Tattoo artist, executive director, and seemingly endless vessel of knowledge - Selina Medina is a truly passionate, unstoppable force in the tattoo industry. It's women's History Month and we're excited to launch a new blog series to acknowledge the rich history of female artists known as Revolutionary Women in the tattoo industry. We're kickstarting this series with a feature on Selina Medina, who has been a crucial part of putting this project together. Let's dive into the interview!
How long have you been tattooing?
I have been tattooing since 2002, so 19 years.
Where do you currently tattoo?
I have 3 spaces I tattoo at, first is the private office inside of a psychiatry clinic in Jax, Fl. called Girly Tattoos. The second is, Deluxe Medical Spa in Florence, Sc. and Third is guest spotting at Ms. Deborah's Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Fl.
What was the industry like for you in the beginning? (Were there more male artists, was it intimidating at first?)
I went to my first tattoo convention in 2004 and was overwhelmed by the lack of female tattoo artists there! I was one of 3-4 that year, and there were even fewer in the local area tattooing. It was a really weird time, suicide girls was really popular, Miami ink wasn't a thing yet so tattooing was still kind of underground. Back then a convention meant learning and there were still tattoo classes and seminars. Tattooing was this weird monster that was still counter culture and women weren't entirely respected, but we had our own place in tattooing then. At the time I was maybe 18 and still very much a baby, I grew up in the tattoo lifestyle so my perspective was different. I had relationships and close connections with the rough around the edges types, and the bikers or typical outcasts and had the safety of being the little sister. They were a place of safety for me because my ordinary life wasn't so great to begin with. When I was a young teenager in the shop tattooing, my clients mostly were female, younger or first timers. They had a certain safety and trust in be being less harsh than my coworkers. It wasn't till later years I started seeing male clients. My clientele has been predominantly female for the last 19 years.
From the beginning of your career to now, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much has the industry changed?
The change has been massive, and I am happy for it. Our world as a whole has shifted too, and that has trickled down to tattooing the same way. Women are not tolerant of disrespect we were forced to accept for years. But not in the ways you'd think either, for a few years there was a culture of clients male and female coming into the shop in disbelief I or one of my female counterparts would be tattooing them. That is not a typical question anymore thankfully.
What’s an example of a change?
A pretty glaring example was a client who had booked an appointment with me, never mind the fact he followed me from social media (@girlytattoos) and asked on the day of the tattoo nearly sitting in my chair...."wait you're the one doing my tattoo?" I did ask him what was that supposed to mean, and he back peddled pretty quickly. It use to happen a lot.
How have these changes affected you positively or negatively? (Changes can be an event, regulation, or personal experience)
Personally, I had to learn to grow up. I did not have good examples growing up so the tattoo culture became my example of how to interact with people. It taught me some amazing things about respecting all walks of life and how to adjust for sake of comfort for others who may not be so assured in their choices. Communication is key in tattooing, so learning that and also seeing really good and bad examples helped me so much. The adversarial dynamics of being a woman in the industry taught me how to fight for things that mattered like safety, equality and history. It did also teach me how to accept negative criticism, even when it was degrading at certain points. Being a woman in this industry for so long taught me how to navigate the weird double standards pretty effectively. But more importantly it helped me build who I am today, diamonds are only made by pressure.
What is a part of the tattoo history that you enjoy and why?
The women and the history and how they learned. One of my favorite people is Sofia Estrella who learned from the famed Paul Rodgers. She is this amazing traveling tattooist who has the most fabulous stories. I can sit and listen to her for hours.
Major events in history through your career?
The Afghanistan war, the United States' reaction to 9/11 and back then tattoo shops were not legal in South Carolina, so it was really common for soldiers to come down on the weekends for tattoos. The shop I worked at Tattoo Thiels in north east Florida was close enough for a drive for the boys from Fort Bragg and other military bases all over the south east that weekend trips were really common for them. I had a platoon of Marine Police officers (MP's) come in over and over for a solid year before they deployed, and I tattooed nearly every single one. On the weekends they would come down to get tattooed, and after a couple times of that routine that group stuck would come back and get with me for tattoos, it lasted for several years. One of the last times the whole group was together, I had tattooed "Infidel" on their forearms before deploying to Afghanistan. A couple of the boys didnt come home after that trip and I mourned with the soldiers and had our own wake when they got down to Jax from Sc. You form a really deep attachment to certain people you tattoo, they become your family in some cases. I have clients I still have to this their deaths effected me for a long time.
What's a new product that's been a game-changer for you?
Hands down the FK Irons Flux Xion, the cordless option makes this machine SO VERSITILE. I am not even joking about the weight either. It has made a massive impact on my joints and physical health for using such a dynamic machine with all its functions, it truly makes light work of a tattoo in such a great way.
Second game changer, and the cornerstone of quality of my tattoos: world famous inks. The quality inks and manufacturing of the products gives me a sense of quality and sense of durability with my tattoos. World famous inks are a brand that I can trust to know my tattoos will stand the test of time.
How has the quality of supplies changed and the impact?
The quality of supplies has changed over the years pretty drastically. It has made tattoo supplies more accessible, and more consistent. There have been a ton of other industry standards that are starting to make their way into tattooing and tattoo products, that ultimately keep our customers safe, and our art ever lasting. Better quality all the way around is great for the tattoo industry.
What can you do now that you couldn’t do before because of an advancement in the industry? (For example, promoting through social media)
I can connect with a larger audience than ever before, and that helps reach more clients but share things with other tattoo artists. There is this ever wanting need for information for tattoo artists of all ages and ranges of experience. I find now more than ever social media is a great tool to connect, teach and share with other artists.
What's a stereotype you can set straight for female tattoo artists?
Most of us are really sweet and nice, and even more of us are very humble. We just don't like talking all the time, sorry if we seem stuck up that's not it.
Did you have to overcome any stereotypes/biases from other artists or clients for being a female artist?
COMPLETELY! I had tattoo collectors and other tattoo artists question me pretty hard about IF I was able to do certain tattoos that were more physically taxing in a position, or requiring you to hold down a client due to discomfort. Its a thing, yeah I am short but I definitely strong. Hold up, lemme go squat this supply crate...
It's women's history month, who is an influential woman in your life?
Anne Marie Rubino, not even joking. She really has made me feel welcome with this company as being a partner aiding in the science that goes into our inks. But more importantly she's been a great mentor for me getting into Permanent make-up so she's been a major influence in my life recently.
Based on your experience, what’s something you’d want newer tattoo artists to know?
Spend a lot of time vetting who you want to work with, do not just take the job because someone offered you a space to work in. Negotiate your rates, and have an employment contract OR a booth rental agreement in place for work. Tattooing is like any other job, yes it is a creative field type of job. BUT that does not exclude it from basic labor laws, tax law, or other regulations use discretion and be selective about your employment.
There are so many amazing female artists that paved the way in the tattoo industry. Check out our blog next Friday to see our next interview feature for Women's History Month!