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The Art of Being a Mother and a Tattooist: A Chat with Julia Carlson

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Almost five years ago, I interviewed Julia Carlson for the first time. She was on Ink Master Season 5, and my wife and I ran into Julia at a bunch of conventions and we stayed in touch. On Sunday, May 24th, 2015, my wife and I were leaving Numero 28 in NYC and Julia called me crying. Her husband had overdosed and died. I was wondering how this young fragile woman was going to hold up. 

Three years later my wife and I met Julia in New Hope, Pennsylvania for dinner. She brought her sons with her and I remember thinking, "Uh-oh." My fears were allayed as Julia's sons were two of the most polite, well-mannered children I had ever met. 

How is this possible? Recently on a warm night in April, I decided to find out.



Dan Lorenzo: How did you find the strength to go on after your husband passed away?

Julia Carlson: I really had no choice because I have my two boys to take care of. Even though you want to give up, you can't. When you have children, you don't have that option. You have to be that "pillar of strength" for them, so I had to pull everything in me together every day just to keep going. They're looking to me to see how to act. If I would have fallen apart, they would have fallen apart. We still talk about it every day in one way or another. I think that that's helped all of us get through it together as a family.

 

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Before I called you, I texted you and you wrote, "Give me a few minutes. My dog rolled in poopy and I'm washing him off." Do you ever get a break, Julia?

[laughs] I get a break [laughs] between 10PM and 6AM, and that's usually when I'm drawing tattoos for the next day. [laughs]

 

So, there's not much sleeping?

No, but when I'm drawing I watch The Golden Girls, so that's nice. I look forward to that. That's my time.

 

How did your children become so well-mannered?

I’ve always tried to instill a good sense of manners in my children. My parents always prioritized manners, and I suppose I’ve passed those teachings onto [my children] just by being their example of respect. Kids are little sponges; they mimic everything you do, and I’ve always been mindful of that. I feel like it’s important to teach them to treat others how they would want to be treated.

 

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Switching topics. I think you're an even better artist now than you were when you were on Ink Master. How did you continue to get better?

I painfully scrutinize every tattoo and piece of artwork that I do. I suppose I’m my own worst critic, as most artists are. It’s like a bittersweet curse; you nitpick, rip apart the pieces you do, no matter how great they are because you’re never satisfied, but it results in constant progression. I obsessively work on my craft and my artwork. Even when I’m not at the shop, I’m working on my artwork, playing with new styles, playing with new ideas. The tattoos I did on the show look like a completely different artist did them. I’m so different now; I never want to stop growing.

 

What equipment do you use?

I use a Cheyenne power supply and Cheyenne Hawk pen. I also have the Cheyenne Thunder and the Cheyenne Ego, but I always go back to the pen just because I love it — that machine changed my whole style of tattooing. I also use Peak needles and Fusion ink for color work. My black and grey is Dynamic ink. For aftercare, I swear by Recovery Derm Shield. That stuff changed my life; it heals everything perfectly with no fuss! 


Check out more of Julia's work on Instagram @JuliaCarlsonTattoo.

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