The Newfoundland Herald talks about equality and the effects of COVID-19 in the tattoo industry with prominent local artist Kayla Gilkinson
When you think about different occupations, does a specific gender come to mind? Society has ingrained a standard way of thinking into us, causing an automatic association, relating certain genders, traits, or attributes with something as neutral as a career.
It’s unfortunate, but progression has become more apparent over the last two decades, and stereotypes will continue to be broken as we progress further.
The tattoo industry has long been a male-dominated field. But why? Art is often viewed as feminine by cultural standards, yet tattooing has a history of being deemed masculine, even to the point of conscious exclusion of prospective female tattoo artists.
A Thriving Artist
Newfoundland and Labrador has its fair share of tattoo shops across the province, St. John’s being a major hot spot for some of the top artists. Skin City Tattoo, located in the heart of downtown, was opened by artist Travis Jones in 2017 after he relocated from Corner Brook, where he had already successfully built another shop.
Skin City is currently home to seven artists including Jones, and a full-time piercer, all forming a diverse group consisting of various styles. The Newfoundland Herald sat down with one of those talented artists, Kayla Gilkinson to talk equality in the tattoo industry and pandemic ramifications.
Gilkinson considers herself a late bloomer, having not pursued tattooing until a little later than most. “It took me quite a while to build up confidence in my artwork, and then to consider being able to showcase that art permanently on someone as a tattoo,” she shared.
The talented artist grew up in Mount Pearl and spent five years in Toronto where she studied and worked as a special effects makeup artist, landing gigs for Miss Universe Canada, ETalk Canada, and Bud Light.
After relocating back to Newfoundland, she studied Biology at Memorial University and painted on the side. Gilkinson didn’t consider tattooing until a friend of hers planted the idea based on her paintings, she applied to Skin City Tattoo as an apprentice and has been thriving there ever since.
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“Other than Travis, everyone who works there is female,” she explained. “Working with all-female artists, he is respectful and supportive of all of us. He has given all of us the opportunity to grow, develop and do what we love while treating us as equals along the way.”
Women have often been hyper-sexualized in the world of tattooing as a means to sell magazines or gain social media likes. However, with social media becoming more significant and more influential over the last decade, women have finally had more opportunities to portray themselves however they want and are abolishing tattoo culture stereotypes.
“I think equality in the tattoo industry is becoming more and more prevalent, and our shop is a great example. We’ve become more confident with ourselves and with our abilities because we build each other up and support each other. It’s a very special place, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.”
Navigating the Pandemic
With the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, many lives and businesses have been gravely impacted. Unfortunately, there’s no way around the closeness of contact between a tattoo artist and their client, making it difficult to navigate through business-as-usual during the pandemic.
“As tattoo artists, it feels like our time to improve and build on our skills has been stolen,” Gilkinson shared. “Our income comes directly out of the time we take to prepare designs, and the many hours we spend one-on-one with clients to create personal and original artwork.”
Without the option of curbside pick-up or contactless delivery, tattoo shops were forced into a full shutdown during the lockdown, and revenue growth for the tattoo industry is expected to decline 9.5 per cent as a result of the pandemic and overall economic downturn.
Although times have been tough, Gilkinson has found some form of light in the dark.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has given me more time to work on paintings than I ever have before, and so for that, I am grateful. I’m hoping one day I’ll have my paintings in a gallery,” she explained.
It’s important we all stay kind during the current events, and it’s also important to support your local artists by buying prints and paintings or purchasing gift cards for future tattoos.
“At the end of the day, I hope people are kind to themselves as well as others because we are all going through a really tough time and you never really know how much someone may have needed a simple act of kindness.”