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What It’s Really Like to Be a Tattoo Artist

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Auberon Wolf, a Vancouver-based tattoo artist with a twist, gives us a glimpse into the world of ink


vancouver tattoo artist auberon wolf

Auberon Wolf, pro tattoo artist

Age: 29

Education: I studied theatre performance at Concordia University, and I’ve also taken some fine arts classes at Langara College in Vancouver.

Length of time at current gig: 2.5 years.

What do you do? I’m a tattoo artist. I specialize in people that have different canvases than everyone else, such as scar tissue or abnormal skin.

What drew you to the profession? I spoke with some amazing cancer survivors who were talking about getting tattoos to cover their scars; some transgender and gender queer people who wanted to modify their appearance to embody an aspect of their gender without having to use the traditional methods, like hormone replacement therapy or surgery; and people who had been through surgery and wanted something to compliment their scars. Some of those conversations made it click that maybe I could do this as a healing support person.

Do you have a personal connection to this kind of work? I had an abortion when I was 21. I was at the worst place in terms of my mental health, and I had just attempted suicide for the only time in my life. I desperately wanted to be a parent, but I had to make this choice and it felt awful. It ruined my sanity for at least a year, if not longer. I made painting after painting trying to get these feelings out. Then, I had a moment in the summer of 2012 when I realized I had finally mourned the fetus, and I chose to let go. I was ready to create space for a new energy waiting to come into my life. So I created a rib piece that depicts an adult version of the child I can imagine having—it’s who my kids could be, if I choose to have them.

vancouver tattoo artist auberon wolf

Wolf’s rib tattoo

How does it feel when you look at that tattoo? It feels like healing. It’s like a reminder we’re capable of renewing ourselves over and over again.

How do tattoo artists typically get trained? There’s no standardized schools or techniques or anything. It’s all very much just artists’ perspectives, opinions and experiences. The traditional route is the apprenticeship, which many artists do, but it’s not the only way. There are also people who will train you for pay.

What route did you take? I did it on my own. Throughout my life, various friends and boyfriends have gotten involved with the tattoo industry. One of my ex-boyfriends had me tattooing pigskin and oranges a few years before I ever got started on humans.

What was the first tattoo you did? I remember it vividly because I was terrified. I did a circle on the back of my friend’s neck and in the middle it said “Ruh,” a word that had a personal meaning to her.

What type of clients do you have? I get people of all sorts, including cancer survivors, transgender or gender queer people, assault or abuse victims and self-injury survivors.

What clients and stories have been particularly memorable for you? Jenny Magenta originally came to me for text that said, “In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” Once we got talking, it was clear that there was a lot to this piece and it quickly became a bouquet of flowers and actually turned into a cover-up piece for where Jenny had physical trauma, so it became more than an homage to her mother.

Given that you work with very personal stories, how do clients respond when you tattoo them? Sometimes people cry, shake, have panic attacks—all kinds of things can happen. I stop and comfort them or ask what they need—if they want to talk or if they want some air or tea.

What is the industry like? The tattoo industry is very male-dominated, and that energy can really shape a lot of a tattoo shops. I have noticed that the women in this industry are tough as nails and relatively competitive because of how many barriers they face to gain credibility and be taken seriously. I totally respect and admire how hard they have to work.

What’s the best part of your day? When people get up and they go and take a look. That’s the best.

What’s the worst part of your day? Let’s be really honest, it’s when I make a mistake.

What do you do when that happens? No one wants to talk about how frequently mistakes happen, but often they happen in very subtle ways that the artist can adjust. Some are not fixable, though. Only twice in my career have I had to stop and turn to somebody and say, “We need to chat for a moment. Something just went wrong. I’d like to show you, and tell you what happened and where we can go from here.”

If someone wanted to be a tattooist, what attributes do they need? Patience. This is not a thing that happens quickly for anybody. The attention that I’ve gotten is the fastest that I’ve seen, and it feels fairly underserved because I’ve seen how many years people slog away at their skill set in order to build something they can be really proud of. I didn’t start tattooing until I was in my late 20s because I didn’t yet have that patience to follow through.

How do you unwind after work? I’ve got really supportive friends, a partner and family, who I can always talk to if a piece feels too heavy. And often, just a bath and a good night sleep will get me back to square one.

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