Black excellence in tattooing deserves more attention. These artists come from cities around North America and their styles couldn't be more varied. However, as black artists in an industry too often thought of as by and for white people, they share a universal experience and make a powerful statement to aspiring tattooers: follow your creative inspirations, and people will recognize your talent.
Born in Sweden but finessed in Los Angeles, Miryam Lumpini is an artist to watch. Having established a style featuring bold color saturation with breathtaking natural inspiration, she's caught the eye of celebrity clients such as Jhené Aiko and Swae Lee.
This Calgary-based artist is making moves in the industry by crafting illustrative realism tattoos. Anderson is quickly gaining international attention for his stunningly colorful flair, and is currently one of the most coveted artists in Canada.
Poch is one of the best realism tattooers of this generation, hands (and anything else you want inked) down. He began his career at a street shop in NYC but has developed his expertise working in California.
"What defines me is my ability to be something more," he says, "I measure my wealth and success, not by money, but by my ambition and determination to be greater than yesterday."
While he's known for appearing on reality shows Ink Master, Black Ink Crew, and How Far is Tattoo Far, Kevin Laroy has proven through his impressive artistic abilities that he's more than just a reality TV tattooer. Take away the television narrative and you're looking at tons of talent. To aspiring black artists, Laroy says, "If they don't hear you knocking, kick the fucking door down."
Another cast member of Black Ink Crew and How Far is Tattoo Far, Melody has created a brand as a bohemian Jane-of-all-trades. On social media, she's not one to hide her political ideology, showing support for public figures such as Colin Kaepernick and Jussie Smollett.
In 2016, artist Anthony Michaels made history as the first non-white tattooer to take home the title of Ink Master. And based on his impressive skill set as a realism and black-and-grey artist, we can clearly see how he impressed the judges in season 7.
Doreen Garner is a Brooklyn-based artist using her work to support black communities. She recently started a tattoo project for Black History Month called "The Black Panther Project," in which 28 people get permanent designs to support black pride.
"The representation and support of black artists in the tattoo industry is an absolute necessity. As pioneers of body modification and tribal practice, it is essentially our birth rite as black people to carry out our traditions globally, especially in America where we have been stripped of our identity. It's time for our contribution to the culture of tattooing to be celebrated with equal enthusiasm as those who have appropriated it."
If you watched the last season of Ink Master, you'll definitely remember finalist Teej Poole. Teej is a highly skilled black-and-grey artist who made it all the way to the final two in season 11. His name is highly respected throughout the industry at large and he's maintained a presence in the tattoo world for many years.
When asked for advice, he says, "It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to that defines you."
In New York City, micro- and fine-line tattooing are some of the most sought after styles. And if you're looking for a great artist to execute a piece in these styles, look no further than Tony Christian. His skills shine on all skin tones and he's not afraid to modify his designs to fit the current trends.
"I think the representation of black artists is important in the industry because we've always been outcasts," he says. "From music to sports and many more occupations, you just don't see many of us. It's time for people to start seeing black artists' talents as well, so we can take our art further in our own communities."
Throughout his career in the tattoo industry, Craig Foster has made a huge impact in the new school style. He took his name to mainstream acclaim by appearing on seasons 3 and 6 of Ink Master, securing a spot in the final four of the latter.
"When I began my career in the spring of 1995, there weren't many black tattoo artists that I knew of," he recalls. "There was a very small group, under 10. I got my share of strange looks when people scheduled their appointment with no knowledge of my race. To move past that, I did my best to give them a great tattoo and experience. Those looks don't come these days, but my goal is still the same—great artwork and great experiences. That's what makes a tattoo 'timeless.' "
A specialist in the style of black-and-grey, Darnell Waine creates beautiful designs that tie back to his heritage. From Egyptian deities to big-n'-bold afroed pin-ups, Waine proves black is beautiful with every work he crafts.
Last, and anything but least, Katrina Jackson is not only a talented artist but a trailblazing businesswoman. She's the first black woman to open a tattoo shop in Beverly Hills and has since stoked her shop with a plethora of talented artists of color. She's an example of what is possible and how many artists of color today are making power moves in the industry.
"Black tattoo artists used to be looked down upon in this industry," she says, "but that's changing and it's partly my responsibility to keep that progression going. A lot of urban tattoo artists have settled for tattooing in their houses because it's harder to get into legitimate shops. I want to show what we can do when all the T's are crossed, I's are dotted and we come together to grow."
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