All right, ladies and gentlemen let me introduce a woman who needs no introduction: Marisa Kakoulas, THE great Marisa.
When she replied to my email some time ago, I was like a kid in a candy store. Oh well, basically like myself in a tattoo shop! And after reading this interview, I am sure you will love her even more. Thank you so much Marisa, you played (and still play) an important role in my life choices, not only tattoo related.
I discovered your blog when I was almost 14. Now, more than ten years later, can you tell me how it all began? And how would you like to go on in the next 10 years?
That’s great! So happy you’ve been on this tattoo kick with me for so long!
I started writing about tattoos online, I guess around 2002 or 2003, for BMEzine.com when I decided that I was going to get a full bodysuit and wanted to share all those experience that come with changing your body in big ways.
It was also a wonderfully bizarre time of my life, where I worked at a conservative international law firm in Brussels, Belgium, and spent the rest of my time at my then-husband’s tattoo studio Calypso Tattoo, and also traveling to tattoo conventions.
I had a lot of crazy stories, plus I was learning so much about tattooing, from the ancient to contemporary, and wanted to tell people, “Look at this cool stuff I found!”
In 2005, I founded the Needled.com tattoo blog with Josh Rubin of CoolHunting.com, which became popular really quickly; then, we sold it to an interactive media company a year later, and I stayed on as editor until 2009, when I went on my own and formed Needlesandsins.com, which I run as a one-woman show, with some awesome guest bloggers, today.
Needlesandsins.com has always been this personal fan-girl love of tattoos site. It’s my hobby. I don’t make a profit off it. I do it for fun between my time working as a lawyer here in NYC. And because I don’t rely on it to pay my bills, I don’t have to do things that make an easy buck, like dumbing down content into lists or using sexy photos of young tattooed girls to get “Likes.”
It can just be about good tattooing. Your site is just like that, which is why I love it too.
So, where does it go in ten years? No idea. Right now, my biggest project is a baby girl growing inside of me. [It’s pretty exciting to watch my tattooed belly getting bigger and bigger.]
What I’d love to see in ten years is the eradication of sexism and objectification of women in the tattoo world, and the world at large, especially as I bring a young woman into it.
I watched a video of you on YouTube, about the social perception of the tattooed woman..and I loved it. Do you think something is changing for the better? What does being a tattooed woman mean nowadays?
Thanks! Things are changing for the better in that more people are calling out tattoo media and event organizers about things that ain’t cool.
I, and many other women and men, won’t work and attend conventions that disrespect women, for example, those that over-promote the strippers performing at their shows, but only have a few, if any, women tattooers.
Being a tattooed woman is more than being the hyper-sexualized femme fatale that gets played out in the media.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a femme fatale! But we are so, so much more. And we still need to use our money and power to show that.
I work in a marketing department where tattoos are not appreciated.
When I tell my collegues that out of our office there are plenty of lawyers, architects and every kind of working people that are heavily tattooed, they still do not believe me. What would you say to them and, in general, to all those people who keep thinking tattoos are only for bad people?
I would tell them to get out from the rock they’ve been living under! The stigma of tattoos being associated with the seedy underbelly of society is fading fast, thankfully, as people begin to see it as an art form.
Even when I started getting tattooed in the early nineties, I saw it as collecting art rather than any big rebellion.
As I mentioned, I’ve worked in very conservative offices, and as long as I did my job well and made people a lot of money, nobody cared. I just make sure that I do the best I could possibly do.
When you’re indispensable to your work, you’re not seen as “a freak” but “a lovable eccentric.”
What do you think about nowadays tattoo society, compared to the whole tattoo history?
I think it’s wonderful. And I think it’s not-so-wonderful. I love how the quality of art has exponentially risen, not just in technique, but also composition and influence, going beyond just a few stylistic genres to expansive design palettes.
What is not-so-wonderful is how those doing the most amazing work have to fight too be seen among those who know how to better navigate social media and are “tattoo celebrities” rather than simply great tattoo artists.
And there’s good and bad to social media stardom in tattooing. Influence and inspiration are at your finger tips, which I love. But so is rampant copying, which I hate. I’ve seen so many rip-offs of custom work that it makes me sad that people are foregoing original thought and the excitement of coming up with a special design for oneself — and also the lack of ethics (and concern for copyright violations) by tattoo artists.
What do you love the most about getting tattooed?
The design process is my favorite part — finding the right expression, the right look that will be beautiful when I wear it. I also love that, despite the mass marketing of tattooing, it still feels like I belong to a special tribe of badasses.
What artist did you get tattooed by?
Most of my tattoos are by my ex-husband Daniel Di Mattia of Calypso Tattoo, as I mentioned earlier. Dan still tattoos me and I’m grateful for his art and his friendship for over so many years.
My most recent piece is my leg tattoo by blackwork wizard Nazareno Tubaro in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who will continue to tattoo both of my legs.
I shaved the back of my head (over ten years ago) for a signature “creepy cute” tattoo by Tim Kern (which is covered up by a mass of red hair now).
I also got a handpoked Thai talisman by Lard Yao Tattoo, and other wonderful pieces by artists including Jacqueline Spoerle, Michelle Myles, Anil Gupta, and Mike Bellamy.
Can tattoos be a ‘cure’ to better your self esteem? Shouldn’t we love ourselves anyway?
My tattoos don’t further my self-esteem, they show it. They have always been the best expression of my gratitude and love for this body.
What kind of advices would you give to the youngest tattoo collectors/lovers? And which books would you recommend to them to improve their tattoo history knowledge?
Give yourself the time to find something that you will love forever, or at least a very long time. There is no rush.
Don’t let money or location be a limit to getting the best tattoo.
Take your time to save up, to travel. My greatest adventures have been tattoo vacations.
As for books, there are just so many, but here are my top five that first inspired me to write my own books:
- Ed Hardy’s Tattoo Time series.
- Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion.
- Re/Search’s Modern Primitives.
- Mike McCabe’s New York City Tattoo.
- Herbert Hoffman’s Living Picture Books.
Photo Credit (main picture): James Hole