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New York City has produced some of the greatest artists of all time—Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Lady Gaga, to name a few. Now we’re going to add one more to that list—Deanna Maffeo. Despite only having a few years of tattooing under her belt, Deanna is already one of NYC’s rising tattoo stars. We caught up with Deanna to learn how she began her tattoo career, her advice for getting an apprenticeship and where she’ll be in five years.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A vet, but it used to take me months to get over the death of my pets—hamsters, lizards, goldfish, you name it. So it’s better that I never went down that path. I would’ve been destroyed emotionally. Plus, I was always terrible at science and math.

What was your experience as an art student in NYC? Art school in NYC was definitely how the movies portray it. I went to LaGuardia for high school, famously known as the “Fame” school, and there were literally people singing and dancing through the halls. Then there were the art students, who were usually very quiet and peeking around corners—that was me. I was quiet, observant and very focused on bettering my craft.

How did you go about getting an apprenticeship? My dad went to a tattoo shop to get a half sleeve when I was 15 and he was getting portraits done of each of his kids. I, of course, was completely interested and I had never seen a portrait tattoo, or a good one at least. I went to his appointment with him and drew all of the portraits beforehand and I didn’t know anything about tattoos, so they were awful. I handed them to the artist with the intention of him using them and he kindly told me he works off of the actual photos, but my drawings were great. He asked me if I’d ever been interested in tattooing, and I told him if things like these portraits were possible, then absolutely. He offered me my apprenticeship right then and there. He told me to come back when I was 17 with a portfolio and I did just that. I was lucky; my apprenticeship found me.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists about getting an apprenticeship? RESEARCH. Research shops and artists you admire. Check out the shop and find out more information through people who have been there. Make sure it’s an environment you’re comfortable in and would like to work in because you’ll be spending A LOT of time there. You also want to be around artists creating work in the style you’d want to specialize in.

What are the most valuable experiences you had as an apprentice? My mentor was a very no-bullshit kind of guy. While I was apprenticing, I was still in high school and had a part-time job with my aunt’s decorating company. He made sure to keep me on track and there were no excuses when it came to the shop. When I was there, I was all in. I had to pretend like nothing else was on my schedule, while also still being on top of my game with school and everything else. He really taught me how to focus and balance everything.

How did you develop your signature style? My style mimics my art. I’ve been drawing and painting for years now and I’ve always been drawn to things with lots of little details.

What drew you to black-and-grey realism? I’ve always loved how black-and-grey looks on skin; aesthetically it was always the first thing to catch my eye. I did think I’d be a color realism artist in the beginning, seeing as all my paintings and drawings are filled with vibrant color. But tattooing is a completely different medium, so those rules don’t apply.

What are your favorite parts about doing pet portraits? Their little faces, all the expressions these little creatures have. And the stories their owners tell or just the fact that their humans love them SO MUCH that they get them tattooed on them. Anyone who loves an animal that much is my kind of person.