In 1979, when Fran Bowden first decided to tattoo in Australia, there were few female tattoo artists. Fran has refined her skills and is now working in a Brooklyn shop that a woman owns. Jennifer Pittorino speaks to her about her colorful career.
Fran Bowden, also known as ‘Dragon Lady,’ always knew she would use her passion for creativity and fine art skills in her career.
After 43 years of talent, she is now one of the best-known tattoo artists in the nation.
Fran, then a young woman 20, was searching for work when she stumbled into a tattoo shop to see if she could get sucked in.
“I’ve always known my job would be creative and artistic, but I didn’t know what,” says the woman.
“I have always drawn, so tattooing was a natural next step. People were something different to draw on.”
Fran had to compete with three or four other women tattoo artists who were also working in tattoo parlors in Australia during the ’70s.
She says: “I entered many tattoo parlors with my drawings, and I only wanted to learn to tattoo people.”
“I received many negative comments because, at the time, having a female tattoo artist was very different. It was an industry that was predominantly male-oriented.”
Fran’s obstinate and ‘won’t take no for an answer attitude eventually got her first job in a little shop on Elizabeth Street in Sydney.
“I finally walked into a store and showed the manager what I had done. He said, let’s take a look at your work.
“I was lucky to be given the opportunity. I liked people very much, and my career grew from there.”
Fran, who has been married for 18 years, lives in Geelong.
Fran continues her tattooing love at Rogue Ink in Brooklyn. Jessica Gronow owns the shop.
Jess, who has been tattooing for 11 years, faced the same struggles as Fran to break into the tattoo industry.
“There were not many women tattooists when she began, and men dominated the industry when I started.
“There were a lot of sexist remarks and sexual harassment when I first started. Now we see more women and young people running the show.”
Before moving to Victoria to care for her late mother, Fran had opened three shops, married three times, and had three children – all boys.
Frans: “I could travel and work in New South Wales and Western Australia before settling in South Australia. I then opened up my shop.”
“South Australia is my favorite state to work in. I’ve met many wonderful people and enjoyed my time there.”
Fran was able to get better jobs as she worked harder. She eventually opened her own business, which she described as hard work.
She says, “It’s tough to run your own business. Having a tattoo shop is particularly difficult.”
I was lucky that my husband worked as a shop manager, which was a great help to me.
Fran says that people are more open to tattoo artists than hairdressers. She loves this part of her job.
She says, “The highlight is meeting new people. You meet people of all kinds; some are even famous.”
Fran has created fantasy and colorful pieces at Rogue for over two years.
Jess said, “She has become extremely famous for her fantasy and color art over the last forty years. She is known for her color work.”
Fran has many specialties, including fantasy art, Day of the Dead, Neo-Japanese and Celtic knotwork, Tribal, Black and Grey, Traditional Americana, Dragons, and Fairies.
Jess is fond of Fran, calling her an asset to the team and a role model for all seven employees at Rogue.
She says, “Her main talent is her speed. She is one of the fastest tattoo artists I have ever seen.”
It’s refreshing to work with Fran. She is friendly and only wants to put her head down and get the job done.
Fran is a lifetime member of the Professional Tattoo Association of Australia, which has existed for over 40 years. She has won several awards for her tattoos.
She says, “I’ve tattooed people all over their bodies. A trophy is to be found for every part of the body.”
Fran is a talented artist and painter who enjoys spending her spare time creating art. She has also been working on a comic book.
Fran has tattoos on her chest, back, and face. She also has two arms and two legs.
Her advice to the younger generation is to think before getting a tattoo.
She adds, “You might think it’s fun now, but you might regret it in 20 years.”
It has been challenging for me because of my tattoos. Tattooing is what I’ve done all my life.
She gave her younger self the same advice she gave other young readers.
“I would say to myself that you must take life as it is, do your very best, and you will succeed in the end.
“Wait for it, Fran. This is going to be an exciting ride.”
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