Artists: Ryan Ashley
What year did you start tattooing?
This March was my third year anniversary of doing my very first tattoo. In comparison to some of our industry giants, this is still the very beginning for me. I started at 24, later than most, but I’m happy that everything happened the way that it did. Starting at a later age has allowed me to learn the valuable life lesson of gratitude. And I realize that after having an entire life in a different career, the grass is so much greener on this side.
How did you get into tattooing?
Prior to tattooing I was a design associate at a private label fashion company in Manhattan. I have been an artist my whole life, being raised by a single mom who is an artist herself. I’ve longed to tattoo since I was a teenager but kept detouring myself into what I then thought was a more plausible career path. My logic was, “Well if I don’t get into the Fashion Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I will take it as a sign I’m not meant for this path and begin the life I truly would like to live and start a tattoo apprenticeship.” Then I got into the program. Upon graduating, my logic was then again, “Well, realistically jobs in this highly saturated industry are slim, so if I can’t find an entry level position in the next few months, that will be my sign, and I will finally begin my apprenticeship.” And then I landed a great job.
Do you have any special training?
My position in the fashion company was basically the company’s in-house artist. It was ideal for me; I worked full time with my hands creating, painting, designing, sketching and perfecting my Photoshop skills. And though I trained for years for this truly ideal position, I still always felt like the void wasn’t filled, and that this wasn’t the end of the road for me. So, I left Brooklyn where I had been for the previous five years and came back to my small hometown in Pennsylvania. Being in the art side of fashion for those years was honestly the most extensive, most thorough training I could have ever gone through. After apprenticing under a private studio’s appointment-only tattoo artist, I now treat tattooing in the same respect as all of my fashion training.
You have a very unique black and grey style. How do you describe your style?
There is one main motto that I stress to my clients: Tattoos should fit you like expensive lingerie that was made for your specific body. If used properly, tattoos can accent your curves and flow onto your features redirecting the eye however you’d like. I freehand marker a lot of my designs and try to follow the anatomical curves of the body for layout to ensure an organic fit, almost like a tattoo tailor. Through all of this, I have found my place in a void of feminine vision— tattooing intricate black and grey in our small town in Pennsylvania.
You used to work in color, but now work almost exclusively in black and grey. What led you to make that switch?
The shop experience very much was not for me. I feel as if tattooers fall into this life for many different reasons. My reasoning for choosing this life is simply the gratification of producing personalized art that will be adored and appreciated for life. Because of this, I have narrowed down the qualifications needed for both producing the best quality artwork I can truthfully guarantee for my clients, and also for my own happiness. So I left the walk-in shop atmosphere, and stopped doing color. I would rather tattoo in a quality over quantity mindset, more low key, providing artwork for the selective clients that seek me out because of my specific style and not simply because I am available. I see things the way that I see them—and that is in black and white, beautifully designed and one of a kind.
You also co-own the Strange and Unusual Oddities Parlor. What led you to open that up?
Last year, while searching for the perfect place to call my studio, my boyfriend and I decided to combine forces and entertain both our mutual interests in the weird and bizarre and the intimate, upscale tattoo studio I had been longing to own. So, we opened our oddities parlor, The Strange and Unusual. This was a whole new venture in itself. In the first few months until we acquired ample inventory, we displayed much of our personal collection and sold many pieces we were in some way attached to which has taught the both of us yet another valuable lesson in the gratification of letting things go. Now almost a year and a half after opening with much success, I am feeling very much like I have found my place. I am beyond thankful, grateful, and in awe every single day that this is the life that I live.