The first thing you might notice about Michelle Myles is that she is a woman. When Myles is written about, she is often referred to as a “female tattoo artist,” but you should judge the artist by the piece, not the gender. “I never wanted to tattoo like a chick,” she says. Myles is better at tattooing than 99 percent of the population, male and female. She owns New York City staples Dare Devil and Fun City, she competed on Tattoo Wars, and she has tattooed celebrities like Boy George and Joan Jett.
INKED: How did your journey begin?
MICHELLE MYLES: I got my first tattoo in high school and kept getting tattooed whenever I had a couple bucks in my pocket. I just kept hanging out in tattoo shops and that was what really got me started. I moved to New York in ’89 and started tattooing in ’91, but tattooing was illegal at the time so there weren’t any shops to work out of. I didn’t do your traditional apprenticeship or anything. I was working with some other tattooers underground and then we opened up East Side Ink. We had an apartment and created a studio in it, even though it was illegal.
Do you wish you had the opportunity to do a traditional apprenticeship? Yeah, probably. I think I still suffer to this day for not having had it. I think I’d be more efficient. I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff I’d do a lot better. Plus, I spent so many extra years of doing crappy tattoos for not apprenticing. That would have been great if I could have had a really knowledgeable hand to start me out.
Did you come to the city to be a tattoo artist? No. When I moved to the city in ’89, that wasn’t really a normal career option. It’s not like now when all the kids see it on TV and want to be a tattoo artist when they grow up. I mean in ’89, back then, it wasn’t something anyone would really consider. It was more of a profession for dirtbags and prisoners—which was probably part of the appeal. I moved to New York to go to art school, Parsons.
When you were at Parsons— I wasn’t really good at anything else but art. I was a poor student in other respects, like reading. I don’t really know what I had in mind. But I would say that the minute I started tattooing, pretty much any other sort of artistic notion went out the window. I was in love with it from the get-go. I just knew it was the right thing to do for me.
Do you think any of your fine art training seeped into your tattooing? No. If anything, I’d say that tattooing really taught me how to draw. In fine art you can do whatever you want, but in tattooing it’s more disciplined and things really have to be really nailed down to tattoo them on people. So it taught me how to draw in a more graphic, concrete sort of way. I guess less expressiveness and more rendering. So I would say tattooing really took over everything else. I mean, now, I can’t draw anything that doesn’t look like a tattoo.