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Lady Ink

By Annika Campbell Women With a Permanent Touch Kristen Neverett-Brown was a mental health, drug and alcohol counselor when she walked into a tattoo parlor to get her first tattoo. Flash forward about 30 years, and now she’s an established tattoo artist with her own shop: In Living Color. Neverett-Brown decided to pursue her career as an artist years ago while she and a friend were examining their new tattoos outside a shop. Her friend said to her, “You know, you can do this, and you could be nicer about it.” This advice kickstarted the next phase of her life.…

By Annika Campbell

(DoNorth/Annika Campbell)

Women With a Permanent Touch

Kristen Neverett-Brown was a mental health, drug and alcohol counselor when she walked into a tattoo parlor to get her first tattoo. Flash forward about 30 years, and now she’s an established tattoo artist with her own shop: In Living Color.

Neverett-Brown decided to pursue her career as an artist years ago while she and a friend were examining their new tattoos outside a shop. Her friend said to her, “You know, you can do this, and you could be nicer about it.” This advice kickstarted the next phase of her life.

The journey to becoming a tattoo artist wasn’t easy at first. Neverett-Brown enjoyed drawing, but the tattoo gun was a new tool. As a woman, finding an apprenticeship was difficult as well.

“At the time, it was not common for women to be tattooing,” Neverett-Brown says. “They didn’t take women seriously.”

After a few frustrating apprenticeships, she finally found someone in a New Hampshire tattoo shop willing to teach her how to become a tattoo artist in her own right.

“I worked my ass off to earn the title of apprentice,” Neverett-Brown says.

From washing floors and scrubbing windows to cleaning toilets, she did what she had to do to show her worth. When people doubted her ability as a female tattoo artist she would remind them that they wouldn’t be here without women.

“You’re right, I came from a different time and place,” she says. “But, if it weren’t for me you wouldn’t exist.”

Leta Gray is what Neverett-Brown calls a “traveler”—an artist who spends time at different tattoo shops to expand their knowledge—and is currently at In Living Color. She tattoos at Spirited Tattooing Coalition in Philadelphia, but she is originally from Plattsburgh. Gray, who hasn’t been in the business as long as Neverett-Brown, has also dealt with remarks about being a woman in the industry, even though it’s not as uncommon as it was when Neverett-Brown started 30 years ago. She mentioned how Neverett-Brown is an inspiration to her because of the steps she’s taken as a female tattooer.

“People like you have paved the way for me,” Gray said to Neverett-Brown.

Learning this craft is a different process than it was when Neverett-Brown was starting. As an apprentice, she observed her mentor and the other artists as they worked. When she had a question, it was answered. She is disappointed in how tattoo artists have changed since she began her career.

“Instead of enhancing each other, they tear each other down. Everyone I worked with was encouraging and helpful,” Neverett-Brown says. “I think some of that is societal; People don’t communicate as well.”

Present-day tattoo artists also may not be as willing to help future artists because of the competition. Instead of the hours Neverett-Brown spent scrubbing tattoo tables to earn time with her mentor, aspiring artists can now type what they want to know into a YouTube search bar and have instant access to teachers from around the world.  

Neverett-Brown also has had to adapt to different cultures and changing trends. What’s popular in one region can be completely opposite of what is popular in another. An artist in Portland, Oregon may be tattooing fine-lined nature design, while another in Brooklyn, New York could primarily work with a heavier traditional style.

“It ebbs and flows like fashion,” she says. “Things come into play.”

Tattoo styles range from simple linework, hyper-realistic portraits, American traditional with bold lines and a limited color palette to the bright poppy colors of new school—Neverett-Brown’s shop sees it all. At In Living Color, stippling has been a popular style where the image is created by a series of small dots.

“I find it challenging and fun,” she says while stippling a mandala on a client.

Gray has traveled to different cities witnessing diverse styles unique to the locations.

“They all have different things that are popular and in demand,” Gray says.

Neverett-Brown says when a new trend hits a large city, it takes time to reach a smaller city. Despite the delay, Neverett-Brown notices that her clients are full of new and quirky ideas like brightly colored vegetables, or  triceratop skull lying on a bed of flowers, creating their own trends in the North Country.

“You see a lot of everything,” Neverett-Brown says.

A universal truth of tattooing is that the tattoo artist and client must work together, a philosophy that Neverett-Brown and Gray stand by.

“Clients put a lot of trust in artists,” Neverett-Brown says. Gray added they are changing a person’s appearance forever and there must be respect for the craft.

The path to this career holds more challenges than one may think. Nevertt-Brown has overcome bias and changes within the industry. She had to tailor herself and her studio to be successful. But in the ever changing world of tattoos, discovering new things is very possible.

“I’m still learning,” Neverett-Brown says. “Thirty years later.”

Issue:Winter/Spring 2019

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