3 Chicago Women & LGBTQ+ Tattoo Artists We Love

Jul 14th 2021

3 Chicago Women & LGBTQ+ Tattoo Artists We Love

Here at the Beaver Dam we are huge fans of self expression! Helping people tell the world who they are is something we strive to do every day. While our go to tool to do this is the pin-back button, we wanted to put a spotlight on another form of expression we love: Tattoos. Showing your total, true and unique self comes in many different forms, from the buttons on your jacket to the ink on your body.

With National Tattoo Day just around the corner on July 17th, we wanted to take a moment and highlight some of our favorite local women and LGBTQ+ artists. A few we mentioned below have actually tattooed some of us Beavers so trust us when we say we’re big fans! We spoke to  Julia Campione of Good Omen TattooEsther Garcia of Butterfat Studios, and former beaver Carrie Vinarsky of Midwest Classic Tattoo.

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How did you get into tattooing?

Julia: I got my first tattoo when I was 15 years old. I’ve always loved to draw and art has always been a big part of my identity. I was in my mid 20s when I was fortunate to meet the right people at the right time which helped to propel me towards seeking out a tattoo apprenticeship.

Esther: Someone in a tattoo shop told me I probably couldn't do it, so I had to prove them wrong.

Carrie: I've always been making creative things, and tinkering with tools and materials. I studied printmaking and art in college and got tattoos as soon as I was 18, and knew I wanted to be covered in them, but it took till I was 30 to know it's what I wanted to be doing. I started drawing my own tattoos, realized it was the only thing it made sense to do based on my values and who I am, dedicated myself to reading and learning, got more tattoos and eventually started making tattoos. Eventually I made some friends that were also making tattoos and it kept building from there. I gave myself five years to find my way into a professional shop, and I did, friends helped me.

Julia Campione

photo from Julia Campione

Can you share a little bit more about the inspiration and influences behind your tattoo design aesthetic?

Julia: I’m highly influenced by all of the traditional tattoo legends who pioneered legible designs with solid outlines and bold colors that will stand the test of time. My biggest influence from tattoo history would have to be Tony Polito. There are so many amazing tattooers presently in Chicago whose work I have followed before I was even tattooing myself. I’m most highly influenced by the talented crew I get to work alongside at Good Omen Tattoo; Michelle WanhalaIsa Verri and Katie Rose. Each of us has a different approach to tattooing but I think we all feed off of each other creatively.

Esther: I draw inspiration mostly from preexisting art works- I am mostly a reference based artist, I don't often make my own drawings for tattoos- but I do spend many hours searching for the right reference, and then adjusting and reorganizing a piece to suit the body. For example, I recently started a still life piece based on the work of a Dutch Golden Age painter- I have drawn fragments from about a dozen different paintings by the same artist, and am collaging them together with a consistent light source. I have so many layers, it's really laborious, and that's even before the tattooing starts.

Carrie: I'm into bold simple work because it looks great on the human form, will last well, and resonates on a very basic human level for me. I love folk art of almost all cultures, and historical archetypes of tattooing in this country and the folk nature of tattooing from the origins of known tattooing to current day "outside" practices.

What do you like about tattoos and tattooing the most?

Julia: Tattoos are magic. They have the power to change the way we feel about ourselves. It gives the person getting the tattoo the power to take control of their self perception and it’s truly an honor to partake in this process!

Esther: I enjoy the challenge of replicating other art techniques in a tattoo, and learning to create painterly effects. Sharing the thrill of changing the appearance and flow of a body part with a client is pretty great too.

Carrie: I love my tattoos, and the acceptance of body, self, and past they provide. Sometimes I call them my buddies. They connect me to humans past and present, and that feels pretty expansive and reassuring. I really appreciate the ability tattooing has to connect me with all kinds of people I wouldn't even talk to otherwise. Being a good guide to first timers or people getting big work is rewarding as well. Making a new image that now exists boldly in the temporal flesh of a breathing human... well! That is special!

Ester Garcia

photo from Esther Garcia

Much like buttons, tattoos are a really personal form of expression! How do you feel when you help a client express themselves with your work?

Julia: Of course it’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped someone to feel better about their self. It comes with some pressure, because you can’t make everyone perfectly happy every time. But for myself I try to be selective about the custom work I take on and I put a lot of love into everything I do.

Esther: It feels great! We (humans) often judge ourselves very harshly in the mirror, and tattoos are a great way to give that judgy part of the brain something else to look at and admire.

Carrie: I love tattoos' ability to re-enforce people's selfhood. It's very intimate and when I work on a piece with someone and they trust me to mark them, sometimes after we are done and they are checking out their tattoo, I can see a glint in their eye and a little bounce in their step. We will always have that creative connection of going through the work and pain, there's nothing else like it.

What's your biggest piece of advice for any women or LGBTQ+ individuals who are interested in working in the tattoo industry?

Julia: Just like any other path you might choose, you must be prepared to stumble on the way. Being a woman, but moreover being a gay woman in ANY industry can make you feel like you have something to prove. Prior to tattooing I worked in restaurants and I’ve experienced the same harassment as well as embarrassment that pertained to my sexual orientation. Women are powerful and resilient and I’m so proud to be in a city that has a multitude of women / lgbtqia+ tattooers who are changing the way shops look and feel. At the end of the day I could just sum it up as this: take no shit, and be ready to fight like hell to make it happen.

Esther: It's an entirely different scene now than when I first started, I don't think I have special advice for women specifically - it's still challenging for anyone to get into, but BIPOC and queer folk especially. Just keep at it, and don't feel bad about moving to a different shop if you feel unsupported or uncomfortable. You are not held to industry standards of loyalty to a shop or rules of conduct made by people who would have discriminated against you; there are a lot of spaces where safety, kindness, patience, and consent are held as law, and both clients and artists now have a wider range of shops to feel at home in. It's changing for the better, and will continue to.

Carrie: Okay it's too much to say one thing about so here it is: Check out as many shops as you can. Get tattoos, get tattoos from people who have been tattooing for a long time (10 yrs or more), whose style you like, and who are respectful to you. Draw, draw your own art AND learn from old tattoos how to put together a solid piece... There are good reasons they are built as they are. Read books about tattoos and tattooing, and find out what you like about it. There is a long history of LGBTQ+ tattooers in traditional shops in Chicago, so never feel like an outsider. I don't really think of it as an industry because there are so many different attitudes and approaches. Find the people whose values align with yours and who you click with and work with them. It will take time to find your people and your way in, so don't give up.

Carrie Vinarsky

photo from Carrie Vinarsky

What's your biggest piece of advice to anyone out there thinking of getting their first tattoo?

Julia: Take your time and find the artist whose work aligns with your vision. And don’t pick your tattoo!

Esther: Don't feel like you have to get all your ideas in one tattoo, and it's ok to get something without significance, if you like to look at it then that is all the reason you need. It will probably build significance as you go along together.

Carrie: If you don't feel good in the shop or space or aren't clicking with the artist, don't rush it, wait till it feels right. It's normal to be nervous, eat a good meal, don't be hung over or tired, give yourself a lot of time.

Check out the work of  Julia CampioneEsther Garcia and Carrie Vinarsky on social media and make sure to follow each of them for more information and amazing tattoo content. 

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