Interview with Tattoo Artist Amanda How on Transitioning from Film to Skin

Amanda Carlson’s career as an artist began long before she ever picked up a needle. 

Professionally, she goes by Amanda How because, in her words, her middle name is “catchier” than her last name.

How has been a portrait specialist and a graphic designer from 9 to 5 for almost a decade? Timing is everything though, and How says she’s entered the industry at just the right time.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

What made you want to take portraits?

When I look into someone’s face, I can see their best features. As I began to shoot people, the effect was like a waterfall. I try to capture the beauty in all things when I take photos of people. I think no matter what you look like, there’s one day out of the year you wake up and look in the mirror and you’re like, “I look pretty good.” If I could capture that one moment, that’s the most satisfying, fulfilling thing for me. It’s like a gift of making someone feel good, so I find a lot of fulfillment in that. 

Do you have any photographic techniques that you can translate to tattooing?

Understanding your light source is a complicated thing, especially for somebody that doesn’t have as much of an artistic eye. This and the basic principles of composition are directly related to tattooing.

Even though you only started tattooing in 2021, your repertoire is already quite large.

I just kind of hit the ground running. I became so obsessed with it that I was just like, “I’m going to try to (tattoo) as much as I humanly can.” (Since August 2021, How estimates she has given over 2,500 tattoos).

What made you want to explore this new route?

Since I got my first tattoo from my friend Pony Lawson, who is an amazing tattooer, I feel like a switch turned on inside of my brain where I was like, “I need to quit my job yesterday and do everything I possibly can to become a full-time tattooer.” It just felt so right. It felt like every artistic thing I’ve ever done in my life had accumulated into this one craft.

People talk about how once you get your first tattoo you’re never going to stop wanting more, but you went further than that.

It’s like one of those things where people say to you your whole life, “Oh when you find a job that you love, you never work a day in your life,” but that’s true. It happened to me and I didn’t expect it. I’m still blown away every day.

Is there something in the styles that you enjoy tattooing that also translates into what you’ve enjoyed photographing?

I’ve been wanting to try out realism tattooing. If there were some photos that I took that I’d be able to also tattoo, that’d be cool.

Who would you tattoo if you could?

Probably some cool music groups and musicians.

Someone you know might display it for everyone to see.


Your tattoos and photographs are featured in a recent Inked magazine article Chrissy Chlapecka is a TikTokker. What’s it like to have your art seen by so many people?

This was my third experience working as a photojournalist with Inked but my first time having my tattoos featured. It was awesome. It’s nice to have a publication recognize an artist and publish them.

Do you ever recognize tattoos you’ve done in public?

I tattoo people all the time. When I was at an art gallery, I remember that there were seven people who I had tattooed previously. 

How can you overcome a lack of creativity or inspiration?

If I have any creative block with tattooing, it’s more of me trying to create original flash designs and trying to pull inspiration. You can pull inspiration from a lot of things that aren’t tattoo-related like poetry, photo books, or art history. Inspiration for my tattoo flash designs comes directly from my life and how I’m feeling emotionally, and it’s important to pull things from different subject matter and mediums to create something unique. For photography, it’s more like, “Let’s motivate ourselves to do this and make it something really special,” not just, “Oh, my God, that’s such a good photo.”

Do you see yourself as a more talented tattoo artist or photographer?

A tattooer. It was very different for me to fall in love with tattooing than with photography. Photography is something that’s kind of always been there, and it just kind of always has happened. Whereas with tattooing, I’m obsessed with it. I feel like every artistic outlet I’ve ever done (photography, graphic design) is engulfed within tattooing, and it’s not just the art form of having a tattoo, it’s the connection you make with people and the way it’s like a lifestyle. When I look at photography, it’s this tool to create artwork. With tattooing, it’s like my life.

What direction would you like your art to take next?

I want to focus more on my drawing and painting. In five years, I’d love to see a rose for instance, where you can tell by the style that I created it. I just want to have a distinct art style and drawing all the time is the only way to achieve that.

Jordyn Bradley is a Medill graduate student studying social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @byjordynb.

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