Pittsburgh's Woman-Owned Tattoo Shops
A Harris Poll released in 2012 showed that—for the first time ever in the United States—women had more tattoos than men: 23% of American women had at least one tattoo, versus 19% of American men. Today, that gap is likely even wider. Getting tattooed is often referred to as a reclamation of one's own body, so it makes sense that more women are getting tattooed in today's world. Columbia University published a study in 2010 which showed only one in six tattoo artists being female. But, the times, well, they are a-changin’. In the eight years since that Columbia University study was published, the tattoo world has seen quite a shift when it comes to gender. With the launch of Instagram in late 2010, tattoo artists and tattooed people all over the world were suddenly able to digitally transport their ink and skills to anyone willing to look. This sparked a massive spike in the popularity of tattoo arts around the globe. Women, in particular, were—and continue to be—inspired to not only get tattooed, but to become tattoo artists. The once very male-dominated field of tattooing is seeing shift. More women are getting tattooed, more women are becoming tattoo artists, and—perhaps most significantly—more women are taking the leap to open their own tattoo shops. Pittsburgh, PA is home to a whopping 15 woman-owned or co-owned tattoo shops. In fact, there are more than 50 female or non-binary tattoo artists and apprentices working in the Pittsburgh area today. However, this is a bit of an anomaly. Many towns and cities across America don't have a single female tattoo artist, let alone a female-owned shop. While the tattoo industry is inherently difficult to get started in, these 15 women defied the odds and proved themselves to be key players in this city's tattoo scene. Their individual entries into tattooing have varied greatly. For some, they were lucky enough to have apprenticed in a safe environment, with positive influences and good teachers to guide them. For others, it was a turbulent journey to say the least. These are their stories.
CO-OWNER OF CURIOSITY SHOP
Located in Lawrenceville
Many folks may know Hannah Aitchison from the wildly popular TLC show, LA Ink, where she co-starred alongside tattoo powerhouse Kat Von D. Hannah and her husband, Scott White, opened Curiosity Shop four years ago. Part vintage store, part oddities shop, part custom tattoo parlor—Lawrenceville's Curiosity Shop is truly a Pittsburgh gem. Hannah began her tattoo career over two decades ago at a shop in a suburb of Chicago. The man who taught her how to tattoo, Craig Murphy, is someone Hannah is very grateful to have apprenticed under, "He has been a germinator for so many terrific women artists." Hannah remembers one day at the shop when a man came in to browse tattoo designs. She helped him decide what he wanted to get and explained the process to him. He chose a design, and Hannah said she would go get set up to begin the tattoo. The man looked at her—shocked—and said, "Oh… you’re gonna do this?" Craig— overhearing the conversation from the back—came out and asked what was going on. The man looked at him and said, "I didn’t know she was an artist!" Craig simply responded, deadpan, "She’s the best artist I have. You’re lucky to have her, she’s great." Today, Hannah says she still can’t say enough positive things about Craig, even over 20 years later, "He genuinely loves what he does. He doesn’t have negative things to say about people. He loves the business, he loves his clients, and that’s the kind of person you want to learn from. He was a great person for a woman to learn from, because I felt completely safe. That, as my first experience, kind of set me up to succeed. I felt like a peer from day one." Outside her busy Curiosity Shop, Hannah enjoys riding motorcycles with Scott, knitting, hanging out with her bulldog, Hank, and feasting on Pittsburgh’s booming food scene.
CO-OWNER OF BLACK CAT TATTOOS
Located in Lawrenceville
Powerlifter, mom, and tattooer Cara Cable owns Black Cat Tattoos in Lawrenceville with her husband, Jason Lambert. Originally opened in Oakland in 2009, Black Cat made the move to Lawrenceville’s bustling Butler Street in 2013. Cara began learning the art of tattooing from Jason in 2008. Cara feels very fortunate that she had such a wonderful teacher, her husband Jason. “He’s an incredible teacher. When I first started, there weren’t many women. Because I learned from my husband, it’s a little bit of a different experience. We did a lot of conventions in the beginning, so we would go to conventions, we’d tattoo, and a lot of times I wouldn’t get a handshake. Guys would talk to Jason and not me. It made me feel—not blatantly disrespected—but not respected.” The couple have dedicated their lives to tattooing, and pride themselves on treating their clients with kindness and respect while maintaining a professional work ethic, “It’s really important to treat people well when you’re tattooing. It’s not just about how good your tattoos are, it’s really about how you treat other people. I wasn’t expecting giving people tattoos to be as spiritual as it is, and as magical as it is—because it really truly is—if you’re open to it. And it’s an opportunity to learn from a person. I’m giving them something that I couldn’t do without them, it’s truly collaboration. I love that about tattooing.” Cara’s art style is bold, traditional, and timeless. Outside the shop life, she trains at Celli’s Fitness Center across the street, and has devoted much of her free time to powerlifting, fitness, and general badassery.
CO-OWNER OF LANTERN ROSE
Located in Lawrenceville
Jesse and Chris Churchfield opened Lantern Rose on Butler Street in 2016. Jesse began her tattoo career 13 years ago as an apprentice in her hometown of Erie, PA. In 2007, she moved to Pittsburgh where she worked at a shop on the South Side for a couple years. When talking about who has influenced her the most throughout her career, she credits female role models in the industry, “A lot of ladies. A lot of local people. I never knew girls could tattoo. It’s crazy how much it’s changed. Even when I started, 13 years ago, where I lived there were no female tattoo artists. I was the only one in Erie for, like, two years. It was hard. You deal with a lot of guys that aren’t very accepting. Some guys would come in and not want to get tattooed by me because I was a woman. But, once I moved to Pittsburgh, you started seeing the change. More women started tattooing. I think women are just getting more confident. Now, it’s crazy how many women are tattooing—in Pittsburgh, especially. It’s awesome!” Away from the shop, Jesse enjoys practicing daily yoga, working as a freelance makeup artist, and spending time with her Siberian Husky puppy, Apple. Succulents, gems, and a very-Lawrenceville exposed brick wall capture the welcoming essence of this boutique shop. Jesse’s art style is her own mix of crisp, bold lines, with a colorful, elegant, and feminine touch. Lantern Rose also offers microblading and permanent cosmetic services through the in-house La Marie Brow Club.
CO-OWNER OF PITTSBURGH TATTOO COMPANY
In a cozy, brightly lit tattoo studio in downtown Pittsburgh—adorned with colorful paintings, beautiful taxidermy, indoor plants, and even a roaring electric fireplace—Shannon Daley, co-owner of Pittsburgh Tattoo Company, shares her thoughts about the recent explosion of women taking the tattoo industry by storm. “Going to tattoo conventions now, there are so many more women working there,” she says. “I think a huge part of women being accepted in to it, is that tattooing is evolving to be so much more of an art form. It’s losing those hard edges. It’s becoming more detail-oriented. I feel like women are really good at multi-tasking, and doing that detail-oriented work.” Shannon graduated from art school in 2001, and has been tattooing for roughly 15 years. She has fine-tuned her art style to be a fascinating mix of bright colors, clean lines, and exquisite shading. “I had a rocky apprenticeship. You know, everybody’s got their story.” In January 2015, along with fellow artist Josh McQuade and his wife, Shannon opened Pittsburgh Tattoo Company downtown. “I love everything about tattooing, even the trying customers. My job’s awesome. I get the make art all day long, and make a living at it. It’s a whole experience—you’re not just doing a tattoo—you’re creating a memory with this person. So you want it to be the best memory possible.”
CO-OWNER OF THREE RIVERS TATTOO
Located in Millvale
Along with her boyfriend—Joe Bruce—and a collective of friends, Laine DeTillo opened Millvale’s Three Rivers Tattoo in 2016. The beautiful, bright, modern space has the feel of a high-end boutique. Dark-grounded floral wallpaper makes a splash on one wall, while colorful books, paintings, and house plants have been curated to accent an inviting lounge area. “We learned a lot about home improvement,” Laine laughs, “We did everything ourselves, the whole group of us.” Laine takes care to credit everyone involved with the process of opening the shop, stating that Three Rivers Tattoo is really the product of a group effort, with the seven people who work there operating more like a family than a group of friends. Although Laine says Three Rivers doesn’t have any intention of taking on a tattoo apprentice, she talk a bit about some of the “hazing” that often goes on during a tattoo apprenticeship. Laine recalls her own experience as an apprentice in 2012 and appreciates the hard work that comes with the unique experience, “I welcome the haze, I don’t care. It’s an apprenticeship, you should work for it. I told everybody, I was like: ‘I’m ready to work like a dog. I’m here to prove myself.’ You spend a lot of time cleaning and just watching people tattoo. If you really want it, you’re gonna go through whatever you have to go through.” During her downtown away from the shop, Laine enjoys spending time with her son, baking bread (especially sourdough), and exploring a variety of crafts. She also loves the outdoors and works part time at the new Patagonia store in Shadyside.
CO-OWNER OF PYRAMID TATTOO
Located in Bridgeville
After living and working in Hawaii for many years, Rachel Helmich and her husband, Craig Helmich, moved back to their hometown of Pittsburgh to open Pyramid Tattoo in 2015. Rachel was the winner of SpikeTV's Ink Master Angels, and recently appeared as a contestant on Paramount Network’s Ink Master Season 10. She talks about her experience appearing on television, and how the exposure propelled her art in the tattoo world, "I didn't expect any of that, because I don't like that kind of attention. It was very challenging and emotional and stressful. There are so many moving parts, so you can be effected in ways you never even thought possible. When they shows air, you don't know what you're going to see or how you're going to be portrayed. I was happy with how it turned out though. " Rachel has been interested in art all her life, and comes from a long line of creatives, “My family is full of artists, so it’s just in the family.” Rachel apprenticed under her husband Craig, and credits him for teaching her most of what she knows about tattooing. Rachel spends most of her time outside the shop with her husband and children. She laughs about it, “Children are first, and then tattooing and art.” Rachel’s art style is an eclectic mix of full color, black and gray, and line work in a unique painterly style. Tiki art, palm trees, candles dripping from wine bottles, Craig Helmich's distinctive metal artwork, bright walls, and a welcoming vibe, Pyramid Tattoo is a funky island oasis in the heart of Bridgeville.
CO-OWNER OF ATLAS & ANCHOR TATTOO
Located on the South Side
A brand-new addition to Pittsburgh’s explosive tattoo scene, Atlas & Anchor Tattoo opened in December 2017 by husband and wife Trisha and Judah Helsel. The Helsels relocated from Erie to Pittsburgh three years ago. Trisha always wanted to be a tattoo artist and is currently apprenticing and learning the trade with the guidance of Judah, who has eight years under his belt as a professional tattooer. Trisha has an accounting degree and decided to bring her financial skills in to the tattoo business so she and Judah could open their own shop. “My husband was like ‘You run the business end, and I’ll just tattoo,’” she laughs. “I’ve always wanted to tattoo. I’ve always been super interested in art and tattooing since I was really young. After college, I started working the front desk at a tattoo shop in Erie, and keeping up with my art, drawing and painting. Then I met Judah, and we started dating and he started showing me things, and I started doing apprentice-type things. I was tracing all the time, getting used to the weight of a machine and all that.” Since opening their shop on the South Side just a few months ago, Trisha has been dedicated to honing her drawing and painting skills, while simultaneously running the shop. She hopes to be officially begin tattooing by this summer.
OWNER OF GYPSY TATTOO PARLOR
Located in Lawrenceville
Michelle Joy is the woman behind one of Pittsburgh’s most important tattoo shops, Gypsy Tattoo Parlor. Michelle’s staff is made up of all women, non-binary, and trans artists, making it the only one of its kind in the city. Located near Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville, Gypsy strives to make tattooing a positive and pleasant experience for the client. Because of the many ups and downs she had during her climb as a young tattooer, Michelle knew she wanted to create a safe place not only for people to get tattooed, but also for people who are working as tattoo artists and apprentices in her shop, “I’m trying to make the journey better and more collaborative. I knew that I could at least offer a safer space, and that was always part of why I did this. A place where you can bring whoever you love to hold your hand while you get a tattoo. It was a desire to make tattooing better, and to be able to say that I did it.” Michelle has done a tremendous job of fostering a safe environment for our city’s disenfranchised young artists. Gypsy is the only tattoo shop in all of Pittsburgh with an exclusively woman, non-binary, and trans staff. “Soon, the norm will be to come into a shop where you know that someone cares about you and is really focused on you and on giving you a beautiful experience, as well as a really good tattoo. That was at the core for me—for opening this shop—just wanting a place that was super inclusive and safe,” she says. Gypsy is a place where the approach to tattooing is truly being revolutionized. “It’s so very important that the person you’re tattooing feels safe and nurtured through the experience. You’re not this canvas, and you’re not this thing that is about my art. It’s about you as a human,” says Michelle. Her feminine art style is a unique blend of illustrative, organic line drawings with a bit of color here and there. Michelle grew up in Pittsburgh, but spent time living in New York and Los Angeles, where she honed her skills as a professional tattoo artist.
Located inside Oakland’s premiere purveyor of magickal arts—Hocus Pocus—13 Needles Tattoo Studio is one of Pittsburgh’s most unique tattoo shops. In addition to custom tattoo work, this shop offers herbs, incense, oils, gemstones, statuary, and tarot cards in a wonderful old-world setting. “I wanted to be a tattoo artist all my life, since I was a child.” says owner Kalevi. Erin Lambert, co-owner of Bloodeagle Tattoo Studio in Oakland, is the person Kalevi credits with giving her the chance to apprentice under him, and to become the tattoo artist she is today, “He was a great teacher, an excellent teacher. I owe my tattooing skills to him. I was very lucky in my apprenticeship… Because, a lot of women who are trying to get in to this field, men will take them on and they’ll want to use the woman for sex and things like that. Maybe I’m lucky, but I have not run in to any sexism against me in my tattooing.” Ritual tattoos are something particularly exclusive to this shop, “I offer what we refer to as ritual tattooing, some people call it soul tattooing.” Kalevi provides this one-of-a-kind service to people who might be interested in a different tattoo experience, “We do a consultation with them—or we do a reading—to figure out what kind of tattoo they need, depending on what’s going on in their life. When I tattoo a person, I really try to focus in on their energy. It’s very spiritual.”
CO-OWNER OF BLOOD EAGLE TATTOO STUDIO
Located in Oakland
Amber Lambert got her apprenticeship in 2003, “It was in a super seedy, pagan-biker run shop. It was all guys. They were just shitty people. The guy who I was apprenticing with, I think was more in to me as just a sexual conquest. It was a weird entry into tattooing.” Amber was able to get far away from that world, and today owns Blood Eagle Tattoo Studio in Oakland with her husband, Erin Lambert. Each month, the owners and artists of Blood Eagle host an event to benefit a charity they support. This month, they will be working with Pittsburgh Prevention Point—a harm reduction organization—to combat the opioid epidemic. On Sunday March 25th, Blood Eagle will be offering $40 flash tattoos, and 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Prevention Point Pittsburgh. Amber loves this new dawn that is happening in Pittsburgh's tattoo scene, but it doesn't come without surprise, “It’s crazy to think there are fifteen of us now, that’s fucking nuts. That’s so exciting!” When she is not working very busy at her shop or managing the Morningside Soccer Association, Amber likes to garden, spend time with her kids, and work on custom paintings.
OWNER OF ECLIPSE TATTOO
Located in Springdale
Christan Miller opened Springdale’s Eclipse Tattoo in January 2018, making her the most recent addition to Pittsburgh’s rapidly growing woman-owned tattoo shop scene. She tried to get in to tattooing eight years ago, and, like many women, had a very tough time trying to push her way in to this industry, “Tattooing isn’t something that you just walk in to. It took me six years to even get in to tattooing. A lot of shops just use you, and then they kick you out.” Christan had a tumultuous, uphill climb to achieve the independence and success she has in her career today, “It was a really, really long journey. It was a little extra rough on me trying to get my foot in the door. I think one, because of my color, and two, because I’m a female. Every shop I went to was very male driven. There were a few instances where I got called racial names. I’ve had my hair pulled, I’ve been choked… Just to be intimidated, to be told that I need to have thick skin.” Although the war is not yet won, she acknowledges that times are changing for the better, “I feel like it has changed a lot, I feel like there are a lot more women. We’re starting to try to just take over, almost. My clientele is like 97 percent women.” Christan specializes in one-of-a-kind free hand watercolor, dot work, and black and grey. Eclipse is one of the very few 100 percent female owned and operated tattoo shops in the area.
OWNER OF WYLD CHYLD
Located in Brookline
Sarah Miller has successfully made a name for her self in the tattoo world, and is easily one of Pittsburgh’s most well-known working tattoo artists today. From the first moment Sarah picked up a tattoo machine, she knew it was her calling, “It wasn’t like anything I’d ever felt before. It was like an extension of my arm. It was so perfect.” Although originally from New York City, Sarah considers herself a Pittsburgher now, “I came here in 2004 for college. The first time I visited the city, it was just like homey and peaceful and everybody was great. I feel very at home here. Once I came here, I never ever thought about moving.” After appearing on—and nearly winning—SpikeTV’s Ink Master Season 2 in 2012, Sarah’s career skyrocketed. Today, she has over 300K followers on Instagram, and fans all over the world. Sarah continues to travel regularly for conventions, appearances, and TV shows; and recently returned from a trip to Chile where she was met by a massive fan base. For Sarah, tattooing has become fully and completely her life, “Sometime in the year or so after Ink Master, something changed. Tattooing became more than just a career or a passion… it became my life. I dream about it. Everything goes back to tattoos, it really is my life.” Sarah specializes in highly detailed photo-realistic portrait tattoos, using lots of shading and beautifully blended colors.
OWNER OF RAVENWOOD COLLECTIVE
Located in Lawrenceville
Allie Oxenblood, along with her cousin Sherry Miller, opened Ravenwood Collective a little over a year ago in Lawrenceville. Allie has been tattooing for seven years, and was very happy to be able to open her own shop here in her hometown of Pittsburgh. “Right after I finished my apprenticeship, I started working for Sarah Miller, and that’s when I feel like my tattooing career really started.” Allie reflects back to the rocky time before her career fully launched, when she apprenticing under another artist, “It feels like a different lifetime ago. There was a point where my apprenticeship broke me down and I wanted to quit. I felt like, if these are the types of people that are in the business, I don’t think I want to be a part of it.” Allie took a step away from tattooing for a year to reflect about the industry as a whole. She soon realized that becoming a tattoo artist was too important of a dream for her, and she didn’t want to just quit and let the bad guys win. “For a little while there, anger and spite were real drivers for me to push forward with my art. Now that I have an apprentice of my own, I get to pass on positive experiences to her and make sure she doesn’t go through some of the things I had to go through, which feels awesome.” Part gallery, part tattoo studio, Raven Collective boasts an impressive inventory of locally made artwork, jewelry, and other goods, along with a very talented and friendly group of tattoo artists.
OWNER OF SOUTH SIDE TATTOO
Located on the South Side
Veronica Ray opened South Side Tattoo in 1997, becoming the first woman in the state of Pennsylvania to own her own tattoo shop. At the time, Veronica was the only female tattoo artist in all of Pittsburgh—which makes her a true trailblazer for women in the world of tattooing, especially here in the steel city. “Finally, there are becoming more female tattooers, which is really nice,” she says. Then adds, “Not until the early to mid-nineties did women actually start getting tattooed. Before that, it didn’t really happen that much.” Although she opened her shop at a time when very few women were tattooing—let alone owning their own shops—Veronica says she was met with a huge amount of warmth and welcoming from the city, “It was great! It was received better than we could have ever imagined.” South Side Tattoo is unique in the fact that is a three-generation establishment, Veronica explains, “My mother’s a body piercer, I’m a tattoo artist, and two of the three other tattoo artists are my sons.” Veronica absolutely loves what she does, and has a hard time envisioning what life might be like if she wasn’t tattooing, “I like meeting all the different kinds of people I tattoo,” she says with a huge, warm smile. Veronica’s works in a wide variety of tattoo styles, making her a staple for many people around the area to get tattooed by. Traditional, tribal, black and grey, color, portraits, you name it. Anything you might want, Veronica is your girl.
SARA EVE RIVERA
OWNER OF PMA TATTOO
Located in Dormont
Sara Eve began her tattoo career ten years ago in her hometown of State College, PA, where she worked the front desk at a local tattoo shop. “I worked there for over two years learning how to manage and maintain the studio at the front desk, then ventured on to Pittsburgh to find a chance at apprenticeship,” she says. Like many other women who have their sights on becoming a tattoo artist, Sara Eve experienced a rocky few years trying to get her foot in the door as an apprentice. “When you get an apprenticeship, sometimes people assume that’s going to mean something else, too. I’ve gone through multiple apprenticeships with this misunderstanding of what I was hired to be, or to do,” her expression is telling as she says this, making it all too clear what she means. “I’ve been told that a woman’s place is at the front desk. Or, a woman’s place is on the front of tattoo magazines, not inside of them. It’s kind of like saying ‘You can pose in your underwear and show off your tattoos, but you can’t be an artist who is mentioned inside that magazine.’ Even when female artists are mentioned inside a magazine, their pictures are often taken in their underwear.” PMA Tattoo, which opened in October 2016, stands for Positive Mental Attitude. In an uncertain world, Sara strives to bring positivity in to her shop to provide a safe environment for her clients. This outward expression of kindness is a welcome relief to experience in a tattoo parlor. During the rare downtime away from her shop these days, Sara Eve delights in a variety of hobbies, “I love reading, brunch, tabletop games and going to Phipps Conservatory. And of course, DOGS!” - PMA is 100 percent female owned and operated.
Pittsburgh, in particular, seems to be somewhat of a safe haven for female tattooers and woman-owned shops. While the environment still isn’t as safe as it should be, progress is being made. It is quite incredible to see the strength, perseverance, and talent these 15 women possess. Running a business is no small feat, yet each of these women are doing so much more than just running a business. They are all avidly involved in their community. 9 of them are mothers. Several of them participate in monthly fundraisers, where 100% of profits from tattoos that day benefit a charity. They are fostering a new, safe environment for female and genderqueer tattooers in our city. That, coupled with their drive to provide a positive experience for their clients, is truly helping to change the tattoo world for the better. As Pittsburghers, we are very lucky to have them.
HUGE THANK YOU TO ALL THE AMAZING WOMEN WHO PARTICIPATED IN THIS PROJECT. YOU ARE CHAMPIONS!
If you know any woman-owned tattoo shops in the Pittsburgh area that are missing from this list, please contact Kat at firstname.lastname@example.org