Columbia has cultivated a hub of creativity for any form of art, and for any type of artist, over the past several years. This includes body art.
There are many tattoo artists making their mark in Columbia and engaging with new clients, including students, every year.
Since the tattoo industry is non-traditional, it can be difficult to find your way in and work your way up the ladder, especially as a female. In an effort to balance their personal lives as well, artists scramble to find time to produce designs, schedule their appointments and create a safe and comfortable environment for their clients.
“I mean, it takes an immense amount of trust to come in, let a complete, almost stranger touch your body and change it,” Stephanie Melora, owner and tattooist at Southern Cypress Tattoo shop on Greene Street, said.
Aside from the day-to-day tasks, female tattoo artists have also faced sexism, unfairness and even abuse within the industry, according to Melora.
Melora also discussed the dangers of looking for training and apprenticeships, warning young females to take extreme caution and not jeopardize their physical and mental well-being.
Another tattooist, Kylee Hewitt from Animated Canvas Custom Tattoo, also spoke about the environment and lack of females within the industry. She said there was, “a lot more conflict between hiring a female on into a shop back in the day,” and how, “you have a little bit more proving to do as a female getting into the industry."
When she first started, Hewitt was the only female tattooist in Myrtle Beach. Since then, she has noticed more and more women taking an interest in tattooing.
Although tattooing is becoming more popular and widely accepted, there is still a negative stigma regarding females with tattoos, and tattoos in general. Heather Belle, a tattooist at Magnetizm Tattoo shop, said that people like her are still seen as “rough and tough."
All three tattoo artists have experienced challenges and tension at some point within their field, but have discussed how fortunate they are to have the opportunities to continue their passion for making art, especially during the pandemic.
Belle opened up about how the pandemic shocked tattoo shops.
"Being out of work as tattoo artists – you know – we don't work, we don't make money so that's rough," Belle said.
All three tattoo artists and their respective shops are taking extra precautions during the pandemic, and have seen this as a time to reflect on their technique and art.
“Nothing in nature is perfect, but it’s still beautiful, and I kind of view art that way." Belle said. "There’s really no such thing as a perfect form of art. It’s all beautiful."
Artists work around the clock tailoring their art to suit their clients' ideas, work with a wide range of people and all take the time to consult with people considering getting a tattoo for the first time.
Tattoo artist Hewitt encourages young adults to not overthink getting a tattoo.
“If your gut tells you to get it, get it for you," Hewitt said.
The tattoo industry has broadened its base and is continuing to embrace both female artists and their clients.
“We still have a lot of work still to do, and I look forward to doing it," Melora said.
Correction (Oct. 20, 2021, at 3:03 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Southern Cypress Tattoo. It also incorrectly named Kylee Hewitt as the owner of Animated Canvas Custom Tattoo in the photo caption. Hewitt is an employee of Animated Canvas Custom Tattoo.