By Erin Crowell
Nicole Charbonneau has worked on a lot of body parts. She can recall that list on the spot: back, shoulder, forearm, wrist, thigh, lower abdomen, foot, leg. And although Charbonneau works in the medical industry (shes an administrative assistant at a Traverse City eye clinic), her part-time job is what has her operating on bodies.
The 26-year-old Kalkaska native works as a tattoo apprentice at Glenarts Studio in Suttons Bay. While most of her work consists of prepping equipment and making needles (the studio manufactures its own for its specialty in fine line tattooing), Charbonneau also sits in the inkers chair from time to time many times after a walk-in enters the studio doors, looks at Charbonneau without knowing her work and says, I want her.
THE BOYS CLUB
Years before tattoos became wildly popular with young people, they were mostly associated with the rough and tough, usually male crowd -- like the sailors of the 40s and mean biker hogs of the late century. The job of tattooing, itself, has almost always been known as a mans occupation, usually occupied by some colorful hard ass who is rough around the edges but even more so through and through, with several tats of his own.
However, history reveals the first bearers of body art were women -- dating as far back as 2000 B.C. when female Egyptians bore ink along the thigh area, which some historians believe symbolized prostitution. Other markings were found on the abdomen and areas around the breasts, indicating tattooing might have also symbolized fertility and the protection of both mother and infant during pregnancy, according to a 2007 Smithsonian Magazine article.
And while archeologists believe it was the older women of the Egyptian community that had the job of inking, that job is a rarity today even with the increase of women getting tattoos.
An April 2010 article from the Columbia News Service reported that trade insiders estimate there is about one woman for every six male tattoo artists in the United States. At the Body Art Expo, one of the largest tattoo trade shows in the world, less than 15 percent of the artists showcased are female.
That representation is still a jump compared to the last several hundred years. With reality shows like LA Ink with Kat Von D, the female representation in the tattoo industry continues to steadily grow.
Charbonneauwho is the only female out of the three tattoo artists in the Suttons Bay studiosays that although shes part of a small majority, requests for female tattoo artists seems to be growing.
I think theres a comfort factor when getting a tattoo from a woman, she says. Of course, it could also just be them wanting to say they got a tattoo from a woman!
Charbonneau learned the trade from her husband, Eric, who has been tattooing for nearly a decade. Its how the couple met.
We met three years ago when I came home from school.
After graduating from Kalkaska High School in 2002, Charbonneau went to Northwestern Michigan College to obtain a degree in graphic design and then on to the Milwaukee Institute of Art where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in painting and minor in art history.
Ive always had an interest in tattoos, explains Charbonneau. Me being an artist, I love seeing designs on people. Getting a tattoo is a very personal experience.
PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT
And although shes not tattooing elaborate portraits and detailed designs yet, Charbonneau gets plenty of practice.
If a person comes into the studio and what they want isnt too technical, I feel confident working on them. My husband has even let me tattoo on him for practice, which was fun.
Practice is what she says is the only real way to learn the trade.
Its literally a hands-on experience. When I was working on Eric, he told me I was applying too much pressure, she explains, and pressure is everything. Its like writing: you only need so much.
Other things to consider is skin type because, as Charbonneau says, everyones skin takes the ink differently.
Im real fussy on who tattoos in my shop and have been through a lot of ringers, says Glen Weber, owner of Glenarts Studio, but Im very confident in Nicoles ability as an artist.
Sometimes a job is too much for the inexperienced Charbonneau, who said she once was working on a client who was moving around so much because of the pain that Charbonneau had only drawn two lines before handing the job off to Eric.
So far, Charbonneau says she has tattooed a variety of ages, both male and female. Once, the Charbonneaus worked on a married couple, together Nicole tattooed the woman while Eric tattooed the man.
Its really a once in a lifetime experience, she says, and I see it as an adventure. I get groups of women on wine tours coming in and some people who just say, do what you think will look good. Eric once tattooed a 90-year-old woman. She got a tattoo of a pig and a chicken on either foot its a popular Navy tattoo, and she wanted to get it for her boyfriend who was in the Navy.
In regards to design and placement, Charbonneau says the most popular among women are stars and the location is usually up along the rib cage.
It comes and goes in phases, but the tramp stamp (a tattoo located on the lower back, just above the buttocks) is not as popular anymore; and Im glad to say I havent done one yet, she laughs.
For more information on Glenarts Studio, go to www.Glenartsstudio.com. Call 231-271-6645 for appointment. Walk-ins are welcome.