Sally Qiu From Molecular Biology to Mastering the Art of Tattooing


In the bustling tattoo scene of Los Angeles, Sally Qiu is not just breaking boundaries; she’s redefining the narrative around unconventional career paths. A molecular, cell, and developmental biology alumna, Qiu has seamlessly transitioned from science to becoming a sought-after tattoo artist. With a passion for drawing that has been a constant in her life, Qiu’s journey into tattoos began as a quest for more ink during the pandemic. Little did she know it would evolve into a full-time profession, challenging stereotypes and inspiring a growing community.

Sally Qiu’s story isn’t just about ink on skin; it’s a narrative of passion, resilience, and embracing the unexpected. As a molecular, cell, and developmental biology student, Qiu initially pursued a STEM path to prove a point to the world. However, the allure of drawing and the desire for more tattoos led her to a different canvas, where she taught herself the art of tattooing. The pandemic, with its limitations on traditional tattoo shops, became the catalyst for Qiu’s metamorphosis into a full-time tattoo artist.

Her friend and fellow alumna, Lydia Liu, admires Qiu’s fearless pursuit of opportunities and the ability to expand her influence organically. From a modest circle of friends to over 7.3k followers on Instagram, Qiu’s artistic journey has resonated with a diverse audience. Liu emphasizes the invaluable lesson of not hesitating to embrace unconventional career paths, a testament to Qiu’s inspiring trajectory.

Qiu’s professional commitment deepened when she joined Girlfriend LA Tattoo Studio under Milla Sofia Press’s guidance. Beyond being a skilled tattoo artist, Qiu fosters a supportive atmosphere in the studio, where artists transcend the coworker dynamic and become friends. Qiu aims for a similar positive rapport with her clients, hoping they leave with a unique piece of art and a newfound friendship.

While Qiu’s STEM background may not dictate her tattoo designs, it has influenced her appreciation for an organic, bony, and fleshy aesthetic. The transition to a more delicate style aligns with her evolving preferences, a change welcomed by Press, who entrusted Qiu with designing a logo that mirrors the hyperfeminine style of the studio.

(Courtesy of Sally Qiu)
One of Qiu’s intricate tattoo designs is pictured. The alumnus currently works at Girlfriend LA Tattoo Studio. (Courtesy of Sally Qiu)

Despite Qiu’s success, challenges persist in an industry often viewed as unconventional and lacking respectability, particularly by older generations. The male-dominated landscape can be a hurdle for women and nonbinary tattoo artists seeking recognition and support. Qiu candidly shares her experiences, highlighting condescension and mansplaining from her male counterparts.

Liu notes Qiu’s growth in confidence and resilience in standing up for herself, applauding the journey towards self-empowerment. Qiu acknowledges the hurdles but remains focused on her passion for tattooing. While she envisions a future shift back to her molecular, cell, and developmental biology major, Qiu is content with her current role as a tattoo artist, expressing a willingness to continue until a natural transition beckons.

Sally Qiu’s story is a testament to the limitless possibilities of one’s journey. From STEM to the vibrant world of tattooing, she exemplifies the beauty of embracing diverse passions and challenging societal norms. As she navigates the inked path ahead, Qiu’s narrative inspires those looking to forge their unconventional careers.

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