The Art of the Tattoo: Megan Massacre
Megan Massacre tattoos out of the Wooster St. Social Club in New York's SoHo neighborhood, which is also the location of the TLC series "NY Ink," on which she's a featured artist. She marked her nine-year anniversary in the business in January.
Read her interview below, then check out some of her work at the bottom.
How did you get your start?
I have been an artist in one form or another my entire life — I actually have drawings saved from when I was two years old. The first time the idea crossed my mind to learn to tattoo was when I was about 14. At the time I was studying different mediums, such as painting, calligraphy, sculpting, etc. I looked at tattooing as another medium that I would love to learn. I went to a local studio to find out exactly how I should go about learning, and they told me I needed to get an apprenticeship. I said, "Awesome, sign me up!" and they laughed at me, saying, "Sure. We just need $4,000."
My heart sank because I did not have that kind of money. I really thought my tattooing dreams were crushed until I walked into a tattoo studio again, about four years later. I gave a friend a ride to a local shop and she told the other artists in the shop how well I could draw. They asked me to sketch a few drawings and they seemed pretty stoked on them. They asked me if I had ever done a tattoo before — of course I said no — but then they followed with, "How would you like to do one right now?" A little shocked (and honestly a little terrified), I blurted out "Yes!"
The owner of the shop set up all the equipment for me and walked me through my first tattoo on the shop's apprentice (poor guy). My first tattoo turned out decent for a first tattoo. Good enough that they then offered me a tattoo apprenticeship, and I began my road to tattooing the very next day.
What's your tattoo style of choice and why?
It is pretty normal for artists to fall into a particular style, but I actually like doing all styles of tattooing. I have made it a point throughout my career to never get too comfortable doing just one thing. I have worked hard to learn black and grey and color, portraits and realism, new school and traditional. I really enjoy doing it all! However, I do have favorite styles, which tend to change. Right now I love bold, colorful pieces that combine both realistic and traditional styles: a fusion of a few different styles in one tattoo. As for subject matter, right now I really enjoy tattooing animals, particularly peoples pets, women's faces and cute [or] creepy styled things.
What do you think makes tattoos special?
Tattoos are special because they make people happy. People get tattooed for a number of different reasons. Sometimes we want to commemorate a special person or event in our lives, or we want to memorialize a loved one that has passed. Some of us have a phrase or an idea that defines or helps us shape who we are, and we want to be reminded of that, and let the world know how we feel. Then there are some of us who just love the art, so much that we want to wear something we find beautiful on our bodies for the rest of our lives. Whatever the reason for getting a tattoo, that reason is bringing you happiness in one form or another. The idea that I have the ability to give that feeling to someone else is what makes tattooing so special to me.
Tattoos seem very mainstream now. Do you think that's good or bad?
Yes, tattooing is becoming increasingly mainstream; it has grown leaps and bounds from when I first started nine years ago. I believe this has quite a bit to do with television. I was tattooing for about two years before the first tattoo TV series, "Miami Ink," began. At the time, being a female tattoo artist wasn't a "cool" thing to do, so it was really awesome to see another female tattoo artist. My friends thought I was crazy for wanting to be involved in the stereotyped rough-gang-and-drug-related industry, and that I wanted to cover myself in tattoos. Today, women who tattoo and have tattoos are almost idolized and looked at as sex symbols — it's definitely a big change. I also think that the increasing number of celebrities with tattoos has a lot to do with the trend as well.
There are both good and bad aspects when any underground culture starts to become more mainstream. People that would have never thought of getting tattooed on their own have now been introduced to it and are comfortable with the idea, which from a business aspect is great because it is creating a much larger demand and more work for me and my fellow artists. Now, more than ever, I am doing a lot of people's first tattoos. I really enjoy being able to share what I love to do with so many new people, and have them appreciate it.
However, this has spawned a huge increase in bad tattoos. Many people don't know how to learn to tattoo and are going about it the wrong way. Home tattoo kits are not only extremely dangerous health-wise, but they also teach bad habits. There is crucial information that can only be handed down from one tattooer to another; it can’t be self-taught. Educating people on this is a big reason why I took part in the TLC TV series "America's Worst Tattoos," which is a program that talks about people who made these horrible mistakes, and shows that, with the help of a professional artist, you’re not stuck with a bad tattoo forever.
Do you see a current trend in the industry?
I've noticed an increasing popularity of tattoo artists switching from the traditional coil tattoo machine to a rotary tattoo machine. I have always been a coil tattoo machine girl, but I hear great things about rotaries and am looking forward to giving them a try.
There are always trends when it comes to the subject matter of tattoos. When I first started tattooing nine years ago, the main tattoo trends were tribal "tramp stamps" and Kanji. Recently, I feel like I've been seeing a ton of people tattooing female faces with flowers, filigree and other girly subject matter. People also seem to really love anything Day of the Dead-themed, like sugar skulls and girls done up in sugar skull-styled makeup.
Do you have any funny tattoo stories? What about horror stories?
It was a normal day at a street shop, and I was doing small walk-in tattoos. I started a tattoo of a rose with a dove on a woman's ankle. I never met this woman before in my life but she seemed so familiar to me. Everything from her eyes to how she laughed, even her leg looked familiar; it was driving me crazy that I couldn't put my finger on it. In my tattoo room I had some photos hanging on my wall of some friends and family. She pointed to one photo and said, "Funny, that kind of looks like my brother David." I turned to look at which photo she was looking at, to see that it was of my Uncle… David. Very taken back by what she just said, I stopped the tattoo and pulled out a picture of my mother, and asked her if she knew this woman? She exclaimed, "That’s my sister Candie! Haven't seen them in years! How do you know them?" I said, "Well, this is my mother, and David is my uncle, so that must make you my aunt!" She looked familiar to me because she looked like both my mother and myself. That is the story of how I met my long-lost Aunt Kim.
Which piece of work has been your favorite?
One of my favorites was the very last tattoo I did on the first season of "NY Ink." It was a dog portrait on one of my very good friends. As an animal lover, I always enjoy tattooing people's pets on them because of how much they mean to the owner. What made this tattoo extra special was that, instead of just wanting her dog's photo and name tattooed on her, she wanted her dog dressed up in pretty Victorian clothes. At the time, this was something different that you don't see often, and I really enjoy doing something unique. I also saw this as an opportunity to fuse different styles together, doing the dog's face in a more three-dimensional style, and the clothing in a more traditional style. I like to try to mix design styles in my tattoos.
What inspires you?
I derive inspiration from almost everything and everywhere. Whether I am taking a subway ride in NYC and checking out the graffiti, or walking through a thousand-year-old cathedral observing centuries-old architecture, there is always something inspiring. I take hundreds of pictures to have as reminders of cool things I come across. I am also highly inspired by other artists, whether they are other tattooers, painters, sculptors, etc. The internet has made it amazingly easy to view hundreds of amazing creations from people around the world; it’s truly an amazing time in technology.
Do you have a message for aspiring artists?
Anyone out there aspiring to be a tattoo artist needs to understand that the ART is key. Draw, paint, do anything you can to keep yourself active and learning artistically. Also, while I think finding a particular style that is your own is important, it is also important to never get too comfortable just doing one thing. Push yourself to learn all different styles, even when it may be intimidating. It will only help you grow.
For anyone outside of the industry looking to break in, it is important to understand that you cannot teach yourself how to tattoo. You need to get an apprenticeship with a talented, professional artist at a professional tattoo shop. Also, "tattoo schools" are not a valid way of learning to tattoo, or considered a tattoo apprenticeship. They are a joke among the tattooing community, and by going that route you will be cheating yourself of much needed education. In the tattoo industry, respect is key. If you don't respect the industry, it will not respect you in return.
Check out some of Megan's work below: