How does an artist socially distance when their job requires them to be within close range of another person? Most tattoo shops have reopened with protective precautions but how has that affected the tattoo industry? And ultimately, the artists? Hayley Osborn interviewed tattooist Cassandra Knox of Oleander Tattoo in Ravenswood about her experience and what ink enthusiasts can expect moving forward.
What was your experience with shelter-in-place?
I had just opened the studio in January, so it was new for me to have my own private space. Myself and my co-worker Sydney both decided early on to close up shop because all of my family is in New York. The more I was hearing, the more I knew that was going to be the turn of events here. So I was like, “Let’s just be safe because this is out there.” And it was terrifying. I found the space, worked out a lease and started taking clients. But being a new business and being told two months in that you can’t work was terrifying.
How is the tattooing experience different now?
We stagger appointments so it’s no more than two working at a time. In terms of people not being able to bring other people, we were already enforcing that before there was a pandemic. When I tattoo, I don’t want anybody else in the area besides the person getting tattooed. It’s more sterile that way. It’s a very intimate thing that is happening between a tattooer and their client and it’s almost distracting to have another person around. Also the mask thing is so strange. We’re just trying to do everything as safely as possible… but it’s strange. When I have consultations with people I’ve never met you can’t even really see what your client looks like because they have a mask on the whole time. That’s why we rely very heavily on verbal cues here, we all check in on our clients periodically to see that they’re okay.
Have you seen any trends since you re-opened?
Just the sheer volume of people wanting to get tattooed right now is insane. Every tattooer that I’ve talked to is having the same issue right now, everybody wants to get in at once. Folks have just gone a little stir-crazy being at home. So everybody wants a haircut, everybody wants to get their nails done, everybody wants a tattoo, because these are things that we haven’t been able to do for months.
Is there anything about the tattooing experience that you want readers to know?
I’d like to touch on the whole intimacy thing. Part of what we’re seeing more of now is private studios that are inclusive, comfortable. You’re coming by appointment-only, you’re not in a shop surrounded by a bunch of dudes ogling. People are starting to realize that with the tattoo and the permanence of it there also needs to be a good experience. I have tattoos on my body that are gorgeous and flawlessly done but the person was harsh or the experience sucked and I will always tie those experiences to that piece. We need to give people more comfortable spaces where they can get tattooed. That was part of my reasoning for wanting to open a studio, I was like, “It doesn’t have to be like this.” Somebody can come in and have a really wonderful experience and not be bullied into getting a design they don’t want, or body-shamed or talked to like a dummy. In Chicago, we’re super-fortunate because there are so many talented artists and so many cool queer, women-owned businesses opening up that are creating spaces that are comfortable.