requires trust between the client and the artist. Not only are clients asked to have faith in a tattooer’s artistic abilities and cleanliness, but they also trust them to create a safe space. shop about the working conditions — such as verbal abuse or the alleged hidden cameras — they shrugged it off, Valdez said.
“The whole vibe was just, this is what you have to do to be an artist,” she said.
Valdez reached out to Kirsty York, owner of an Blackbird Ink in Lafayette, for an apprenticeship in
2018. The shop took her under its wing, and now she’s setting up her own booth at Blackbird.
York founded Blackbird three years ago with a goal to support women entering the industry. Though she’s only been in the game for six years, Valdez is one of three artists she has apprenticed.
Since the artform isn’t taught in universities or other institutions, the only way to get into the business is to find a mentor.
“There isn’t like an official way to get in. It’s like a barter system thing,” York said. “And a lot of the time, unfortunately, men use that as a way to harass women.”
York said that she’s bringing on another apprentice soon because there will be room in the shop. Lora Bird, a resident artist, is leaving next month to open Honestbird Tattoo, a private studio off East South Boulder Road in Louisville. Valdez will take over Bird’s booth. She is still completing her apprenticeship but can start booking clients at a smaller hourly rate.
The incoming apprentice reached out to Blackbird after inquiring with other shops in the state, York said. She added that woman was told by one shop owner that he couldn’t officially train her, but would teach her privately if she agreed to date him.
Before becoming a business owner, York worked for what she referred to as an “old-school shop.” She describes this parlor type as mostly offering classic Sailor Jerry-style tattoos, asking clients to pick flash, or predrawn designs, rather than offering custom tattoos, and eight to 12 artists all in one room taking walk-ins until late evening.
There, she wasn’t allowed to share her social media or hand out her own business cards and said that her work wasn’t promoted as much as her male colleagues. Her booth fee, or cost of working in the shop, was half of each tattoo and tips. York had to stay until the end of the night to be paid out.
York decided to charge a flat monthly rent at Blackbird, so if her resident artists make more in commission, they can keep their extra cash.
One reason why apprenticeships can take years is because often new artists are doing grunt work most of the time, York said. Almost all apprenticeships are unpaid, and some require payments to the hosting tattoo shop. York said that it’s taken several years to build up a solid clientele, but the two artists who have completed their apprenticeships under Blackbird have accomplished that in less than two years.
Destiny Humrich, a resident artist at Blackbird, said that she knew York from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Both studied illustration there.
York reached out to Humrich, as she illustrated tattoo designs but didn’t tattoo them, and offered to mentor her.
“I’ve only been tattooing for less than a year up to this point,” Humrich said. “My anniversary is in October and like the fact that I already have my own booth and like a solid clientele and everything is crazy. She’s created an environment that empowers women and not only that, but we get to excel at a rate that’s not common in this industry.”
Bird, who will open Honestbird in October, was the first apprentice at Blackbird and started a few months before Humrich. She quit a corporate job after she was offered the position of apprenticeship at Blackbird.
She said that she never thought that she would have enough clients to work as an artist full-time after only 2K years in the industry, let alone be able to open up her own studio. She now has 4,000 followers on Instagram, where most of her new clients find her work.
“I feel like I’m kind of the first generation of tattoo artists that went through an apprenticeship that wasn’t abusive, or gaslighting or terrible, men or women,” Bird said.
Down the hall from the future Honestbird is a private studio owned by Kelsey Brown. The name of her business, Entropy Tattoo, describes her abstract, watercolor-like designs.
Brown said that the sanitization practices for tattooers haven’t changed much since Boulder County moved into the COVID-19 response that allowed personal services, including tattoo shops, to reopen, the Safer At Home stage.
Brown said that tattoo artists already were required to learn about preventing bloodborne pathogen spread, so she already used disposable gloves, needles, aprons and medical-grade sanitizers. The major difference is that she and her clients wear masks and she sanitizes every surface between clients rather than just the tattoo station. She also doesn’t permit friends and family in the studio.
She added that there’s more limits on supplies, such as gloves and other cleaning supplies, but she orders through an industry-specific wholesaler that doesn’t strain personal protection equipment inventory for health workers.
When tattoo services were permitted, Brown considered keeping Entropy Tattoo closed. The coronavirus disease is mainly spread personto-person through respiratory droplets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brown doesn’t tattoo faces, but she worried about being in close contact with clients. Tattoo sessions can take several hours.
“I talked to my fellow artists. I talked to my husband, like we really sat down and discussed and decided that I could stay closed but it was purely out of fear,” Brown said.
Brown books clients by having one day where she’s open to inquiries, and schedules at least a month out. She said that after recently opening up her books, she’s scheduled through January, and had more than 150 requests for the 40 available slots.
The industry is suffering event cancellations, with tattoo conventions unable to proceed during the pandemic. York often travels every year to network and work as a guest artist. This year, she was planning to have a booth at the canceled Colorado Tattoo Convention and Expo that was scheduled for Oct. 2-4 in Denver.
During the temporary closures of tattoo parlors, Alynn relied on the Cactus Coven online gift shop, selling screen-printed totes and clothes and prints of her illustrations. But since reopening, she’s back to her regular schedule of being booked up to five months in advance.
She added that she’s easily filling her open slots by posting flash designs on Instagram.
“I think that tattoos are a way a lot of people like to process things,” she said, “and so it’s kind of not surprising to me because it’s also one of the few social things you can go do right now.”