Since 2015, 29-year-old Vancouver-based artist Shaughnessy Keely has been transforming people’s brows at Studio Sashiko, a cosmetic tattooing space she owns with her husband. And it’s been incredibly successful—her services are so in demand, there’s only one day a month when the Studio’s website is open for bookings. (It helps that Keely has a casual 100,000 Insta followers). But after her aunt had a mastectomy, her business took a whole new turn.
Seven years ago, Keely’s aunt underwent surgery to remove her breasts, and during her reconstruction a technician in her plastic surgeon’s office attempted to recreate some semblance of a nipple, but the results were not very realistic. “They were just kind of like a pink dot,” she says of her aunt’s original tattoos. It inspired Keely to offer a better service for people going through the same thing. Now, along with amping up her clients’ brows with crazy-realistic tattooed hairs, she also does areola restorative tattooing with that same level of 3-D realism for breast cancer survivors.
Keely adds shadows and highlighting to give the tattoos the appearance of texture and depth, and spends time with her clients to figure out exactly what colour they should be, either by matching it to the tones of their freckles, or their memory of their original nipples. The results are incredible.
“There’s always tears. One of my clients even wrote a poem, saying that I gave her something she didn’t think she could have again,” Keely remembers. “[Another client] didn’t think there was anything sexual about her breasts anymore. Then, as soon as I tattooed her, she was like, OMG.”
Along with creating brand new nipples for her clients, Keely also adds pigmentation to breast scars and stretch marks, and offers to fix previous tattoo jobs by other artists, like in her aunt’s case. She says this usually involves neutralizing harsh black lines with softer peach and orange tones. For any combination of that work, Keely charges a starting price of $350 per nipple.
“I would love to not charge people, but right now I just charge to cover supplies,” says Keely. Currently, the services she offers aren’t covered by health insurance in Canada. The only way patients can get coverage is if the work is done by a technician in a plastic surgeon’s office, hence what happened with Keely’s aunt. That’s something she’s trying to change.
“We have Work Safe B.C. here that covers you if you’re injured on the job,” she explains. “I had a client whose eyebrow was removed from a [workplace] injury and they covered that tattoo. It’s just crazy that people go through cancer and their whole breast is removed and that part of [their reconstruction] isn’t covered.”
Keely is working on raising awareness for the importance of completing a mastectomy patient’s recovery like she does, and hopes to start a non-profit so she can raise funds to offer free tattoos. “I think it’s something [patients] shouldn’t have to deal with anymore,” says Keely. “It’s the end of the whole journey, the last step of the process.”
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