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Meet Trailblazer Natisse Thomas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natisse Thomas.

Natisse, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was obsessed with tattoos since I was six yrs old. I used to plaster those temporary tattoos all over my body and couldn’t wait to until I could get a real one. Actually, one of my tattoos was designed from a picture of a henna tattoo I had when I was 14, and it was so satisfying when I actually got it tattooed on me. Admittedly, it’s not a great tattoo, but I love it because of what it means to me. I have always been an artist, and I have my mother to thank for that. She was always doing different art projects, and crafts with my sister and I and we were exposed to all kinds of art forms and encouraged to explore them.

I didn’t go the “traditional” post high school route. I always did well in school, and it was assumed that I would enter a traditional 4-year college, you know, what you are supposed to do. Senior year came around a little bit of an identity crisis hit and anxiety over choosing what I was going to do for the rest of my life when I didn’t even know who I was yet and had no idea how I was going to pay for college. This led me to abandon the college plan and go to a trade school. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted a viable career that was creative but would support me; this led me to beauty school. It was only 18 months, and they had a night school program so I could still work a full-time job. I loved it. I barely slept but I learned so much about myself, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I always called myself a hair artist instead of stylist, and it supported me very well for ten years. I made some amazing friendships that will last my lifetime, and I gained a skill set that I will always have.

Even with a busy career I still continued to paint, draw, and craft up a storm. Here’s where things got really interesting. Eight months after getting married my husband, Jason offered me an apprenticeship for tattooing and body piercing. I was shocked and thrilled. He knew about my obsession with his profession, and he always loved my artwork. He told me that he believed I had what it took to become an amazing tattoo artist and professional body piercer and he wanted to teach me everything he knew. My whole world flipped upside down, and I had a huge decision to make. I loved doing hair, and it had been so good to me, but I was getting a bit burnt out on it, and it was starting to take a toll on my body. I decided to cut back my hours at the salon and pursue the tattoo industry. It was very difficult for most of the time but also one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I worked three days in the tattoo shop and 4 in the salon for a year and a half, and then I’d work only four days in the salon every six weeks for last six months of my apprenticeship, so I could be at the tattoo shop full time.

I felt like I had a lot to prove and I worked hard to get here. My husband and I now have a partnership together as Duality Body Art, and we travel and tattoo together all over the country working conventions and doing guest spots. We recently traveled to Alaska to tattoo, which has been a bucket list dream of ours and it was so amazing to make it come true. When we are not traveling, we are based out of LA at Rosa Obscura on Melrose and South Lake Tahoe at Needle Peak Tattoo. I absolutely love tattooing and body piercing, and I’m so glad I made the decision to change careers. I didn’t just find a new incredible career I found a community of incredible people and I will be forever grateful to Jason and the opportunity he gave me to be a part of this industry.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There were quite a few challenges along the way. Completing a tattoo apprenticeship is not an easy achievement. Jason and I did very well at keeping our personal relationship and our mentor/apprentice relationship separate, but it was still challenging at times. I had a lot to prove being that my mentor was my husband. I wanted to prove that I belonged and that I deserved the opportunity because of my skills not just because of my personal relationship with the boss. I knew there were people I worked with that questioned why I was there and didn’t think I belonged. I am very proud to confidently say I proved them wrong. Being the bottom of the totem pole is always hard, but it’s a necessary part of the process in most professions. I felt insecure about starting this new journey in my late 20’s. It was very difficult working two very demanding jobs, and I was always exhausted. Everything I drew was picked apart and criticized. I’d fall behind on artwork assignments because I had so many other chores and tasks to do around the studio. I cried quite a few time and questioned if I was even good enough to do this. It’s supposed to be hard, it thickens your skin and toughens you up, and that’s exactly what it did for me. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Every challenge brings a new learning experience, and I always came out of it stronger and better for it. It’s a very competitive industry, and you have to have a thick skin when everything you do is constantly being judged, criticized and put under a microscope by not just the general public but your peers as well. It’s something that I wouldn’t say gets easier; you just get used to it. The most important thing is you do your best because you can always stand by that. The tattoo industry has always been more difficult for women to enter due to prejudices. This is changing! But it is still there. There is a common stigma that female tattooers can’t do dark or evil tattoos, and can’t do masculine tattoos. This so far from the truth! Our gender does not dictate the type of art we are capable of doing. There will be those that think you slept with someone to get your apprenticeship. And I’ve overheard comments like “did a woman do that tattoo. I can tell” or comments on how attractive or unattractive a female tattooer is when discussing getting tattooed by them as if that has anything to do with artistic ability. My advice to young women dealing with prejudice in their careers is don’t listen to negative comments, thicken your skin, and prove those bastards wrong.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Duality Body Art – what should we know?
I have a pretty big range when it comes to tattooing. I don’t really just do one thing or style. I always wanted to be very well rounded as an artist. I love anime, and I draw a lot of anime-inspired artwork. I love to do tattoos with clean, precise line work and bright colors. I also love dotwork, and I do a lot of dotwork tattoos. I do most piercings, except those that can be dangerous or cause oral damage, and I love doing piercing projects. The tattoo industry does not have a great reputation when it comes to customer service. I learned a lot about customer service in the beauty industry, and it helped me learn patience and knowing how to professionally handle difficult clients. I strive to provide great customer service from the moment you walk through the door to the moment you leave. I only use the highest quality products, from machines and needles to vegan metal-free inks, and implant grade internally threaded titanium jewelry. I also wear full protective gear including aprons, arm sleeves, and eyeglasses in addition to gloves. This further protects me and my clients by keeping any blood and ink arisols off of my arms and clothing. I also use a specialized bandage for every tattoo that the client keeps on for six days. During that time the tattoo does the majority of the healing while being protected from bacteria underneath a breathable barrier.

I feel very strongly about properly educating my clients on the services they are receiving and what to expect. I am very thorough when going over aftercare, this is a step that a lot of people gloss over, but it is essential that clients fully understand what they will need to do to take care of their new body modification. There are also certain limitations to tattoos and piercings, and instead of just saying nope I can’t do that, I always explain the reasons why it is not possible and if possible how we can modify the idea to do something similar.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
When it comes to learning how to tattoo or pierce the best thing to do is get a proper apprenticeship. I’ve seen these 6-month tattoo schools popping up and unfortunately it is doing a disservice to the industry. It takes a lot longer than six months to learn how to properly alter someone’s skin and body. And the one on one training an apprenticeship provides is unparalleled. Getting an apprenticeship is very difficult, however, and A lot of apprentices don’t make it and quit early. Because of this good artists are very selective when it comes to taking on an apprentice. Sharing your knowledge in this kind of way is a sacred thing that doesn’t exist in many professions anymore. You need to essentially prove you are worth their time.

The best way to seek out an apprenticeship is to never be a scratcher. Don’t tattoo anyone without being trained in a home that is not set up to keep your client safe from infection and infectious diseases. You have not been trained in; therefore, you should not be potentially exposing people to infection. Above all else, you have an immense responsibility as a tattoo artist or body piercer. Next show patronage to the person you are trying to earn an apprenticeship from. Get tattooed by them, bring them business and hang out at their shop. Draw every waking minute you are able to, ask for critiques and advice and implement it, show that you can take criticism, apply suggestions and improve your work. Get your bloodborne pathogens certification, anyone can do it, and it shows initiative. Be persistent and show you are dedicated and responsible.

Expect to pay for your apprenticeship, just like you would for any other class or education. The price will vary depending on the artist. That being said, make sure you are also seeking an apprenticeship under someone who is actually going to teach you. Be careful because there are those that just looking for free labor, so do your research and make sure it’s a good fit for you as well. When you get the apprenticeship put up with their shit. Yep, all of it. Bite your tongue and do the ridiculous things that are asked of you, it shows your dedication. You will have to prove that you want it, and you want it bad. At this point, you eat, live, breath and sleep tattooing. You will think your mentor is mean and you may even hate them sometimes but everything they do is to make you the best tattoo artist you can be and I promise it’s all worth it in the end. If you succeed, you will enter into an incredible career that will support you and keep you on your toes the whole entire time you are a part of it. And you will be so grateful to your mentor and everything they put you through.

Some things to take in mind:

  • Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good
  • It’s completely normal to leave a deposit for a tattoo appt, especially custom work
  • Don’t argue the minimum price of the shop, even to do one dot it costs money to the artist and the shop and that is factored in to the minimum price.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jason Thomas

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