I'll bet you a bucket of beer that the last thing your mother told you when you turned 18 was to get a tattoo. She probably also never advised you to become a tattoo artist, but at Dutdutan 2012, held last Friday and Saturday (September 28 and 29), we met four women who decided to defy the status quo and pursue their passion for tattoo artistry.
For these four ladies, it wasn’t enough to get one and cross it off their bucket lists; they realized it was their calling and had the courage to go after it. We're not saying you shouldn't listen to your mother, because she's right about a lot of things most of the time. All we're saying is that sometimes, the road less traveled can be pretty great. Here are four women who've decided to pave the way for other women in an otherwise man-eat-man world of tattoo artistry.
Khamill Batuigas: Cherrybomb Tattoo Shoppe and Tattoo Supplies
It wasn’t easy to convince Khamill to talk to us. She insisted that she wasn’t interesting and advised us to find other women to interview, but after a little coaxing she finally softened up and we realized her no-nonsense exterior belied the mama bear beneath. Her shop’s booth at Dutdutan was manned (pun intended) by all women, which already said a lot about her in and of itself. As an apprentice of her ex-husband Ricky Sta. Ana, she supported his tattoo shop, Skinworkz, for fourteen years before setting out on her own to start Cherrybomb.
How hard is it to be a woman in the tattoo industry?
It depends. First of all, they have to realize their obligations when they become parents because they will be the ones to give birth; how they’ll explain their occupation to their kids, etc.
Did you have any formal art training?
None. I only finished sixth grade, but when I was a kid I really liked to draw.
How did you get into the tattoo industry? How/why did you become a tattoo artist?
Ricky [Sta. Ana] taught me everything, back in 2000. I started Cherrybomb in 2008, but I didn’t open a separate shop until 2010. The supplies store came before the tattoo shop.
What advice would you give other women who want to become tattoo artists or want to get into the tattoo industry?
It really depends on the person, but all I can say is that they need to figure out what they really want and how they’ll explain what they do to their kids.
What don’t most people know about you?
I was the first woman to organize an all-female tattoo competition: Ink 2012. I like to collect tattoos, but all of mine have meaning. Also, I was the first supplier for tattoos in the Philippines – now there are more but they’re mostly investors who do it because they have the money to; they don’t do it because they love the industry, they just want to make a profit. I also worked for the Philippine Tattoo Artist’s Guild (PhilTAG) for six years as their organizer-slash-secretary for competitions and events.
Where do you hang out? Like to eat? What’s your favorite comfort food?
Usually, tambay lang talaga sa Cherrybomb. After I give someone a tattoo, masarap magyosi, but it’s a bad habit and I don’t advise anyone to smoke. My favorite comfort food is chicken, so I usually head to Kenny Rogers.
My Motto is… better late than never.
It's quite hard to DIY your tattoos - but you can most certainly DIY your home decor with a few simple steps. So come on and just do it!
Maria Minerva Minnehaha-Calleja a.k.a. Minnie: Good Hand Tattoo
It was hard to imagine that the 24-year-old UST Fine Arts graduate next to us was a mother of two, as well as co-owner of her own tattoo shop with her fellow-tattoo-artist husband. The clay-molded jewelry that adorned the front table of the booth, as well as the art tacked to the walls were all made by hand, alongside a printed sign that read how you could get a customized design. And who wouldn’t want one? Her work was positively oozing with talent with her linework and choice of colors, in a hybrid art style that gave away her gypsy-esque spirit and a fierce integrity to the art form.
How did you get into the tattoo industry?
I just fell in love with tattoos. I got close to Ricky Sta. Ana of Skinworkz and began my apprenticeship with him there back in 2009. After a year I started my own shop with my husband: Good Hand. We used to be called Applehead Tattoo before we got an actual storefront.
What’s the first tattoo you got and who did it for you?
A mermaid by Ricky Sta. Ana.
How hard is it to be a female in the tattoo industry and a tattoo artist?
It’s not that hard - you just have to be really good at what you do and love what you’re doing.
Who are your influences?
All my professors at UST because I really learned things like composition and design, as well as Ate Khamill, Alex Rodolfo, and Ricky Sta. Ana.
What is the ugliest tattoo you’ve ever had to do?
The first, which I did on a lolo. It was a cross and Khamill was the one who got him to agree to sit down for me to practice on him. It wasn’t any good and midway he had me stop. He never came back to let me finish it.
What tattoo have you been meaning to get and who would you ask to do it for you?
A portrait of my mother in pin-up girl/traditional art style on my thigh. Her name is Carmencita, so that’s on a banner at the bottom. I want her to be holding a spoon because she loves to cook. Siyempre, I want it done by my husband.
How do you handle drunks and underage kids who insist on getting a tattoo at your shop?
A no minors, no drunks, and no assholes policy is strictly enforced.
How do you feel about tattoo artistry as an art?
Tattoos are supposed to enrich the culture just like any other art form or medium, and as tattoo artists, I believe we have a responsibility to make sure that we live up to that.
What’s the first thing you like to do right after inking someone?
Sit down and admire my work.
Where do you like to hang out?
At the shop. We’re so proud of it because we built it up with our blood, sweat, and tears. When we go out on dates we usually head to Serendra and hang out at Fully Booked.
Where do you like to shop?
Tiendesitas and at the Market! Market! tiangge.
The body is… temporary.
If I weren’t a tattoo artist I’d be a… painter.
The best advice my mom ever gave me was… enjoy your womanhood.
My motto is… the time is now, and everything you do should be based on the now.
Lenie Pangilinan: OctopushInk Tattoo
They say the best things come in the smallest packages, and the saying is proven true in Lenie. She was the unassuming bombshell sitting at the OktopushInk Tattoo booth working intensely on a client. Her eyes were focused, her hands were steady, and her concentration indestructible. A few hours later we found her, all smiles, on a break and ready to talk. She's just as reserved as her mentor, none other than the father of PhilTAG himself, Tatay Nero Nievo, humbly admitting her high profile day job as an art director and in the same breath gushes about her love and appreciation for tattoo art. While taking up Fine Arts in UP, she got her first tattoo and the rest, as they say, is history.
How/when did you get into tattoo artistry?
I was looking for work after college and realized that my real passion is in tattoo artistry. It makes me really happy. I’ve been doing this for 3 years – I really make time for it on the weekends, away from my day job. Tatay Nero’s taught me a lot – he’s a really deep person. I was very fortunate to have bumped into him.
Was it hard to get into the industry?
At first I was scared because most tattoo artists in the industry are men and they judge you. They always wonder kung kaya mo ba, but it’s a process. The journey itself is exciting and filled with lots of learning.
What tattoo have you been meaning to get and who would you ask to do it for you?
My whole back (and) of course by my mentor, but we aren’t in a hurry to fill it up. I want designs associated with nature and well, just good vibes because I like to enjoy life. I want the tattoos on my back to be meaningful, so I’m not rushing. I wanna fill it up as I go along.
How was your first tattooing experience?
The first tattoo I did was on our cook. I didn’t know who would agree to let me tattoo them, and she overheard me talking to someone and volunteered herself. So I took her to the shop and inked her. First she wanted a small butterfly, which I didn’t really want to do but practice is practice. Eventually she got another one on her front thigh. She’s 40 years old (laughs).
What’s your style at the moment?
Filipino tribal in black and grey; I’m also into portraiture.
What’s the first thing you do after a long piece?
Drink! Usually at a friend’s place.
What’s your favorite restaurant and comfort food?
Pulutan and sisig, usually at Allan’s Grill at Cubao X.
What kind of music do you like listening to?
RnB, hip hop, heavy metal… but lately '90s grunge like Nirvana and Tupac. Nakaka-miss eh.
What’s your motto?
Con amores, syempre: do everything with heart.
What advice would you give other girls who want to be tattoo artists?
Try it out! And if you believe in yourself, and want it really badly, then go for it.
You might be thinking of getting a tattoo but your skin may not be up to it! Consult a dermatologist first to know if your skin is a-okay with inks.
Mia Claravall-Reyes: 55 Tinta
Infiltrate: to move into a territory surreptitiously and gradually, which is exactly what Mia has successfully accomplished in the tattoo industry, thanks to buckets of dedication and hard work. What started out as a way to make pocket money in college, doing hennas and face and body painting, soon evolved into a lifetime calling.
How/when did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
Back then all my friends would to go to Ricky [Sta. Ana] for their tattoos, so I began to apprentice under him at Skinworkz. I apprenticed for one year then some friends started 55 Tinta and I joined them. Before that I actually used to teach and I was also an art director.
Who are your influences?
Ricky, Alex Rodolfo from Uragon, Ding Fernandez, and Dong Pena. Some of my international influences are Michelle Wortman and Kat Von D.
Did you find it hard to be a woman and be a tattoo artist?
You mean was it hard to infiltrate the industry? It was hard at first because there are only a few women in the industry, but you really just have to suck it up. It’s a man’s world here – there’s a lot of politics and crab mentality, believe it or not. You just gotta keep doing your own thing and pursue what you’re passionate about.
How do you plan to explain your choice of profession to your child?
I’m going to take the angle that tattoo artistry is still art. One of my daughter’s first words was “tattoo” – she’d point to the ones on my arms (laughs). My mother didn’t really like that. I guess in the future she’ll just have to understand that it’s our bread and butter, as well as our passion as a couple, as a family. I’d advise my daughter to be a tattoo artist herself, to be honest, and I’d remind her to find her own style since tattoo artistry is also very driven by trends. It’s very important to find what works for you and stick to it.
What advice would you give other women who want to be tattoo artists?
To find their own style in a very trend driven business. My personal style is cross-hatching. Medyo malabo, and it can get pretty painful, but that’s what I like to do and I guess other people like it as well.
What’s the weirdest tattoo you’ve been asked to do for a client?
Script sa foot na wrong grammar. Sabi ko parang mali, but the client insisted that it was correct. Now may wrong grammar sila sa paa. Also, may isang artista (who shall not be named) who at first wanted an Iglesia ni Cristo flag, then changed her mind to a ganja leaf. Ang labo lang, super out of character for her.
How do you handle drunken clients?
We don’t encourage them to pursue getting a tattoo.
Where do you like to eat?
Greens in Timog and Nomnomnom. The Foreplay appetizer is winner, and the Tinapasta is also one of my favorites.
What music do you like to listen to when inking someone?
Katchafire, Seed, and No Doubt.
What tattoo have you been thinking about getting and who would you ask to do it for you?
A neck piece. No design in mind yet, but I want it done by my husband, si “Babe.”
The body is… a canvas.
The best advice my mom ever gave me was… matagal mamatay ang masamang damo.
My hands are… talented. Naks.
If I weren’t a tattoo artist I’d be… an anthropologist.
My motto is… good vibes.
The road less traveled doesn’t always have a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be earth-movingly rewarding. So ladies, hitch up your skirts – or better yet, throw them in the trash altogether. As Khamill, Minnie, Lenie, and Mia clearly show, sometimes it pays off to be stubborn, heed your passion, and pave your own way once in a while. Your time is now.
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