Fran Bowden, a tattoo artist from Australia, decided to take up tattooing in 1979. At the time, there were not many female tattooists in Australia. Fran has refined her skills and is now working in a Brooklyn shop that a woman owns. Jennifer Pittorino talks to her about the colorful journey she has taken.
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, a 20-year-old hopeful, was looking for a job in 1979. She had not settled on anything specific, so she decided to try her luck at tattoo parlors.
She said, “I’ve always known my job would be creative and artistic but didn’t know what.”
“I have always drawn, so tattooing was a natural next step. People were a new surface 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 1970s.
She says, “I went into tattoo shops and brought some of my sketches with me. I just wanted to learn how to tattoo.”
“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 walked into the shop, showed my work to the manager, and he said let’s check out what you can do.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have had that opportunity. I connected well with the people I met, and my career took off from there.”
Fran and her husband of almost 18 years now live in Geelong after a fast-forwarding 40 years.
Fran continues her tattooing love at Rogue Ink in Brooklyn. Jessica Gronow owns the shop.
Jess has been tattooing for 11 years and faced similar challenges to Fran trying to break into this industry.
“There weren’t many women in the tattooing industry when she started; even when I began, it was dominated by men.
“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 was the state I most enjoyed working in. There were so many friendly people there and a wonderful time.”
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, “You meet a lot of new people. Some are even famous.”
Fran has worked on colorful fantasy pieces at Rogue for over two years.
Jess says, “She has become a master of color in the last 40+ years. She is known for both her color work and fantasy art.”
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 talks about Fran affectionately, describing her as a great asset to their team and a mentor to the seven people working 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 drawing. She has also been working on a comic book.
Fran, a 63-year-old woman, is completely covered in tattoos, including her arms, legs, chest, back, and face.
She advises younger generations to consider carefully before getting tattoos.
She says, “It may be fun right now, but in 20 years, it could affect you more than you think.”
“It has been tough for me because of my tattoos. I’ve been tattooing all my life.”
She gave her younger self the same advice she gave other young readers.
“I’d tell myself to do my best and enjoy the journey.
“Look out, Fran. This is going to be an exciting ride.”
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