Black tattoo artists find creative outlet, lucrative career

Brian Winston purchased his first tattoo machine in 2008 After learning how to tattoo himself, he visited a well-known Anderson tattoo shop and took some of the people he had tattooed along with him to show his work to the owner and to get a job.

Without glancing at the art, the shop owner looked Winston up and down and said, “Bro, you are Black. We ain’t never seen a Black tattoo artist before.”

Winston decided to open Studio 77 instead of working for another person. This was to make sure that his artists and apprentices would not be in similar situations.

July 17th is National Tattoo Day. This day recognizes the historical and cultural significance of tattooing. More creatives are considering tattooing as a career, since tattoo businesses and artists of color are more prominent in the community. Black tattoo artists are also skilled in tattooing darker skin.

Studio 77’s majority of artists are young. It’s because they are easier to teach, Winston said. His apprenticeships are completely free and teach them tattooing as well as how to create a retirement plan, balance their finances and plan for a bright future in tattooing.

“I love the people that work here,” Winston said. “I want to see them be successful.”

To get a better idea of tattooing in a studio, the apprentice must work for Studio 77 for a full year.

Nyderia Harris began her apprenticeship in Studio 77’s August 2020. After graduating college with a degree, she struggled to find a job in the arts industry. Winston, her cousin, encouraged Winston to become a tattoo artist. She has been tattooing since then.

“I kept taking on more and more complicated projects and nailing them,” she said. “I was patient and dedicated to making it happen, and I made it happen.”

Harris, a Black woman working in the tattoo industry, said it was difficult to find clients because she is so different from other people. Harris doesn’t have many tattoos and people don’t believe she is an artist who can do them well.

Studio 77 is a place she loves to work and enjoys creating a relaxed atmosphere for both artists and customers.

“It’s a whole ‘nother vibe here, and that’s why I love it,” Harris said. “It’s like a family.”

Precious, the owner of Rated Art Tattoo Studio is very protective of her artists. This is because she has had to overcome some challenges early in her career. Her mentor advised her to dress more femininely during her 2006 apprenticeship to be a female tattoo artist.

“I kind of try to look after my artists,” she said. “What do I have to do to make sure my artists don’t go through what I went through?”

Young, at the time she became a professional tattoo artist was homeless. She lived in the same shop that she worked. These difficulties inspired her to open her first shop in 2019,

For those interested in becoming a tattoo artist, Young advises them to “try not to get deterred” by the lack of representation in the industry. This encourages others to follow the example of Black artists who are tattooing. Just “go for it,” she said.

Winston also encourages those with talent to become tattoo artists because not only is it a way to be creative, but it’s also a way to create financial stability.

“This industry can change your life,” Winston said. “You just have to get your head into it.”

Abriana Herron, staff writer, can be reached at 317-924-5143. Follow her Twitter @Abri_onyai

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