence of human anatomy in its prime and as it ages. What special insights have you gained about the study of the body itself?
"I have developed a respect for the invisible network of nerves that connect the body surfaces to the spine, and for the way pain transfers across to other areas."
On The Human Body
Are there specific areas you don’t believe should be tattooed?
"I will not do "job stoppers" such as the head, neck, or hands. If those people then use their status as "made freaks" to become deadbeats I would have had a hand in that, a responsibility I decline.
I also do not tattoo toes or the callus of the foot, since I know they will blur and cause dissatisfaction. And if someone wants their belly done I tell them to go elsewhere. The work I do relies on a surface that can be stabilized to accept a precise geometric line, and I have not found myself capable of doing that on flabby surfaces. If they want tattoos on areas close to their genitalia I also decline, and affect prudishness."
On The Human Body
Is there a certain age limit you have found that you don’t feel comfortable tattooing?
"It is a misdemeanor crime to tattoo anyone under 18 years old, so I obey that law. I don't mind very old people, we just have to discuss the quality of their skin & what I can accomplish."
What have you learned about the body itself in your experience? What have you learned about the minds interaction with the body? As well as the study of pain and pain tolerance?
"I don't presume to think that my limited time with a client gives me a comprehensive insight into the way they handle pain in general. But I know I work quickly and have a light touch, and I set up an environment with distractions that can help the client to think about other things."
Not too long ago, once a woman tattooist decided to have children, her presence in the shop disappeared. And while most young ladies in the industry do not have children, many hope to and need guidance with this path. How has being a mother (and/or wife) balanced with your career? What helps aid this transition? How do you manage to maintain a healthy family life and a supporting career? Any advice for soon to be mothers or family driven folk who are already established within the industry?
"I chose never to have children many years before I chose to be a tattoo artist. I did not consider being a mother compatible with being an artist, for me. I knew I was an artist and I did not enjoy the company of children."
The Artistic Process
Many artists are multi-talented. What other mediums do you enjoy? Sometimes these mediums overlap… painting a design before you tattoo it on skin.. or drawing four sketches before settling on the best design… or piecing things together for a full sleeve or body suit. Can you describe your best or favorite artistic processes?
"I was an accomplished embroideress all my childhood, and pen and ink is my favorite art medium. They naturally combine in tattooing."
Just as important as the artistic process is the creative workspace we surround ourselves with. We all have a tattoo station and maybe even a private desk at home where we do most of our drawing and painting. Please describe your creative work space, what your surround yourself with, what tools you could not live without.. for some of us, this is our own shop! Feel free to include images of these if you wish.
"I have my own studio, so the whole place is my workplace. My station for tattooing has a photograph of my mentor Cliff Raven watching me, he serves as my inspiration and conscience.
My office contains a lightbox and pens, and there I do the drawing to work up the designs.
The computer is the single most important piece of equipment other than the tattoo machines, because with it I manipulate and morph the patterns to fit the client.
In my home I have a drawing area and another computer, and most of my designs are done there. Vital to the process are audio books that I listen to as I draw, keeping my mind actively learning while I work up the complicated Celtic patterns that require many many re-drawing sessions to perfect.
From my home office I look out onto a fountain that attracts birds from all over the neighborhood and a lush garden, so even when I am not actually in the studio I am always working every day on projects related to the business."
A Man's World
While some men may actively hold certain women back or unintentionally through neglect and disregard, some men hold out an extra hand, help support, even sacrifice for us to stay in the shop. Who has helped you, in what ways and how is this person valuable to you? I don’t want to target specific people in a bad light, but rather pay recognition to those good ones out there who have put in their own blood, sweat and tears to help us be where we are.
"My mentor Cliff Raven did my first tattoo and then looked at my art portfolio from UCSB and agreed to teach me how to tattoo. He said that tattooing consisted of three parts: "Art, Craft, and Morals." He said he could see I had the art part well developed, and he said he could tell I had the morals that would be necessary to be an addition to the trade. So it was going to be his job to teach me the craft. I thank him for the opportunity, and praise the memory of his kindness to me."
The Old Times
Many of us have had the special pleasure of meeting and getting to work alongside some old timers in this industry!
"Lyle Tuttle is the last of the Greats still alive whom I have had the pleasure to call a friend. He has always been a ready wit, and sardonic observer of the human condition. He has lived an epic life, being in the right place at the right time, and lived to tell the tale. I thank him for keeping my perspective tuned to the right attitude."
Changes in Time
Our industry has been evolving immensely in this century! What changes do you hope to see in the next generation? Are there any specific issues you feel need to be addressed? Any rules you believe we must hold firm, such as traditional apprenticeships? What do you envision is the best experience in receiving and providing tattoos?
"When I started I announced that I wanted to specialize in Celtic art and was told it simply wasn't done. So I did open a street shop, and I did whatever the clients who walked in wanted, but slowly I developed my skills and I was able to do more and more of the work I preferred. I believe the internet and social media will allow future tattoo artists to show their work to such a wide audience that clients will be better able to patronize artists with the skill and enthusiasm for the kind of work they want to get. This is a giant leap forward."
Preservation of Tattooed Skin
What do you know about the preservation of tattooed human skin? Japan has a museum established for the purpose of preserving and displaying Japanese tattooed skin. Why doesn't American have one? What would something like this entail to become a real option? So many of our founders in the tattoo industry have not been documented. Seems there may still be a few masterpieces walking around today that could potentially be preserved... before it's too late.
"The problem is the heirs and assigns. Dr Kris Sperry can be contracted to excise a skin shortly after demise and prepare it for preservation, but he has often run up against the block of the relatives who prevent the work for which he has been pre-paid. If it is delayed even a few days it cannot be done. I should like to think the traveling exhibitions of Koerperwelten, Bodyworlds, which have included tattooed specimens, will pave the way for such a museum in the future."
Tell a story of one of your favorite memories from an experience you’ve had because of your career. What special opportunities have you explored? What accomplishments have you created? What are you most proud of? What have you enjoyed most?
"I have been able to travel because I could book to work at tattoo conventions and expos and then see the country they were held in. But most importantly I have been a self-sufficient artist who has purchased a home in a wonderful place to live, on the front door of which is a sign that reads "This is the bungalow that suns on buttcracks bought."
I also invented the idea of selling flash online in 2001: luckyfishart.com
There are now many online sites that do it, but I had the first, and I have stuck to my paradigm of always showing photos of completed tattoos, and selling an instantly downloadable file that includes the line art, photos, and shaded and colored versions of the design. The rest of the sites just show drawings. With this site I provide other tattoo artists with quality original Celtic designs, and they can direct their clients to the site to browse and find a tattoo design that works for them."
The Importance of Proper Apprenticeship
There is some controversy in relation to apprenticeships and whether tattooing should be (or even can be) taught in a school environment. I am inclined to argue that apprenticeships should be kept within the family of tattooers. In that, you are chosen or you are not. It is not a question of money or tuition. It is a truly special gift. Where the roots can be traced back and recorded for the sake of being studied whole-heartedly and with important knowledge passed down to you for a reason. There is a certain level of responsibility that needs to be maintained amongst anyone who picks up a tattoo machine. Quite similar to picking up a loaded weapon. I have known it to be customary to only be allowed to take on an apprentice if you had been tattooing ten years minimum. Ideally, the apprentice would earn their own station after one to five years and work for their master remaining loyal to their shop and the owner. How do you see apprenticeships? How do you wish to see them? What values were instilled upon you in your apprenticeship?
"I am part of a lineage, and I was taught because my mentor considered me worthy. It was effortless, we clicked and went on.
I'm pleased that was the case, but finding a teacher and doing an apprenticeship is something that was always more difficult for women, and because finding a quality teacher often involves uprooting yourself and traveling to where that opportunity exists it has always been a young man's game. A person who settles for a crappy job in a low class tattoo parlor and hopes to pick up enough to become a tattooist will learn bad habits that are difficult to break, perpetuating a culture of mediocrity. But it will always be an available option, and it is impossible to deter anyone from tattooing if they feel it is their calling."