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Artist Spotlight: Tattoos & Lasting Lessons

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

The world continues to spin; cities are ‘open’ despite rising cases of a virus I shall not name. This follows a solid year of closures and interruptions to daily functioning. With every business either partially or fully closed during that painful year, many workers found themselves out of work. We worried about our favorite restaurants, clothing stores, coffee shops, and nail salons…. The list goes on forever. Another business I found myself thinking a lot about during this time was tattoo shops. Tattoo artists work in close proximity with people for extended periods. The very nature of their work relies on in-person connections. I mean, it would be very hard to tattoo someone over Zoom, right? Their work is intimate not only in terms of physical space but mentally and emotionally as well. They have to understand the client’s wishes for their tattoo and hear about the inspiration or meaning behind the idea. They spend time creating sketches, translating the tattoo idea into their own style but still uphold the client’s vision. Then there’s the time and energy required for the actual appointment as they finally create the piece they’ve spent so long preparing and studying. It all comes down to that appointment, a mutually beneficial bonding experience that can only happen in person.

But of course, because tattoo artists are not essential workers, tattoo shops had to close along with our favorite restaurants, retailers, salons, etcetera. How did they pull through? Well, let us not forget, tattoo artists are artists. And where there is an artist, there is a way. From the few tattoo artists I follow on Instagram, I saw many sell other types of art - usually prints. But like many others, tattoo artists had to adapt to continue doing what they loved. I was able to talk about this moment of transition with one of my past tattoo artists, Felipe, or Tattoos By Manga as he’s known on Instagram. Each shop dealt with closure in their own way but in Felipe’s case, there were feelings of uncertainty he explains, “At first it was really hard, we didn’t know much about the virus and for how long we would be closed so I couldn’t even think of a plan.”

But after a few weeks, we realized that this virus wasn’t going away as quickly as we had hoped. For Felipe, that realization spurred creativity: “After a couple of weeks, I realized that I should actually do something instead of just hoping that I’d be back to work soon and started a serious work schedule at home and basically got through the lockdown selling original artwork and prints.” I was lucky enough to snag a piece from Felipe last year. It’s a beautiful black and gold drawing of a woman made on wood. It hangs in my bedroom by the door and I absolutely love it. Every time I leave the room, I see her. Though she seems to be in deep thought (see image above), she projects peacefulness, which is a great thing to see and feel each time I pass it. And the fact that Felipe created it makes it even more special. The art! We want art and there’s no shortage. Again, I turned to Felipe to find out the future of tattooing and his other creative endeavors. In Felipe’s case, the non-tattoo art will continue. In fact, these other projects helped him with his tattooing work:

“The pandemic hit me in a moment when I was so focused on tattooing that I wasn’t making any other art projects. It’s really important to create different stuff and bring that inspiration into the tattoo work. We were able to open up the shop after almost three months of quarantine but I kept making other artworks very often up to this date, and feel like my tattoo designs are looking much better due to it.”

I guess the good news for me is that now I can get my third tattoo (yes, the itch to get another has returned). For those considering getting a tattoo but are feeling ambivalent, Felipe says the pandemic shouldn't be your primary deterrent, "Tattoo shops already followed a similar routine of cleaning and disinfecting before the virus so it didn’t change much in the shop. Two exceptions are wearing masks and only having the person who is getting tattooed inside", he reassures. As long as you’re choosing a clean shop (which you should ALWAYS do), and follow the city’s safety guidelines, you should be okay. As Felipe mentioned, his shop was able to open three months into the initial quarantine phase. Now over a year and a half later, routines keeping everyone safe are well in place. And even if tattoos aren’t your thing, consider supporting a tattoo artist by investing in some of their other projects.

So yeah, I’ve got some new tattoo ideas and some bare walls that should be filled with more artwork. If you want to learn more about Felipe and his tattoo work and other projects, you can find him on Instagram at @tattoosbymanga. And if you’re interested, his books open on 9/27/21 at 12pm CST!

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