Here we are, another year come and gone, and our last issue of 2021. And what a year it’s been! Plenty of ups and downs, steps forward, and tragic losses. We think it’s safe to say 2021 wasn’t quite what we were expecting, and it’s hard to know what will come in 2022. We hope this season brings you a chance to enjoy the moment, rest, and have fun. You've earned it! 

And speaking of the new year, we are switching things up in 2022 to a once-a-month schedule. We love putting this newsletter together for you—and it’s a ton of work! As women who work for ourselves, often doing several freelance jobs at once (and wouldn’t change a thing!), we want to find a balance that allows us more room to improve this content you’re reading here, with research, photography, and other necessary bits that we’d like to elevate. We’re also going to work on reaching more subscribers and boosting our funds so that we can bring you more women’s perspectives. So, hint hint, don’t be shy about sharing Parts & Labor with friends and family, and helping us get the word out!  

In this final issue of 2021, Niki talks to one tattoo artist about creating art in an empathetic and comforting environment, and Nia chats with a new business owner who’s helping people find calm in their homes and lives.
Reminder, if you like our work and support our mission of valuing the work that women do, please consider contributing, if you're able. Every little bit boosts our efforts to provide original, quality journalism and helps us grow in order to bring you more voices and stories. Thanks to those who've already pitched in!
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Leaving Her Mark

Tattoo artist Jen Martinez wanted to create a studio space she, as a woman, felt comfortable in. In the process, she found camaraderie with other creatives and conversation with clients beyond the ink.

For Bremerton tattoo artist Jen Martinez, the stories behind designs such as this one are only part of the experience. “I just think the ultimate connection I have made with people in an organic way, that transcends the actual tattoo process, has been super impactful and the most meaningful part of my job.” Photo by Jen Martinez.

To Bremerton tattoo artist Jen Martinez and her clients, a tattoo studio is much more than a place to get inked; it can be a kind of therapy session.

“I had a client recently where, you know, we were tattooing floral and some animals and stuff like that, but we were talking about our relationships with our fathers,” says Martinez. “A lot of the time, that’s what ends up happening.”

Much like your hair stylist or massage therapist, tattoo artists like Martinez often serve as a sounding board. In addition to the stories that go with the tattoos themselves, it’s often the rest of the conversation that sticks with her. 

“I did this big ornamental back piece,” says Martinez of one of her tattoos for a client. “That one was really special, because it made her just fall in love with her body again and, like, she was just so excited about it and how it made her feel in her skin. And that makes me happy.”

Those intimate, comfortable conversations are part of what went into Martinez’s vision when she thought about the vibe she wanted in her own shop after eight years of tattooing, four of those full-time. “I feel like tattoo shops are intimidating. I’m a tattoo artist, even when I get tattooed, I’m intimidated.”

Tattooing, she says, is a pretty male-driven niche. Nationwide, 71.3% of artists are men. “It’s kind of a bros club. And I don't say that disrespectfully to all the men in the industry. I have been tattooed by a lot of really rad men.”

But, she explains, she’s been disrespected by men in shops, too. And though she brushes those experiences off a little bit, “I just feel bad for them, like, that’s the mentality you have?”—it’s her clients’ experiences that bother her much more.

“I hear from my clients how uncomfortable men in the industry have made them and how they’ve made them feel like they didn't have control over their bodies; how they were shamed into getting things [tattoos] they didn't want or made to feel bad and awkward and all these things,” she notes, “And I don't think that just happens with men, I think that can happen with anybody.”

However, most of her clients do happen to be women—it wasn’t intentional, they seem to be most drawn to her style, she says—so, “When you hear a lot of the same stories, there’s a theme here and, you know, I just wanted to be able to provide a space that didn’t feel like that for my clients.”

She made the decision to open her own shop the same day she quit the shop she was in, back in 2020. That happened to be about a week before the statewide pandemic lockdown went into effect. “I was just like, ‘I just want to work in a place that feels like me and is just what I want it to be.’ And so I made that decision that day and found this spot I’m in now, went and saw it the next day, signed my lease by Monday and then on Wednesday, we went into quarantine.”

She got lucky—because she was going to take on some of the work that needed to be done on the space herself, she’d gotten a clause written into her lease that she wouldn’t have to pay rent until she opened. Opening day was more than a year later, last June. Martinez wanted to create a light, calming space and the quarantine time allowed her to really think through what she wanted.

The subsequent opening this year released a flood of pent-up inking needs. Martinez says that while she was always relatively busy—with clients having to book a month or two in advance—since opening her shop, it’s climbed to five or six months. She attributes it to a sense of urgency that people developed while having a lot of time to themselves at home—suddenly that tattoo people mused about getting “someday,” needed to happen now.

Martinez says she has always done a lot of family-related tattoos, birth flowers, and designs memorializing people; but lately clients seem to be exploring spirituality through tarot and astrology, which is all experiencing a resurgence as well.

It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with women in the industry, I’ve only ever worked with men. I never thought I would have the little community that I do and I never thought that it would be possible to have a shop with four people and we all genuinely get along ... They’re the lights of my life.

A full day for Martinez averages to about two tattoos—she gets into the studio around 9 in the morning and will be actively inking from about 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. At the end of the day, she’s tired. And while her clients are respectful, sometimes there can also be a sense of demand on her time.

“I know a lot of artists I talk to and I see, I think we’re all kind of getting to the point where we’re burnt out,” she says.

“People forget that we—and not even just tattoo artists, any type of creator—that we are also people, I’m not a machine that just creates tattoos all day, like my body hurts, my mind hurts, you know, my creative juices or whatever are not flowing 100% all of the time.”

She’s learned to set strong boundaries. “Having to set boundaries, bigger boundaries than I’ve had to set before with people has definitely made some folks show their behinds a little bit,” she laughs. “Yeah, that’s been a little rough.”

Boundaries help her hold space for clients, such as those in the healthcare field who are beyond exhausted themselves. “I think that I do an okay job of compartmentalizing well. So when people are talking to me, I’m able to kind of just listen and be there. I have a lot of clients that work in the healthcare field and the level of exhaustion that they have or, you know, what they’ve had to deal with, or themselves getting sick, or people they know getting sick and then just listening to them and their frustration about people not taking things seriously. [Those were] probably the most jarring stories I heard.”

When she initially conceived of the business, she was sure she’d work solo. But that’s not quite how it worked out. “I didn't want people in here with me originally, I wanted to work by myself. And then there was a point where I missed talking to other tattoo artists, I missed sharing ideas,” she says. Serendipitously, she subsequently met three other women, two tattoo artists (Kassidy Riker and Rachel Cook) and Mckinley, who became the shop assistant, who now share the studio space.

She’s a little bit shocked herself at how well it’s worked out and gets a little emotional talking about the women and the personality of the studio that has evolved. “It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with women in the industry, I’ve only ever worked with men,” says Martinez. 

“I never thought I would have the little community that I do and I never thought that it would be possible to have a shop with four people and we all genuinely get along. We’ve had little conflicts and we just sat and talked. It’s the most adult working relationship that we’ve been able to cultivate. They’re the lights of my life.”

As for the industry itself, she says, “I do think it's changing. I think that there’s a lot more people coming into tattooing or who have been tattooing, who are trying to make sure that the spaces they’re providing are as safe as can be for the clients. They’re calling out the people who are harmful in their community.” She says that clients, too, seem more mindful of what they’re looking for in a tattoo artist and less interested in getting a quickie walk-in piece done.

There are still people with that urgency, of course, but more who want to know who they’re working with and what their ideals are. “The most important part of your job is your customer, at least it should be,” she says. “And so, the most important part to me is to make sure they’re comfortable and they’re getting what they want. That we’re on the same page, both mutually respecting each other.”

Since opening her shop her way, Martinez says she’s happier than she’s ever been. “I feel like you can tell how much happier I am in my work. I loved my work before. But I can see a difference in how I’m creating,” she says.

“I have had people trust me with their stories and their bodies,” she says, and is grateful to get to share space with so many people from different walks of life who often confide in her. “I get the opportunity to talk about mental health with people who, in most other situations, have felt shame or embarrassed, and given them a space to know they aren’t alone.”

Martinez hopes her clients know they give back to her, too, positively impacting her day and her work. “I feel like our paths have crossed for a reason, and I’m overwhelmed by the serendipity of it all sometimes.” By Niki Stojnic

Prior to becoming a tattoo artist, Jen Martinez was a restaurant manager—so running her own business, particularly now in her own studio, was a natural progression. She knew exactly what she wanted: A light, calming space “that felt more like, when you walk in, you’re not really sure if you’re in a tattoo shop.” Photo by Katie Zumpano.

She Made It 

Who uses these tools in her business, launched this past fall? Tap the image to find out!


What we are seeing and doing this week/end

With Covid-19 variants still a risk, outdoor large event and indoor masking is in effect in the state of Washington—even if you are vaccinated. Protect the health and lives of your community and get vaccinated (including a booster) if you haven’t. We’ve highlighted some ways to support and engage with the community.

Anyone who has sought therapy knows how difficult it can be. The Seattle Times took a deep dive into mental health care access with a week-long article series. Naomi Ishisakas piece on finding culturally competent care, is a not-to-be missed doozy about the current overwhelming need and the games insurers play, such as with “ghost networks” of providers that arent actually available or don’t exist.

Check out “Seattle Nice,” a new podcast from PubliColas Erica C. Barnett, which also includes Sound View Strategies Sandeep Kaushik, and KUOW political reporter David Hyde (who acts as moderator and podcast editor) on Seattle politics, personalities, and issues.

Still need a holiday gift? Stop by the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Saturday December 18th from 12–5 p.m. for Black Love Market’s very first holiday market. In addition to presents and stocking stuffers from local Black vendors, expect music and dance performances, food, and Santa. 

Catch Northwest Film Forum’s Longest Night: Solstice Ceremony 2021 on December 21st and celebrate the longest night of the year with art, performances, movement, rituals and wellness activities. It's also a chance to bid a fond farewell to executive director Vivian Hua, who departs at the end of January.
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Parts & Labor · 4412 California Ave. SW · Seattle, WA 98116 · USA