In a male dominated industry, women are shaking up Jacksonville's tattoo culture.
In the early 1900s, American tattooing began to take off, canvassing curious and daring bodies, seditious to the rigid status quo of Victorian life and fashion. As the medium’s artistry broadened through the 20th century, so did its audience. From well-travelled sailors to decorated war veterans, emboldened pinups to the blossoming out-crowd, by the early ‘70s, the industry had made its impression.
Jacksonville became home to some of the best shops in the world—and it still is. The River City welcomed revolutionary forefather artists and machinists, including the late Paul Rogers, one-part namesake of local ink-spot Inksmith & Rogers, who have several locations in the area. As the popularity of tattoos continues to soar in present-day Duval, access to the industry continues to open up as well: what was traditionally a boys club built on old school machismo now holds a strong female presence. Female artists who haven’t been behind the gun very long have already left a strong impact with some pretty formidable forever-pieces.
One such newcomer is Endia Evans, an apprentice whose monthly flash sheets have already awarded her a fully booked schedule and given her the determination to learn the tricks of the trade to build her ever-growing portfolio. But her journey took patience and persistence.
“I started watching YouTube videos to research tattooing and began looking for an apprenticeship at 15. I got denied, of course, and they told me to come back when I was older,” she said. “When I came back, they were still like, ‘no.’” This didn’t discourage Evans, who, five years later, landed her current apprenticeship under the tutelage of local tattoo-titan Myra Oh at her female-run Swan Studio. “My life hasn’t been the same since,” Evans said with a smile, “the best thing to happen to me.”
Just down the road from Evans, Chrissy Erhayel continues to hone her craft at Cloak and Dagger Tattoo and Fine Arts Gallery. For nearly two years, Erhayel has been providing her clients with captivating pieces across a broad spectrum of art styles, ranging from American traditional to pointillism.
“Because I’m a tattooer, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into a particular style, so I’m always trying new stuff. When I first started, I was very heavy into illustration, and I had to modify my style a little bit to include bold lines and color,” she said. Before becoming a tattoo artist, Erhayel obtained a fine arts degree from UNF and struggled to find a job in her field. A diligent and vibrant renaissance woman of sorts, Erhayel also worked in fine dining and as a violin teacher (the latter of which she still does) until she eventually realized her calling. “Thanks to Tumblr, I started doing tattoo-style illustrations and kind of developed my own style from there. Then, I found an apprenticeship,” she said.
As both women continue to develop their own styles of tattooing, they have also navigated varying levels of sexism that linger in the industry. Do women still have difficulty obtaining tattooing jobs—on the basis of being a woman? “One hundred percent, oh yeah,” Erhayel said. “One half of it was being denied by men, and the other half was having a college education: A lot of old school artists resent that.” Evans corroborated: “When I was looking for an apprenticeship, a lot of guys turned me down or made it hard for me.”
Despite biases against them, the exponential growth of women joining the industry is undeniable—and they’re booking more appointments than ever. Whether it’s their artistry or their ability to make clients feel comfortable, there’s been a higher demand to be tattooed by a female artist in the last decade.
“Just generally speaking, women tend to be less skeezy and judgmental. I feel like, at the end of the day, some people feel more comfortable being tattooed by a woman,” Erhayel noted, as both a client and an artist.
Allowing room for women and their clients in the industry marks a significant stride in both dismantling gendered-gatekeeping by male artists and promoting equity as a whole.
“It’s amazing,” said Evans. “We’re continuing to pave the way for the future generation of women.”
For those who work behind the gun, be sure to support the women who are trailblazing the field, a field that’s future is female, signed in ink and freehanding a coverup for troubled tradition.