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Meet Jenny Nguyen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Nguyen.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jenny. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a 28 years old female Vietnamese tattooer at Kari Barba’s Outer Limits Tattoo in Long Beach.

For as long as I could remember, I was always drawing or doing some kind of art. I distinctly remember a 12 years old me, standing outside my classroom with a friend and telling him that I wanted to tattoo someday. Growing up in an Asian household gave me very little hope for pursuing this as a career, so I erased it from my mind for a very long time. As I was approaching college, my high school art teacher wholeheartedly urged me to cultivate my skills because she felt that there was something special there. I still couldn’t quite grasp it, although I could feel myself chipping away at the barriers I had built around art in my mind.

Once I finished high school, I spent seven years taking almost every single college art class possible. I started working at Outer Limits Tattoo on and off as the shop help when I was 20 and that was how I was introduced to Kari Barba, the I was lucky, I had a wonderful support group in and out of school. I will always feel indebted to the professors in my art department. In total, I received three art degrees.

I have graduated my apprenticeship and now work full time as a tattooer. I apprenticed under the legendary Kari Barba, as her 4th and last apprentice in her 40+ year career. She and my other mentor, Yvonne La, instilled things in me that are genuinely invaluable. I remember Kari once told me, “I don’t care if you’re the best or worst tattooer, only that you’re a humble one.” While I have a long long way to go, everything I have learned is thanks to Kari and Yvonne along with our entire shop being so supportive. This art form is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it is equally as gratifying.

I hope to loudly help represent women and Asian creatives in this industry, as I grow further into my career. My artwork tends to be silly, much like my own personality. If my tattoo makes you smile or evokes a sense of joy, then I’ve done my job!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It was all hard. Life, in general, has been a bumpy rollercoaster. But that’s also very subjective because I’d say that my struggle was/is not nearly as crazy as my parents or my mentors. I have been given wonderful opportunities from other people’s hard work. My parents fled Vietnam when they were very young and came into America as refugees. Because of their sacrifices, I have been given this life where I feel limitless. And this trickles down the ladder for people I’ve met who have helped me get here.

My family does not see the value in art, and so it made me question my own value most of my younger life – although it did not deter me. But when I look at it in the grand scheme of things, none of it feels so hard after all. I feel immensely lucky to even be presented with the opportunities and support systems I’ve had.

Getting better at art was always something I found challenging. Yet, I look back and time flew by. I remember when I substantially grew and saw results. I was in college and spending every waking moment on art. I remember crying often and feeling frustrated. I remember carrying all my heavy art supplies uphill on a 30-minute walk from my car to the Fine Arts Building and feeling so far away from my goals. I spent all day in my studio classes and all my time at home on homework. Those seven years in school honestly feel like a distant memory now, though.

And then I had to try to earn an apprenticeship from THE Kari Barba. There were many moments where I did not know if I could reach that goal. My mentors always reminded me that we appreciate things more if we work for them. It took some time, but I’ve been really lucky. Life will never be a smooth road, but I feel well equipped to the challenge. My biggest challenge has always been myself.

Please tell us about Jenny Nguyen at Outer Limits Tattoo.
I am relatively new in the tattoo industry but I find that my clients are really drawn to the fun nature of my tattoos, along with the way I approach linework/shading. I strive to deliver the best possible end result for my client, to the best of my ability.

With that being said, I work at the oldest continuously operating tattoo shop in America, established in 1927: Kari Barba’s Outer Limits Tattoo in Long Beach. That prestige alone garners attention. We have a range of artists who do different styles, so I really believe there is an artist for everyone here.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
It feels cheesy to say this but I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be.

I will say that I think I should have taken care of my body more my entire life. Exercise more, balance life a little more, and really take the time to enjoy things a little more rather than obsess about work/art. But that is still something I am trying to understand now: Take care of yourself.

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