By: Charity Hamidullah
I’d like to shout out all the shops which helped me along the way ... Black Owl Tattoos, City of Ink, Amsterdam Ink, Art2Ink, Red Lion Tattoos, Charlotte Tattoo Company and Effum .
It was a cold and dark wintery night as I laid like every other night with a bowl of ramen noodles and remote control in my hands trying to test the boundaries of staying up past my curfew. Flipping through the channels of late-night television; I stumbled across my future. Most junior high students at this moment are pondering upon all of their childhood dreams of who they want to become and hoping to bring them to reality once they graduate. Most are following the dreams of their parents or surroundings. But, this show so vividly embraced who I wanted to become. It was free and full of adventure, creativity; there were life and color packed into every second. Miami Ink was the first of it's kind and the momentum I needed to get up off the couch and into my future.
In one episode Ami and the shop had an apprentice. The light went on; this was the key to unlock the door to the tattoo community or so I thought. In between classes and nights after working on homework I spent my time "perfecting" this one drawing. It was a pencil piece of a geisha influenced by the work of Chris Garver. While most potential apprentices were working on a large body of work to showcase to their mentors; I was fixated on one piece. I didn't know shit, but I knew I was going to get something.
The next day I decided to skip school after lunch and travel to a shop I saw in passing on my Sunday journeys to church. The shop was East Side Tattoo and inside was Jeff. He was full of life, and oh so country. This Atlanta transplant was a delight to be greeted by. After five minutes of talking, he told me he would teach me. Most would say this was way too easy; something must be wrong. They were sort of right. But, everything is divine. Just when something appears to be wrong for you know its always for the better. And, it pays to have a favorite.
During this not so apprenticeship-apprenticeship I learned everything not to do. I met some really great characters, learned how to poorly duplicate tattoo flash on to the skin as I watched to people heal with tattoos, drugs, and alcohol. Once my co-worker even said, " Keep your side job because tattooing doesn't the bills." An oh so refreshing comment that stuck with me forever on my path to re-write the narrative of a starving artist. I was determined to not be the statistic and claim my label as a thriving artist. Plus, I lied to my parents about where and how I was spending my time so something had to pay off.
Shortly after Jeff decided to duke it out in a shop tussle with a fellow artist which led to the end of East Side Tattoo. Where to go? I once again didn't know shit so I quickly began to revert back to dreams of parents. I dove deeper in school with dreams of attending college as a fashion design major.
My senior year was a whirlwind of art critiques, portfolio reviews, and dreams of what's next. I was moving forward and preparing for graduation occasionally dabbling in tattooing. And, by dabbling I mean tattooing my friends in my grandma's spare room. I was fulfilling everyone's fantasies as I walked across the stage. But, just when I was about to attend the college I realized I passed another test; I was pregnant.
No longer was going away to school an option. Instead, I enrolled in a community college of Rochester, New York and turned my part-time schedule to a full-time barista and college student. If I couldn't live my life the way I wanted at least my child could.
Then one school morning something seemed wrong and my body soon has shown me I was right. I was having a miscarriage. Everything I was preparing for was washing down the toilet. My world was upside down; I no longer had direction. I dropped out of college and soon entered into the party scene full of liquor and abusive relationships. Just when I thought my journey was going nowhere; tattooing showed me differently. At the café, an angel spoke. She had seen one of the tattoos I made and told me her friend, Goya was looking for artists. Eager to change the course of my depression, I made my way to Inkaholicz Tattoo Family for something new. And, once again my favor peaked its way into my world.
Shortly after I was back in the routine of being creative. With eagerness, I quit my job prematurely and knew that if I was going to fully pursue this tattoo journey it was going to be now. Working at Inkaholicz was tough on the spirit. Everyone around me was good and ready to work. My shy attitude had to be tucked away as I was constantly told that maybe this career path was not for me. But, I prevailed as my clientele picked up and I was now that being I saw on tv. And, I only wanted to grow as the days did.
Tax Season! Or, Tat Season became my new Christmas and I was off to Verizon to treat myself. While people were getting up to date on the latest phones and tablets; I was getting more. I was greeted by a young lady with a wrist tattoo. We spoke of art, ink, and travels as she sold me my new laptop. But, before I left she said, "If you're ever in Atlanta you must visit the City of Ink. Later that night I typed them in my google search. The Verizon clerk was right! I must visit the City of Ink. I knew right then this was where I had to be.
Long story short, I made it to Atlanta and propelled my career as an artist at the City of Ink. I was smack dab in the middle of the Black Mecca of tattooing. I was living in Miami Ink but in a more colorful manner. Full of creatives who looked like me. Everyone created with a purpose! Everyone was dope and we were the second generation of an amazing team. From Miya Bailey to Tuki Carter; Roger Parrilla to Paper Frank; Melvin Todd, Corey Davis, Malia Sioux; on and on the list went. And, this was just the tattoo roster but we were surrounded by so much more. From graphic designers like Mister Soul, and pioneer painters like WAK and C.Flux Sing or Goldi Gold; even musicians like August Alsina, Trinidad James, DJ Mike Flo, and Grip Playaz. This was it and I was oh so thankful. City of Ink changed my world.
From magazine spreads to great tattoos life was good. But, in this world we live in that is never enough. I wanted more; so I got it. Three years at City of Ink bloomed into the opening of Black Owl Tattoos and Art Gallery created by Roger Parrilla and myself. It was our baby nestled in the heart of EAV. No longer was I just an artist but I became the owner of a shop who was making a new name for itself. We were birthing a new creative hub for our neighbors and clients. Who would've thought this girl who was pegged most likely to succeed in her high school yearbook actually succeeded to the world's standards?
But, as life seemed to be good to the world around me I realized I was not ready for it. Drowning myself in a busy schedule of tattoo making and art shows; I made it even busier with trying to manage others. I was accountable. I had to help feed other artists. It was a journey full of a lot of mistakes. I was a bitch in a bitch position powered by good tattoos, coffee, cocaine, and liquor. I was now Jeff.
Shortly after transitioning Black Owl from a walk-in shop to private studio I decided it was time to step back. I no longer wanted to own this shop; I no longer wanted to own anything. Luckily, my partner, Roger stepped up to the plate like he always does. He was an amazing friend and artist who fit the title of the shop owner. And, the weight was lifted. Free to create how I wanted; when I wanted.
Looking back, life constantly shows me how beautiful it is. Our past paints our future full of connections, favor and moments which seem spontaneous but for some reason always show to be divine. No matter if you asked me now or in the past, I was always dreaming of freedom. Space in this world to be me. Full of color flowing freely from place to place but always meant to be. I'm so thankful for every moment from shop ownership to traveling across the world on a tour of female tattooers of color (Ladies of Ink) to being homeless living my shop hoping to reconnect to my craft. It was all important! Every moment created a new dynamic to my painting entitled Life. My art was no longer a dream or a show on tv; my art is my life here for the world to see.