Michele, how did your style develop?
MICHELE WORTMAN: My style originated from being a collector and not necessarily resonating with the early work I collected. I started to assess it more and realized that I wanted something that was more unified, that had less weight to it, and that reflected more of how I was feeling rather than the styles that were available at the time.
Around when was that?
WORTMAN: It was around 1995 when I first got a half sleeve. I know that’s not very much coverage, but at the time it seemed it, because you didn’t really see women with the coverage you see now, and it felt like a big step. Then I got a chest piece a year later. My work had a fair amount of black in it, and I wanted something that felt lighter and a little freer. So I started getting lasered, getting rid of all the black in my ink so that I could reconstruct it, and during that period of time, I became a tattoo artist.
Would you say your style is more feminine?
WORTMAN: It’s interesting you should say that because originally I had wanted a half sleeve of flowers, and this girl looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “You would get that. How typical of you.” That bothered me, so I decided I would rebel against my feminine nature and get architecture, which is very masculine in my opinion, very manmade. The fact that i rebelled against my feminine nature in the beginning only to come back to it later was an interesting lesson for me—to be comfortable and enjoy things that might be associated with having feminine qualities and not try to fight it and be someone I’m not. That had a lot to do with the energy i was putting into my tattoo work, and that became my defining style.
Black is really part of the old-school tattoo tradition, black and bold. Have you ever been criticized for not following these tattoo tenets?
WORTMAN: Absolutely. I’ve been heavily criticized for my style. I’ve had people come up to me at tattoo conventions, slam my portfolio down, and tell me that what I was doing wasn’t tattooing. So I had a steep hill to climb, and I still feel like I’m climbing it. But if you believe in what you do, you need to stick with it.
Do you have a response to the technical critiques?
WORTMAN: I do have a response. Early on there was some validity to their assessment because I was just learning to tattoo and my work wasn’t as developed as it is now. It was definitely very experimental, not using black outlines. The black has a boldness to it, and it does seem that it stays in the skin better, so I can see their point. The thing is, work that is soft in contrast with a limited use of black needs multiple passes. If someone has a piece that doesn’t look so hot, it’s not necessarily because it won’t work. You really need to get that saturation and develop contrast over multiple sessions, since you don’t have a strong, bold line holding your design in place. It’s a different approach to tattooing, so it has its own flavor of rebellion in there, even though it may be viewed as a stereotypical feminine aesthetic.