Last month we talked to Derek Entenmann, a tattoo artist and shop manager of the Painful Pleasures studio, Body Mod. This month’s Limelight featured guest is another talented tattoo artist from Body Mod, Ashley Reynolds. She may be young, but she’s fierce. She has a hunger to be a great tattoo artist – constantly pushing her limits and taking on challenges to be better than ever. Female tattoo artists are more common now as tattoos are more widely accepted than before, so it was exciting to sit down with one as fearless as Ashley.
Meeseun: What made you decide to pursue a career in the tattoo industry?
Ashley: I’ve always loved art – I’ve been drawing since I can remember. Getting told “no” a lot definitely drove me to it.
Meeseun: Getting told no?
Ashley: Yeah. When I was a kid, I watched my mom get her first tattoo and that’s when I said, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up.” I went through different phases as a kid. Maybe I want to be a vet. Maybe I want to be this or that. This one stuck because I got told, “You don’t want to do that.” By being told no, it just made me want to do it more. Seeing my mom get her first tattoo definitely made me curious about the industry. I never felt like I fit in anywhere as a kid. I was an outcast or the weirdo, so I didn’t think putting permanent marks on your body was weird at all.
Meeseun: Once you decided that that was what you were going to do, did you ever reach a point where you regretted or second guessed your decision?
Ashley: Before I started? Absolutely not. Nothing was going to get between me and this. But throughout my career, yes. It got to a point where I was like, you know what – maybe this isn’t for me. That’s what kind of drew me to go to school, but I still loved the industry and I definitely wanted to stick with it. I’m just glad that questioning it is what motivated me to go to school so that I could better educate myself.
Meeseun: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome?
Ashley: Getting told no… being a girl in the industry is always fun…
Meeseun: …I can only imagine
Ashley: ...and being young.
Meeseun: Being young? That makes sense. What you said actually leads into what I wanted to talk to you about – being a female. The tattoo industry is still a very male-dominated space.
Ashley: Right. It is.
Meeseun: Would you say you’re still being discriminated against because you’re a female?
Ashley: Not at all! I’ve only encountered it once throughout my entire career when I was trying to get a job. They said that I had several things going against me; they said, “You’re female and you’re young.” Those were the main reasons for them not hiring me, as well as a lack of experience. That was the only time that it was said to me directly that it was because I’m a girl that I wasn’t going to be hired.
Meeseun: So you’ve never felt like you had to prove yourself to anyone?
Ashley: I’m pretty hard-headed, so I guess I’m always trying to prove myself to myself.
Meeseun: That’s not a bad thing. Could you talk to us a little bit about your personal style of tattooing? I understand you like to do custom work, you’re into surrealism, horror…
Ashley: Yes, that’s the work I really enjoy doing. I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like to because I end up doing a lot more flowers and butterfly tattoos than I had hoped to do. I’d say my style is pretty with a gory twist –something you would not expect to have such a creepy twist to it. That’s a lot of fun. Taking something pretty and then having the reaction of, “Why would you do that?” Something unexpected.
Meeseun: Cool, and have you been able to work on custom pieces in that style?
Ashley: Yes, a few here and there. I’m always trying to improve and build up my clientele that way.
Meeseun: How did that become your style?
Ashley: That’s a really good question. I guess it’s because I don’t really care for flowers, bubblegum, and sunshine because life isn’t that way. It looks great on the outside, but it’s not always the best thing in the world – that’s just life. I feel like people can relate to my style, or at least I can.
Meeseun: That makes perfect sense, though. Life isn’t always pretty. Let’s talk about your process from consultation to execution for your custom pieces.
Ashley: I always like to discuss what the client is looking for as well as giving my own input. If there is any sort of background story or reasoning behind their idea, I always try to incorporate that. I really enjoy symbolism… in any style of artwork. Even if it’s just a subtle thing that nobody else would see, but that person knows it’s there and it means everything to them. I really enjoy doing work like that.
Meeseun: How do you know when to take on a challenge for a custom idea then?
Ashley: A better question would be when to say no to challenge. [laughs]
Meeseun: When to say no?
Ashley: I like to be challenged. It helps me learn.
Meeseun: So do you find yourself not saying no that often?
Ashley: Oh no, I will. I will definitely say no if it’s not something I feel comfortable with. But if I can do it, I really enjoy challenging myself. That’s how I get better.
Meeseun: Judging by what I’ve seen from your portfolio and our talk about your style, you work heavily with color. Do you have a preferred palette or enjoy some colors more than others?
Ashley: I enjoy bright colors. I also enjoy earthy tones. It really depends on what kind of piece I’m doing. I’m not even partial to black and grey. I enjoy it all, but I’m more comfortable with color. That’s for sure.
Meeseun: Do you notice a big difference between the ink brands you’ve used?
Ashley: Yes. Eternal Ink is my go-to brand because it’s consistent. The ink goes in nice and smoothly. I’ve never had any difficulty with it whereas in the past, other ink brands will look like it’s going in great and it heals horribly.
Meeseun: And it won’t hold up…
Ashley: Exactly. It’s not as vibrant. Ever since I started using Eternal, it was like, wow – what was I thinking before?
Meeseun: Do you get to see some of the tattoos that you’ve done in the past later on?
Ashley: Oh yes. No matter what ink brand you’re using, you really watch yourself grow in that aspect. Seeing what you’ve done when you first started and what you’re able to do now.
Meeseun: But your clients are happy with their tattoos, even back then.
Ashley: They’re happy, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy! [laughs] I guess it’s just being a perfectionist.
Meeseun: Right, you’re always your own worst or hardest critic. We will always see what we could’ve done better, regardless of how great the result is.
Ashley: Exactly. It’s all a learning experience.
Meeseun: Well, how long have you been tattooing?
Ashley: Seven and a half years..?
Meeseun: Seven and a half years and you’re 26 now, so you were about 18 or 19 when you started?
Ashley: Yeah, I was 18, but I was an apprentice when I was 16 going on 17.
Meeseun: How did you land that?
Ashley: Luck! It’s funny because my art teacher in high school went around asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. When he got to me, I said I wanted to be a tattoo artist and when he asked me what if I couldn’t do it, I said that I guess I just won’t have a job. It almost seemed like fate, which is weird, but the opportunity just landed in my lap. I went on a horrible train ride when I lived in Pennsylvania on a fluke with my family. It was the hottest, most miserable day ever. It was one of those historic train rides and I got off at one of the stops to get a drink from a nearby gas station. The guy at the counter goes, “You look like you should be part of a tattoo shop. My friend is opening one…” and I thought this guy was a complete joke. I gave him my number anyway, thinking I’ll never hear from him again. I had one real job before I started tattooing and the day after I quit that job, I received a phone call from that guy’s friend. The rest is history I guess.
Meeseun: That’s awesome! I’m finding out that there are a good number of successful tattoo artists out there that are who they are because of a small window of opportunity. Somehow the stars aligned and it worked out.
Ashley: I think if you stick with something, anything will work out.
Meeseun: True. So how did you come to join Body Mod?
Ashley: Again, luck! [laughs] I moved to Maryland in May 2014. Before I moved, I was looking for jobs so I would have something lined up and Body Mod happened to be hiring, so again it just worked out. I was in Florida before here.
Meeseun: Cool. So in closing, what insight would you share with other rising tattoo artists, especially younger artists and/or female artists?
Ashley: If it’s what you really want to do, then be sure. Don’t give up despite what people tell you, but you have to be all for it. You can never stop improving.
Meeseun: Right. Tattooing is definitely not one of those things you can approach half-assed.
Ashley: No, it’s not. You definitely have to stick to your guns and never give up. Don’t give up and practice, practice, practice. Oh, and never stop learning.
One key element that I’m noticing as I chat with these tattoo artists is their passion. Ashley’s dedication to learning and becoming better at her craft is unquestionable. It’s inspiring and relieving to know that the people we trust to leave permanent marks on our bodies are doing it because of their love for it. Ashley is an artist who wants to get in your head; she wants to hear your story because she will be able to create a truly meaningful piece of art for you. Check out more of Ashley’s work on her Artist’s Page at Body Mod, Instagram, and personal website. If you like what you see, be sure to schedule an appointment with her here!