With most Minnesota businesses halting operations through at least May 4, tattoo artists across the state are trading in their tattoo guns for pencils and paint brushes.
Getting new ink isn’t an option right now, not since Gov. Tim Walz ordered the closure of the state’s tattoo parlors last month. Although businesses are no longer operational, people are doing what they can to support tattoo artists, which is an instinct that seems to be permanently ingrained in Minnesotans — almost like a tattoo.
Many clients are requesting paintings or drawings of tattoos they intend to get once parlors reopen, offering up-front payments for future body art or scheduling appointments months in advance. Whether it’s buying store merchandise or commissioning paintings, those in the tattoo community are doing what they can to help one another.
“A lot of folks are coming out right now in support of me and my work,” said Amo Azure, a tattoo artist at Jackalope Tattoo located in south Minneapolis. “It’s just really cool to see my community come out in support of me right now, just because I think everybody knows that this whole thing has been really rough on tattoo artists.”
Getting tattooed can take hours and cost hundreds of dollars, depending on factors such as size, location and the design of the tattoo. Now, with that loss of income, some have resorted to getting part-time jobs or filing for unemployment, like Emily Snow, owner of the Brow Bar in Uptown.
Snow, a tattoo artist and microblader, said she filed for unemployment last week and has been out of work for a month. But, she said people have come out in support of her and her work, even though some see tattooers as “outside of regular life.”
“Tattooing, as a mainstream thing, has only really come popular in the last maybe 15 or 20 years,” Snow said, adding that because tattooing is becoming more popular, communities are showing up to support them in a time when help is needed.
Snow is also keeping busy by sewing masks for hospitals in addition to drawing up designs for clients to purchase.
Mike Bean, a tattoo artist at Dinkytown Tattoo, said some clients have reached out to him requesting paintings of the tattoos they intend to get and offering higher down payments for future tattoos. He said not working is hard for him not only because of the lack of income, but also because of the inability to tattoo.
“You don’t really tattoo because it’s something to do or for some sort of means. You do it because you really love doing it and it’s something that just becomes a part of your lifestyle,” Bean said.
For Azure, the most difficult aspect of this pandemic is not seeing coworkers and clients everyday.
“For me, it's like I'm grieving,” Azure said. “The people at Jackalope [Tattoo] … are my family members and being separated from them right now is really very challenging.”
Michelle Griffith (email@example.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.