I am very proud to present Illustrated Women’s first interview! I sat down on Friday with the lovely Eva Huber in her shop in Chicopee, MA. We talked about many things–tattooing, tattoos, women, Simon Says… If you’re interested in things like that, READ ON!
Jessica: So, how long have you been tattooing?
Eva: Including my apprenticeship, it has been about eight years. And I’m 27, so I started a little before I turned 19. I had graduated high school and I was actually applying to art schools across the country and my mom was like, “You’re not ready!” But, really she wasn’t ready for me to go. For some reason, I listened to her. I don’t know why, because I never really listened to her before… Probably because it’s really expensive to go to school, let alone art school. So I was just working a couple odd jobs and then I ran into some people who were very tattooed and I was hanging out with them and at the same time I had seen an article in the paper about this guy Cory Cudney–who is actually a friend of mine now, he did this tattoo for me–
Jessica: That’s really nice. [note: it’s a really beautiful portrait on her left forearm]
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: Thanks. He did a lot of color realism, and I was always able to draw that way, so I was like what’s the missing link? How do you make it look like that? I can make it look like that on paper, but you’re doing it on skin with a needle. I was totally intrigued. So with a little encouragement from my friends and my own natural curiosity, I got into an apprenticeship just by inquiring into a couple different shops and then earning my place there by doing a lot of shit and not getting paid for it. So, yeah, I started that right before I was 19 and I just turned 27.
Jessica: And did you have any tattoos then?
Eva: I had two. I had a sick lower back tribal piece that was like this big [note: 2-3 inches wide]. I covered it, obviously. Part of me wanted to keep it just because I thought it was hilarious, but the other part of me was like I can’t be 40 with this thing. I just can’t do it.
Jessica: That’s so perfect that it was lower back and tribal.
Eva: Yeah, and I got it when I was 16, which was illegal. You have to be 18 in New York, there’s no parental consent. So I went with my best friend and we chalked our IDs, and it was $30. The guy who did it was apprenticing, so, of course, it took him like three hours to do it.
Jessica: Did it end up bumpy with your skin raised?
Eva: I’m pretty sure it was a little bit raised, but it wasn’t completely fucked up. I mean, the skin consistency does change a little bit because it is a scar that you’re creating, you’re just leaving colored pigment in its place. But, no it wasn’t all that raised, it just took him a long time because it’s solid black and that takes forever. It was shitty and ugly. Also, I had a couple little colored stars on my feet which were actually my first color tattoos. I never thought I would want color, I thought I would want—
Jessica: You have a lot of color
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: Well the first tattoo was solid black and I loved it because it was simple, it was primitive, it was strong, bold. I thought, if I ever get tattoos, it’s gonna look like a tattoo, like a marking. And then I got a little bit of color and once I saw that I was like, I want color that’s gonna make people’s eyes hurt when they look at it. And now I’m kind of going back to black and grey. Color is very traditional, but I feel like black and grey is very classic. So, I have a real appreciation for both. Now I’m covered. And I never thought I’d have more than the one on my back. My fingers, my throat, my face, I’m just like how did this happen?
Jessica: Do you feel like there was a difference in how you’re perceived and how you can get around in the world between before and after you got your hands and neck tattooed?
Eva: You mean like keep them hidden but now I can’t?
Eva: Well, I’ve always been a very independent person, and a bit of a loner I guess you could say. So, whether people knew I had them or not really made no difference to me. I was never really into—even though I want color that will make people’s eyes bleed—the shock value of “Look at me, I’m so tough.” I’ve always been an artist, even as a child I would draw on myself, my clothes, my notebooks, my walls. So for me wearing art is very natural. It’s comfortable. Not all of [my tattoos] have extreme sentimental value. Some of them do… certain things were going on in my life and have that symbolic stamp in my yearbook of life—this is what was going on. But, I never really cared if people knew I had them or not because everyone else has tattoos. Whether you have a lot or not, to me, it doesn’t really make a difference. It’s all about the individual’s choice and they have the right to live their life how they want to.
Jessica: What I mean too is that I find in the winter, I don’t get as stared at by people because I don’t have my neck or hands tattooed, whereas in the summer I feel like I can’t go anywhere without being constantly stared at. And I find that invasive, since I feel my tattoos are so personal.
Eva: Well, here’s the thing also. You’re a young lady. It’s kind of like the primitive response. People are gonna check you out. People check me out. People check Andy [co-worker and fellow tattooer] out. It’s how it goes. There’s an extra icing on your cake. People look at it a little bit more. They could look at it for a number of reasons. They could be shocked you have tattoos, or they could actually really appreciate it and they’re just admiring it. Or, they’re like, “What is that?” They could be looking at you for whatever reason. Yeah, people are gonna look, but, people look at everything.
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: What I don’t like is when people try to grab. I was working at a shop a couple of years ago in West Seneca, NY and I had tattooed this client of mine several times; he was an older man—probably in his early 60s. He brought his girlfriend in to get tattooed. I was standing behind the counter getting their paperwork prepared, and he was like, “what else do you have?” I was turning around to get something and he reached and grabbed my t-shirt and looked down the back of my shirt.
Jessica: Oh my god!
Eva: And I was like, that is so incredibly rude! You just don’t do that. I don’t care if I have tattooed you several times before. I never gave you permission to touch me or pull my shirt, let alone pull my clothes off so you could check out my body. It’s my body. You don’t do that unless I’m like, “Yeah, I’m busy, lift my shirt and take a look.” Yeah… no! I never say that.
Jessica: I find that really shocking too. People have literally grabbed me on the street, like, “Oh! What’s that?”
Eva: It’s like, “Oh! It’s my arm, asshole. It’s mine not yours, that’s what it is.”
Jessica: And I had a guy stop me in a store and say, “Turn around, let me see the back of your legs.” Just ordering me around.
Eva: Yeah, it’s like, “But you didn’t say Simon Says!”
Jessica: Yes! It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Like you said, everybody gets looked at by everybody, but when you have a lot of tattoos and as a woman too, your body becomes even more public to people for some reason. Almost like you’re pregnant.
Eva: Well, I’ve never been pregnant, so I’ve never had the belly stare. But, again, I think it’s a natural response. It’s like birds in the wild. The male peacock is more ornate and decorated so that others will notice it. That’s just how it goes in the animal kingdom. And we’re animals. We’re just a little more sophisticated, so to speak. We wear shoes! So, yes, people will stare but it’s not like I walk around—and you don’t look like you would either—wearing a bikini top and a miniskirt. I feel like I could be wearing this outfit [jeans and t-shirt] and a girl could be wearing that [bikini and miniskirt] and more people would stare at her than me.
Jessica: That’s true.
Eva: I go to a lot of conventions where girls do dress extremely scantily and most of them are not heavily tattooed. They’re there to get tattooed, or they’re there to get checked out. And, I’ll be honest, from what I can tell it’s more obvious that people are looking at them, not the women who are actually really tattooed. I think that taps into their primitive response more than this. This is more of a curiosity, I guess. Plus, it’s also cool to look at. It’s artwork. You go to a gallery, you get way up close to the paintings sometimes because you want to see what’s goin on in there—what the brush strokes are and how the colors blend.
Jessica: Good points. So, right around the time you were starting to tattoo, the tattoo reality shows were just coming out. So when people come into the shop, do you find that they reference that, if they aren’t as familiar with tattoo culture? And do you find that Kat Von D, specifically—what she’s been doing in the media—has affected your experiences?
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: Well, as far as the business aspect of tattooing goes, it’s been great for us; and the financial aspects too, because it has encouraged a lot of people to actually go for it. I can’t even tell you how many people come in and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo for years and then I saw it on the show and it looked so cool so I decided I was ready to do it.” So people come in and get tattooed and that’s great. On the shows, there are aspects of it that are very true to life, some of the drama is true, but it’s TV so it’s absolutely scripted. I was asked at one point to audition for Miami Ink when Kat was leaving, and the producer explained to me that everything was scripted. And when I told her I wasn’t gonna wear a miniskirt on the show, she kind of laughed at me. And I was like, “No, really. You guys called me. I’m not doing that.” Sure enough, like three weeks later, they had some girl on the show in a miniskirt playing tennis. And yes, that’s like the entertainment aspect of tattooing, but I also felt that it took away from the seriousness of women in tattooing because it was like, “Oh! Haha! I’m playing tennis and, oh, I don’t know how to draw this, haha!” And that’s like… Really? You don’t have a competent artist who is representing the females on national TV. But, that’s entertainment. People need something to talk about.
Jessica: That’s interesting, too, because I don’t think Kat was really represented in that way—in a miniskirt.
Eva: No, she wasn’t. She definitely had her own style, and she does wear clothing that reveals her body type. I mean, we all wear clothing that reveals our body type. But she’ll wear like a bathing-suit top with a big-armed tanktop, but, she’s working. I think that’s more just her personal style. As far as what she’s doing, I think that she’s an entrepreneur. The thing is, with tattooing, you only have as long as your body allows you to work because it’s a very physically demanding job. And the people who complain about her in the industry—if they had the chance to collect that paycheck, they would absolutely, because she is getting paid. And she is still getting to do what she needs to do. When her hands are so stricken with arthritis and her back is so fucked up and she can’t tattoo, she’s gonna be fine because she has money in the bank. The people who are judging her for it… Has she sold out? I don’t know. I don’t know her. I don’t know what her goal was from the beginning, so I can’t really say. Frankly, that’s her business. But, I think she does really sold, quality work and she’s doin her thing. She’s a creative person—she has a make-up line out, she’s starting a clothing line, she’s had books—and she’s still making her art. She’s just doin her thing.
Jessica: Yeah, and I see her too as being positive because it seems like many of the other heavily tattooed women who get shown in the media are portrayed really negatively, or super stereotypically. Like Michelle McGee who was just blasted in the media.
Eva: She was a porn star, wasn’t she?
Jessica: I don’t know all the details about her.
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: I can tell you that I’ve definitely seen images of Kat in a bathing suit on a cover, but I’ve also seen pictures of this girl and she just looks marketed much more sexually, a lot more trashy, so to speak. She seems like she is cashing in for the dollar whereas Kat is making an investment to get a long-term return. It’s all about the way you choose to represent yourself and allow yourself to be represented. People are going to perceive what you put off in their own way. You could be very sincere and people think you’re being phony and fake, but all that matters is that you know what you’re doing. There are certain things you can do to ensure that opinions are led in a more sincere direction. For example, don’t do a Playboy spread, don’t pose for Hustler. Instead, you could do the bathing suit but make sure you’re not posing with your legs spread but maybe sitting by the pool where it’s more natural. You’re not saying, “Check me out, come after me.” You’re saying, “I’m showcasing my tattoos in a cute bathing suit and here’s who made the bathing suit.”
Jessica: Yes, just because a woman is wearing a bathing suit doesn’t mean it has to be a super sexual picture. The nature of showing tattoos for a magazine is that you need to SHOW them.
Eva: Right, and they’re on your skin. So if you have them all over… I mean, you could do a nude pose very tastefully.
Eva: And you could also do it very un-tastefully.
Jessica: That’s what I’ve been seeing as I’m looking at photos, how it’s just extra-sexualized, more than it needs to be. And that’s part of what bothers me about it, because you can easily show tattoos and not have it be totally sexual.
Jessica: I was looking up some scientific articles about the psychology of women with tattoos, and there’s not really a whole lot out there. There was one that said that women with tattoos are perceived as more promiscuous, as heavier drinkers, and as less attractive than women without tattoos. And, with each tattoo you add, the perceptions increased; if they were blonde, it was even more.
Eva: Oh, was I the picture? I just got my hair redone and it’s super blonde now.
Jessica: I usually have blonde hair, too.
Artwork by Eva Huber
Eva: Yeah, being blonde, in general, has it’s own stereotype. And, as far as being tattooed, the way I think is that it’s all individual preference. I’m not gonna lie, my friends make fun of me for being a prude. I’m not promiscuous at all.
Jessica: I’m not either. So, when I read that I thought, “God! Is everyone going around thinking that about me?” And you can’t control that, but there are so few images of us anywhere, like other representations of women with tattoos–
Eva: Yes, and I know a lot of very tattooed women who have very professional careers and they’re great role models. And I know plenty of women who have one tattoo or hardly any, who fit those stereotypes.
Jessica: Yes, and if someone wants to be promiscuous, hey go for it.
Eva: The tattoos have nothing to do with it.
Jessica: So the fact at we’re perceived that way and as heavier drinkers…
Eva: Yeah, I used to party a little bit harder, but now my idea of a good time would be a dinner with friends, maybe a bottle of wine. Honestly, I’d rather go home, draw, read a book, and hang out with my cat than go out and get wasted. Going out to bars, yes, it is a social setting, it’s a good way to blow off some steam at the end of the day and possibly meet some new people, but it’s not really my thing. I don’t want to be surrounded by intoxicated dudes with raging hard-ons who are trying to take someone home just because they’re desperate and want to feed that need. I’d rather meet somebody who has a brain and have an actual connection, not just an instant sexual affinity. That’s just not how I roll, though. Some people do and that’s their prerogative.
Jessica: And it’s not a value judgment either way.
Eva: Yeah, it’s just not my thing.
Jessica: Okay, one more question and I’ll let you get to your client. So, since I’ve started the blog and talked to my family and friends about it, a lot of their attitudes have been like, “Well, you don’t need to complain about being a tattooed woman because you chose to tattoo yourself. So, since you picked it, you don’t really get to say that anything about it is bothersome.” So, obviously people with tattoos are marginalized in some ways, you can legally discriminate against us in employment. But, we’ve also ALL chosen our marginalization. So, how do you negotiate that? A friend of mine said to me yesterday that I should just cover myself up if I want to be in a professional situation.
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: Well, I think your family has a very valid point: we have chosen to do it. Tattooed people, it is a subculture. I don’t think that is fair and/or just for discrimination to occur because of it, because your tattoos aren’t going to dictate your ability to perform a task whatsoever. But, what can you do? There’s a lady, Marisa Kakoulas, who runs a blog called Needles and Sins, and she’s a lawyer. I don’t know if she shows her tattoos while she’s on the job, but she might be somebody else who is good to talk to about it. Overall, it is unfortunate; I think it’s pretty lame. I know there are some jobs you can do where they don’t care about your tattoos but they’re more on the low-paying end of things. But, I was working on a back piece yesterday of a doctor who owns his own practice, and I have friends who are extremely heavily tattooed and they’re nurses—they’re RNs, nurse practitioners—and one of my best friends is a librarian, and she’s totally tattooed. Ultimately, it’s the business owner’s call to say what kind of representation they want physically for their company—just like Hooters only wants to hire a certain type of lady. I guess the only thing you can do is be your own boss, say fuck you, open up your own business, and say [having tattoos] doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t.
Jessica: I have owned two of my own businesses, and since the day I turned 18 I have worked for myself or for my family. But since I have moved here [Northampton] to finish my undergrad degree and I’m looking to go into a more professional job, I’ve started to think about all this. Like, “Oh! If I don’t work for myself, I do have to negotiate this world slightly differently. And why I think it’s problematic is that I love having tattoos, I love getting tattooed, I love the family culture of it, I love all that. I think it’s a shame that people miss out on that out of fear.
Eva: It is absolutely out of fear. And it’s an inferiority complex. There’s an old Sailor Jerry quote that goes, “Nobody is asking you! If you don’t think you have balls enough to wear a tattoo, don’t get one! But don’t try to make excuses for yourself by knocking the fella who does!” Also, there’s another quote about the difference between tattooed people and non-tattooed people is that tattooed people don’t care that you don’t have one. It doesn’t matter.
Jessica: Right, there’s no discrimination going on in that direction—from tattooed people to non-tattooed people.
Eva: Yes, and I was just in Albuquerque and just tattooed a lady who flew in from Canada and she’s a social worker who works with troubled youth. They do a lot of community outreach and she says the kids are more willing to want to open up and talk to her because they see she’s a real person. She’s not some stiff saying, “I fit in this box and your life should fit in this box.” Instead, she’s saying, “Your life should meet these standards and I’m gonna try to help you.”
Jessica: So having tattoos is actually a boon for her work.
Tattoo by Eva Huber
Eva: Absolutely. It allows people to relate to her and feel safer with her because they see that she’s not a “suit.” Which is very important because when you’re working to try to help save someone’s life, you need their trust.
Jessica: So true, great point. So thank you so much for meeting with me.
Eva: No problem, I’m flattered that you asked me to do it.
Jessica: Totally, and I specifically picked you out of other ladies in the area for your art and your philosophy about tattooing.
Jessica: Thank you!