A Female Operated Tattoo Shop Without the Ego
Photography by Rocsi
Brooklyn, NY - In April 2017,"Nice Tattoo Parlor" on 493 Court Street in Carroll Gardens, opened its doors for the first time. The tattoo world didn’t see this coming. A fresh-new attitude, without the ego. There’s no punk or heavy metal that blast obnoxiously from the speakers. Just a warm welcome from the heavily tattooed co-owner and tattoo artist Jessica Dwyer, when you enter the shop. There’s no tattoo flash hanging off stormy grey walls. Instead, the walls are dressed in a crisp, enamel shade, highlighted by white iridescent ceiling lamps. There are abstract and fine line artwork, as well as different size round mirrors decorating the walls, but besides that, the shop is kept simple and neat in a retro-look.
Responsible for the interior of “Nice Tattoo,” is Jenny Capano (34), one of the owners, who’s in charge to make the shop look nice, but also to differentiate from the average tattoo shop known to mainstream-America. With the help of her sister, Christy, Capano carefully collected everything displayed.
“We had a concept of working with friends, so we reached out to a few to start bringing some of their pieces in,” Capano says. “For example, textiles [are] from Caroline Z Hurley, plant installations [are] from Fox Fodder Farm, and art pieces [are] from Lizzie Fortunato's Fortune Finds.”
This place has it all, except - a nasty know-it-all attitude. A Tattoo shop that wants to change the scene; from gritty to nice.
The lounge area greets with two plushy ‘70s style-inspired sofas, that face each other, complementing the otherwise bare, white floors. Before you enter the “tattoo area” a vintage bar cart with a sign that reads “Be Nice” and a pile of polaroids of tattooed clients, that remind of a fun time, not of awaiting pain or angst, catches the eye. If the throat is dry and the mind raises, refreshments are ready to be served from the baby-blue retro fridge across from it.
“I've been bringing on different collaborators to the space,” Capano says. “Now I’m taking more a leading role in streamlining the process and making sure the shop can run at its best.”
It’s 12:30 p.m. on a rainy afternoon and Dwyer is ready to do her next tattoo. A roller coaster of pleasure and pain for the customer. Although petite and feminine, the Jersey girl works fast, and heavy-handed. Her style mostly represents traditional, with thick and bold lines and bright colors, but also neo-traditional, the combo of realism and bold colors and outlines of American traditional. Often times with a feminine touch, but Dwyer also does a lot of fine line work, like lines, circle, and dots. A design simple to the customer, but a challenge to the artist. A new style that has been in high demand thanks to new trends displayed on social media.
“I really like doing traditional, but I like doing it with a little bit of a girly spin. I love using pink. Pink is my favorite color to work with. And I love neo-traditional, although I don’t do neo-traditional really,” Dwyer says. “It’s hard to say, I don’t have a definitive style because my clients are so diverse. They don’t come to me for one thing. I do a lot of fine line work [and] I do a lot of traditional. Here specifically, I do a lot of fine lines. So I’d say 'traditional' and 'fine line' are my two stronger ones.”
Jessica Dwyer in her element
Since veganism is the “new black of 2017,” Dwyer also uses vegan ink, which she declares that most inks these days are vegan, to begin with. Her go-to brands are Eternal and Solid Ink, which the latter is the project of famous tattoo artist Chris Garver (TLC'S Miami Ink, Invisible NYC).
Shop owner Robert Boyle found Dwyer on social media as he was in search for a partner, that knew the scene. and offered her the position as co-owner since Dwyer is the one with the tattoo experience and the clientele. He decided the tattoo scene could use a change into a different direction, to step away from the mainstream “bad boy biker” image, he enjoyed the idea of “fresh & friendly.”
“I found Jes online through Instagram while I was looking for a tattoo partner, and immediately knew she was the best,” Boyle says. “I always want to make spaces where people are nice to each other, and we felt like the tattoo industry had enough room in it for a different sort of shop in terms of design and hospitality.”
Witty, but nice, the Long Island girl from a small town called Hauppauge in Suffolk County, resembles a girly biker-chick, on a unicorn. Friendliness is her ultimate weapon, but if she has to tell off someone, she’ll do it with charm. Dwyer’s passion for makeup and fitted clothes is hard to miss, and the heart tattoo with the name “JonBenét” says it all. Dwyer is a girlie-girl with an edge.
Known to many by her artist name “Zoey Ramone,” Dwyer wanted to rebrand herself when she started to work at “Nice Tattoo,” and went back to use her legal name. Dwyer's Instagram account changed as well and matured with her. In the process to fill the shop with talented artists like herself, she relied on her social media, instead of Craigslist to directly connect with customers and other artists.
“Everybody is so nice,” Korean tattoo artist Hannah Kang (29) says. “I was following Jes’ Instagram, and saw her post that they are hiring female tattoo artists.”
“GRL PWR” which is tattooed across Dwyer’s knuckles and is short for “Girl Power,” says enough. “Nice Tattoo Parlor” is not just a friendly place, different from the gritty tattoo shops most people are familiar with, but it’s also heavily-female occupied. Aside from Dwyer, and Kang, shop girl Kat Pinheiro (35) , which is Dwyer’s- and Kang’s right hand, occupies the shop. The only male presence at times is Boyle.
“I feel very humbled the vast majority of the time,” Boyle says. “Because female tattoo artists and female clients have it so much more difficult in the industry. So the fact they're ok with me sharing a space with them is a credit to them and I appreciate it.”
The concept of “Nice Tattoo Parlor” was simple; just be nice. Boyle shared his idea with Dwyer, and Capano who he met through her husband, and they instantly hit it off. The feeling was mutual and it felt organic to start a business together.
“Everyone that I spoke to, that has tattoos or has been in a tattoo shop has had the experience of walking into a shop being very intimidated and sometimes you are not really greeted with the most friendly people,” Dwyer says.” I know for me I left a shop on a few occasions because the vibe was just like, they were belittling me for what I wanted to get. So basically we just wanted to create a safe kind of, comfortable atmosphere, that no one feels awkward about walking into. Because, first of all, women mostly get tattooed. It’s way more women than men, yet most shops are so like dude-heavy.”
Besides the heavy female clientele that “Nice Tattoo” receives, Dwyer also gets a lot of tattoo-virgins, who she wants to make sure are relaxed and comfortable, so being positive and nice plays an important role. According to Dwyer, she wouldn't tell a customer not to get something they really want, unless the idea is unable to be transformed from paper to skin.
“I do a lot of first tattoos, so we get a lot of people that are very, very nervous and don’t know what to expect, so we just try to have it ‘be chill’ and calm,” Dwyer says. “It’s an invasive and intimate thing. We just want to make sure people feel comfortable.”
The 33-year-old got her first tattoo when she was 18, but knew she wanted to tattoo since she was five years old. Dwyer started her tattoo career 11 years ago, six of them as a professional tattoo artist. The Ex-bartender of “The Levee” in Williamsburg, tried out her luck by befriending the local tattoo artists from “Flyrite Tattoo,” who guided her into the direction of the well-known tattoo shop “Three Kings” in Greenpoint.
“My best friend growing up, her grandfather was covered in tattoos, and I was just like ‘show me your tattoos’ like every single day,” Dwyer says. “And I knew as soon as I’ll turn 18, I was getting tattooed.”
Shopgirl Pinheiro (35) knows Dwyer for over a decade and helps out part-time. The mother of two, who has a regular 9 - 5 job during the week as a teacher, enjoys to help customers at “Nice Tattoo” on the weekends.
“I’ve known Jes for 10+ years and I’ve seen her grow as an artist,” Pinheiro says. “I really love working here, cuz it’s not like any other tattoo shop in New York. It’s not grimy, it’s all women, it’s empowering. It’s all about being nice to your customers, so it’s a lot different than what people would expect.”
Although “Nice Tattoo” is still relatively new to the scene, the business is booming. Boyle, Dwyer, and Capano already have plans for the near future, one of them is their “Brooklyn Made” organic tattoo balm, which contains shea butter and essential oils, and is now available at the shop. Like many tattoo artists focus on their art or create merch, “Nice Tattoo” wants to brand itself in a different direction. That also includes the opening of sister shops, not just in New York, but also in Paris.
“We want to eventually make our own inks, make our own aftercare lotions and maybe even our own numbing cream,” Dwyer says. “So we’re in the very, very, very early beginning stages. And when I say early - like very - we are talking about it. So yea we got some simple plans in the works, [it ’s] just a matter of time.”
Although “Nice Tattoo” is heavily feminine, it doesn’t discriminate against the other sex or other tattoo shops but tries to distinguish from the mainstream, gritty, mean, hardcore scene most shops still represent. Dwyer and her team don’t look at themselves being better, just nicer.
“There’s nothing wrong with other shops, obviously. We just trying to do something slightly different,” Dwyer says. “Like I love going to a shop and getting that ‘tattoo shop feeling’ with bikers and stuff. But I just wanted to have something a little different, something for everyone."