Tattooing has been around for centuries and has taken on many forms and meanings. In some parts of the world, tattoos represent family or tribes. Here in the United States, we see them as a form of self expression.
For Katie Chidgey, they are part of her everyday life.
Chidgey has been tattooing for about a year and a half and has garnered over 54,000 followers on Instagram in that time. She got her start at Smilin’ Rick’s Tattoo & Body Piercing shop, where she spent a year doing an apprenticeship.
Ian Messerli has worked at Smilin’ Ricks for the entirety of his 17-year career. He saw Chidgey struggling to find the right mentor and decided to take her under his wing of expertise.
“She fought me a little bit on things,” said Messerli. “But, other than that, she did her job and it all worked out.”
Chidgey said she chose to follow an abstract route, rather than attend traditional art school.
“I didn’t really ever like art school,” said Chidgey. “I didn’t like being told this is the correct way to do something. That’s not true. That’s not how art works.”
Chidgey said a tattoo apprenticeship is not like regular school. Every artist has to start from the bottom and work their way up, and they have to earn the right to be taught. Part of the learning process is being able to tattoo yourself in order to get the feel of the equipment.
“You actually feel what it’s like to allow that needle to penetrate and you feel the vibration in your hands and you feel it in your own skin,” said Chidgey. “And then eventually, after you’ve learned the proper feeling, go on to somebody else.”
Chidgey said she has recently been into abstract ’80s and ’90s retro tattoo designs and is starting to incorporate realism into her work.
For Chidgey, tattooing is how she fulfills her “people pleaser” trait. She said she wants her clients to feel relaxed and comfortable when they are at Smilin’ Rick’s, as if they were part of the family.
“I really just liked the fact that this makes people so happy, and all I care about is making other people feel special in their own skin,” said Chidgey.
Chidgey said she is a textbook people person. Her favorite part of her job is meeting people.
“Being able to hear someone’s idea, and turning it into some kind of reality is so awesome,” said Chidgey.
Her coworkers said being a tattoo artist gives Chidgey the opportunity to let her personality shine through.
“She’s a very caring person, and I feel like she’s started to show that side of her a lot more,” Smilin’ Rick’s tattoo artist Eliza Johnson said.
Being a woman in a mostly male-dominated industry has its downfalls, Chidgey said.
“I’ve had men who treat women as if they were less than, and they came in and treated me like that,” said Chidgey. “It’s funny because I’m the one with the needle in my hand.”
Despite this, Chidgey said she is hopeful for the future of tattooing and believes that more women will join.
When Chidgey is not at the shop, she is working on her brand that aims to help to end littering, The Lucky Pickle. She sells bumper stickers, patches and is coming out with t-shirts soon.
Chidgey does most of booking through her Instagram, @chidgeytattoos.
Featured Image: Tattoo artist Katie Chidgey poses in her workspace on Feb. 11, 2020. Image by Grant Beardslee