Choosing a tattoo artist is as intense a decision as choosing a hairstylist or a shrink: It's a person to whom you spill your guts, with whom you share such intimate moments that odds are they'll have an impact on your life forever. In the case of a tattoo artist, that lifelong impression is guaranteed in ink.
I started getting tattooed the week after I turned 18. I don't have a ton of tattoos (six in total), but with each one I get, I learn more about not only my taste in body art but also what I want out of the tattoo experience itself. After all, every time you look back on a tattoo, you remember the situation you were in at the time and what that represented. The artist-client relationship is important.
Two years ago, I started accumulating a little collection of delicate black-and-gray pieces on my left arm that all have to do with plants and herbs—I have a little sprig of lavender from celebrity tattooist Jon Boy, some basil from a cool shop in Brooklyn called Fleur Noire. But when I decided it was time to add an arugula leaf to the mix (it's my favorite lettuce), I was dead set on changing one important detail about every tattoo experience I'd had before: I wanted to work with a female artist.
Tattooing was almost an entirely male-dominated industry until the 21st century, when high-profile female artists like Kat Von D started bringing more visibility to the mere idea of women tattooing. Exact stats on how many women there are in the tattoo field are hard to find, but as more and more women are getting tattoos (40% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one), the chasmic gender gap is closing all the time.
Still, most of the best-known artists, from industry vets to Instagram-famous tattooers, are men. So, wanting to help support the growing community of women tattoo artists—and to see if the experience of getting tattooed by a woman would be any different—I resolved that my next tattoo would be a ladies-only event. And boy, oh boy (or gal oh gal, as it were) am I glad I did.
I'd known for a while that I wanted my next tattoo to come from L.A. artist Zoey Taylor, who opened her own shop, The Warren, on West Hollywood's Sunset Strip in 2016. I first met Taylor four years ago while working on a profile of up-and-coming L.A. tattoo artists, during which time she was working out of a small, off-the-beaten-path space in Lincoln Heights.
I was totally enchanted by Taylor from the start. First of all, her background is fascinating: She grew up in a poor family in the backwoods of Oregon, and the house she was raised in didn't have electricity—that meant no TV—so she kept herself entertained night after night drawing by candlelight. All that doodling paid off. Fast-forward 20 years, and now she's got her own successful shop in one of the most saturated tattoo markets in the country.
But the other thing that intrigued me about Taylor was how explicitly her aesthetic resonated with my femininity. I've met quite a few women tattoo artists in the past who, whether they intentionally meant to or not, sort of blended into the conventionally masculine tattoo environment. Flew under the radar. These women would wear all black and work out of more traditional-looking tattoo parlors (you know the ones: black walls strewn with posters of popular designs, a sea of tattoo chairs all crammed into one tiny room—a little rough around the edges).
All that stuff is badass, for sure, but what's rare about Zoey Taylor is that from her personal aesthetic to her artwork to the décor of her shop, she is doing absolutely nothing to mask her womanhood. Every day, you'll find Taylor dressed in authentic '50s pinup attire: circle skirts, poodle cuts. This vintage vibe contrasts with her brightly colored tattoos of flowers and bunny rabbits in a way that tickles my lady soul. Her shop is equally lovely and unusual: You enter the front doors to find tons of bright open space, lavender walls, full bookshelves, plants, and Renaissance statues—it's not the angsty vibe you get in most tattoo parlors.
In fact, at first glance, it looks more like the summer home of some stylish European woman.
All of that goes without mentioning Taylor's breathtaking artwork. Though she's a master of black-and-gray portraits, my favorite of her designs are her hyperpigmented, soft-edged flowers, which, again, put what I'd call femininity front and center. I knew she would be the perfect artist to help my little arugula sprig come to life.
Entering an environment that wore its femininity on its sleeve immediately made me feel more at ease than I'd ever had in a tattoo shop before. This might be all in my head, but every time I'd been tattooed by a dude in the past, I'd always felt a little self-conscious about my taste in small, delicate designs. Whenever I'd ask him to make the stencil a little smaller or add some softer detail here or there, I'd secretly cringe at the idea that he thought my taste was too frivolous or too "girly," that what I wanted weren't "real tattoos."
But being surrounded by The Warren's purple walls with Taylor in her turquoise dress and bunny tattoos made me feel like I wasn't some exception to the unspoken rule that tattooing is an inherently masculine thing. Instead, it made me feel like this was simply another version of the tattoo experience—one that put female energy at the center.
The tattoo design process itself was effortless: After nailing down a simple, pretty arugula outline, Taylor created a few different stencil sizes. When I thought the first one we tried looked too bulky, she was happy to try a daintier size. After we scaled it down a bit and placed it on the outer side of my elbow (a placement inspired by one of Zoë Kravitz's tattoos—that girl is my tattoo muse), Taylor said, "Yeah, you're right, that's way cuter." I'd never felt more at home in a tattoo shop.
The other comforting thing about The Warren is that you don't get tattooed out on the main floor like in most other shops. It can be nerve-racking to have an audience like that. Instead, Taylor's tattoo room—pink-walled, naturally—is tucked away in a private corner in the back of the place. As you're getting inked, you can watch Netflix on a screen above, listen to music, chat with Taylor, or just sit back and relax. (I remember as she was working on my design, which only took about 20 minutes in total, we were chatting about that incredible Netflix true crime series The Keepers… Nothing to distract you from the sizzling pain of a tattoo needle than to rehash a good show.)
Taylor has this calming, nurturing presence that matches the aesthetic of her shop—a positive vibe to have around when you're making the anxiety-provoking decision to alter your body forever. As she buzzed the last few lines of arugula sprig, it hit me how special it was to share an experience between two women that had for so long been exclusively a male-on-male thing, just in a slightly reimagined way.
Once Taylor was finished, I was instantly smitten with my new arugula sprig, and after my taking about a million photos (just a rough estimate), she wrapped it up. Taylor uses a bandaging material I had never seen before, called Saniderm, which renders the tattoo healing process (you know, two weeks of obsessively moisturizing and trying not to itch your scabbing tattoo) totally unnecessary. With Saniderm, a clear sheet of material is placed over the tattoo, you leave it there for a week, then remove it, rinse off the tattoo with a gentle soap, and it's totally healed.
Incredible. (Girl tattoo artists have the latest and greatest technologies, apparently.)
Ultimately, the coolest part of the whole experience was just getting to witness what the tattoo industry—the design process, the ambience, even the healing process—might look like if more women artists ascended to the level of success that Taylor has found. I hope that supporting tattooers like her can help make that a reality, and moving forward, I'm curious to try more female artists and get a sense of the energy they bring to the art form.
In the meantime, if you're ever in L.A. and itching for a piece of feminist-feeling ink, I highly recommend paying a visit to Taylor's purple-walled tattoo palace.