The Artist

Susie was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1988. She started creating art at a very young age, drawing on anything she could get her hands on. She was always intrigued by tattoos, although growing up in a very strict religious household. She was home schooled until high school and spent a lot of time drawing and creating in her spare time. Growing up she wanted to be a costume designer and would draw a lot of female figures. She did a couple of competitive art competitions in high school; mostly working with pen and colored pencils. Susie never took any professional art classes and is mostly a self taught artist. She was never afraid to ask questions and picked up techniques as she went. 

She moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2011 with the hopes of learning to tattoo. She started painting watercolor and acrylic in 2011 when she first started her apprenticeship. She did not work a regular job while she apprenticed, and was homeless and lived in her car for months while she dedicated her life to art. She did her first art show in 2011, and continued to show her art frequently at local venues. Unfortunately the shop closed within 7 months of her starting her apprenticeship.  In October 2012, she was offered a job at Formula Ink in Fort Lauderdale to finish her apprenticeship. She was able to learn much faster under the new shop's owners, who became more like her family. She did her first tattoo in 2012; it was a simple butterfly tattoo on her best friend, but it started her career as a tattoo artist. Each tattoo was a new challenge and she was grateful for the friends who trusted her with their skin. She found a lot of inspiration with traditional style tattoos and her first work reflected that style. Her new shop became her family. She worked full time at the shop and full time at her "day" job. She went months without days off, just to be able to learn her craft. 

In August 2013, she did a guest spot in Pittsburgh at a newer shop located in Pittsburgh's south side. It was a struggle for her to get a guest spot because the owner did not want to hire women tattoo artists, but this wasn't the first time she had been turned down for a job based solely on being a female. But in the end she was able to do the guest spot and the owner of the tattoo shop actually offered her a full time job. Within a month, she had made her choice and moved to Pittsburgh. She was sad to leave her friends in Fort Lauderdale, but knew that she had more opportunities as an artist and tattoo artist if she moved to Pittsburgh. She quickly fell in love with the city. 

2015 brought big changes for Susie. A new shop opened in Downtown Pittsburgh and another great opportunity opened up for her and her art. She was able to learn a lot from one of the shop's owners, Shannon, who is another talented female artist. She did quite a few local art shows since moving to Pittsburgh. She was chosen to show her work at Gallery 4 in Shadyside, which was her first actual gallery show. She was also asked to create a piece for Fort Pitt Museum 's "Captured" gallery in June 2015. In the same month, she curated her first group show in the basement of Pittsburgh Tattoo Company, which turned out to be a great success. She has since curated two more shows, and is starting curating this year's Halloween art show. In 2016 she was asked to a part of the "Ladies of Tattooing" released by Southwest Tattoo Museum in Arizona. It was a great honor for her to be asked to contribute to the collection of women from around the world. 

Her style has changed over the years as she involves as an artist. Currently she is mostly doing fine line, illustration, and geometric designs. In the future she hopes to produce a t-shirt line of designs as well as continue to learn and grow with tattooing. She also hopes to do more local shows as well as travel the world and tattoo.

The Artwork

The Interview

JK: …That kind of got at our first point, which was the fact that you consider yourself to be a fine artist and a tattoo artist.

SH: I think they go hand in hand. There are a lot of tattoo artists who aren’t necessarily full on artists; like they wouldn’t go out and do art shows. They wouldn’t produce art outside of tattooing. And I feel like there is a difference between that and someone who does art on the side. I feel like I try to design my pieces to look like art. Less of a biker design or tribal or something like that, I want them to be every organic and flow with the body…

JK: We’re at your tattoo shop right now and your walls are covered in Mandalas, I wasn’t sure if that was something that was your personal preference in design or is that what people some to you for?

SH: Both. I’m very OCD so I like that everything is geometric. It plays off to my OCD very well because… I want everything to be symmetrical. So I think it feeds off of my OCD and anxiety very well. I go home and I draw them in my spare time. It’s something that I don’t really have to think about as much as something else like the light source and shading. From a technical aspect a lot of it is dot work and pointillism so it’s a little bit less stress in some ways and I can just embrace the art of it and relax.

JK: …do people come in [the shop] with a notion of what you do and that’s why they seek you out?

SH: For the most part. I get a lot of work from Instagram, a lot of social media. People follow me and they come in and say, “Oh I saw your work and I want to get something similar.” I get a lot of art that people bring in that is like Pinterest art or something that they found online. I never duplicate anything. I will never tattoo something that has already tattooed on somebody. Not all tattooers think like that. I think if you’re an artist, you’re not going to want to use someone else’s art. And that’s what I tell people. I am going to create something that is custom that you’re not going to be sharing with someone else. This is your personal private art that you’re going to wear for the rest of your life. Why would you want to copy it from someone else?

SH: It’s a high stress job because it’s not like anything else. If you’re like, “I hate this painting, I’m just going to throw it in the trash.” It’s on somebody for the rest of his or her life. You mess up a line, you misspell somebody’s name, you put a wrong date, that’s on their body forever. You can get it lazered but it only lazers up to a certain point and that’s even more painful than actually getting a tattoo. So yeah, high stress.

JK: Looking into your past, when did you start tattooing?

SH: I started tattooing in 2011, I got my apprenticeship, and in 2012 I actually started physically tattooing. I was terrible. I think everyone is terrible when they start. I think I had a nice background in art. I had been doing art since I was a kid, as long as I can remember I always wanted to be an artist or a fashion designer, something with art. I think that plays a big part in why I tattoo the way that I do.  It’s still a similar type of art that I have always drawn and I think that helps. Coming back to a tattooer not being an artist…

JK: It’s like you can’t separate those two.

SH: And people do, a lot of the old school tattooers didn’t get into it for the right reasons.  Sometimes they were in it because they wanted to make money… Money is great, but for me it’s more about the art. I would much rather put on something that is going to be on someone’s body that they are going to absolutely love than to make 200 bucks.

You might lose a lot of things in your life, you might lose your possessions, you might lose your loves, you might lose family members, whatever… but you’re always going to have those tattoos.
— Susie Humphrey, 2016

JK: What drew you to become a tattoo artist. You said you have this background in fine art, as a kid you were always drawing, but where was the moment when you took it beyond drawing into tattooing?

SH: I’ve always loved tattoos. My dad had a friend that was much older, who fought it World War II and he had this tattoo that said either “Hawaii or Honolulu” and it had a palm tree and it was green. It was so faded, it said “1943” on it. It was super old. And I thought it was the neatest thing. He didn’t have any other tattoos, but I thought, “that pin-pointed your life in that particular spot. Where you were and that goes with you forever.” It’s like a postcard for your life. And people say “Oh well I don’t like this tattoo anymore,” but you did at one point. It’s like a story line of your life that is all over your body. And I think that’s cool, that really attracted me too it. You might lose a lot of things in your life, you might lose your possessions, you might lose your loves, you might lose family members, whatever… but you’re always going to have those tattoos. You can’t lose it, that’s yours, unless someone skins you and makes a lamp. Let’s hope that never happens, but it’s on your body for the rest for your life. I always get tattooed whenever I go on vacation. I’m going to Arizona in a couple of weeks and I want to get a tattoo there to remember my time. I think that’s cool and then you always remember that particular time in your life when you got something done.

The forever aspect attracted me. It’s different from a painting. Paintings can be thrown away or burned or whatever but that tattoo is going to stay as long as that person is alive.

JK: So one of the neat things that you’ve done in the past couple of months is participated in this “Ladies of Tattooing 2016” which was with the Southwest Tattoo Museum. I’m wondering if you could talk about what you submitted for that project and tell us a little bit more about what it was like to participate in that?

SH: I was very honored to be asked to do that. It was something that I got an email out of the blue and they asked me to submit a sheet. And it wasn’t something that I got paid for, but I thought that it was an awesome opportunity to help out the history of tattooing, which a lot of people don’t know. They watch TV shows and they see new artists and they don’t realize the history behind it. Even from the last 100 years, it goes even further back from that. It’s thousands of years in the making. This isn’t something that just like “1990 hit, let’s get tattoos.” It’s something that’s been going on for thousands of years. So it’s nice for someone to see the history and where it came from. I thought that was very important to me to contribute to this…

JK: like the larger picture?

SH: Yes to the larger picture and the fact that it was lady tattooers. Which I am pretty stoked on that. Tattooing as a woman is hard. It’s hard to get into the industry. I think it’s hard to be a woman in America in general, so I think it was even more special because of that. 

I submitted a black and gray watercolor painting, and I made prints of that… It’s not just local I think I was the only one in Pittsburgh that was asked. There was one other one in Pennsylvania. But it’s all over the world; there are people from Australia and Switzerland so that was really cool. And it was also neat to make those connections with those other artists because even the Southwest Tattoo Museum said that I can work conventions with them and there’s a guest spot at their shop. There’s a big opportunity with that so I was pretty stoked. It was probably the coolest thing that happened this year.

JK: Are there different mediums that you want to pursue or a different style?

SH: I definitely want to get more into clothing design. I’ve been pulling some t-shirt designs. I actually recently did one for my boyfriend’s sister who is going through chemo as a fundraiser. We were able to raise some money for her, but it was just like a mandala design… it has the breast cancer ribbons incorporated in it and I did it as a t-shirt. So that was really cool but it is something that I just kind of started. I definitely want to do more and start more clothing design with some tanks and t-shirts with mandalas on them and some illustration. I really really like scientific illustration, like very Victorian illustration. I want to do some designs on shirts that I think would translate really well. I have kind of a weird style, and no one is really doing that here in Pittsburgh, like the weird illustrations.

JK: I also think it’s interesting that you are talking about your fine art, but it’s still wearable…

SH: Yes and that goes back to me always wanting to be a fashion designer, but it’s so hard to get out and do real fashion, like living in New York City and doing fashion. That’s not my thing. That’s not my kind of fashion. Cut off T-shirts, and cut off shorts, and these ugly shoes are my thing. I feel like I want to create fine art that people can wear that is day-to-day.

SH: Dear Pittsburgh, there are amazing artists in this city... Being able to explore and add art to your body, it’s just like a wall. Let’s decorate ourselves. Let’s make us pretty!

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