Bri: Lovely Monkey Tattoo
The picturesque settings of Bri Howard’s upbringing surely sewed the seeds of her artistic soul today. Raised in an apple orchard in rural Michigan, ‘Bri’ loves to depict people, animals, foliage, and landscapes in her art. She works as a professional illustrator, painter, and graphic designer, on top of being a highly successful tattoo artist.
Following her 3 years of apprenticeship, she worked in the industry for several years and has been a tattoo designer for almost a year. After stumbling upon Bri’s body of artwork on Instagram, we decided to get in touch with her for an interview. Read on, and learn all about her experience of the tattoo industry today!
Q: What is your favorite part of being a tattoo artist?
My favorite part is the freedom to be my true, authentic self. In doing so, I can help others be their true authentic selves. My absolute favorite part of the job is providing a service that physically and emotionally changes the way my client sees themselves. The whole experience is magical, and I try to make it that way for all of my customers.
The beauty of tattooing is that you can do whatever you want with it. It can be a confidence booster, it can provide catharsis, closure, and symbolism, helping people take their body back for themselves… These are all beautiful things, and I’m always honored to be a part of that experience.
Q: What are challenges that you’ve encountered as a woman in the tattoo industry?
To be honest, it’s just like every other industry. I used to think it was more prevalent in tattooing, but honestly it’s the same. Tattooers are just more upfront about how they feel. Being able to be your authentic self gives way to authentic assholes!
Unfortunately, I’ve faced a lot of sexism, but I did in other fields the same.
It took me extra years of effort to become a tattooer, only because I didn’t know the right environment to go for. Or I didn’t have access to it. I know women who’ve never even in their imagination had to go through some of the things I have in this industry… And that’s so wonderful to hear. The tattoo community is full of beautiful souls. Men, women, and non-binary alike.
I could’ve been tattooing years ago if was better at keeping my mouth shut when people say messed up stuff. But I couldn’t learn in an environment like that, so I left these situations.
I think, all in all, I had 3 official apprenticeships trying to find the right teacher.
I had been trying to be a tattooer officially since I was 16. I just started tattooing at 26. So it took me a decade to find the right mentor and environment for me, but it was worth it. My final mentor is my best friend, and we have nothing but respect and support for each other-which is how an apprenticeship should be.
A big reason I didn’t give up was because I wanted to make the change, so that other women wouldn’t have to deal with some of the things I did. If I quit, my suffering would have been pointless. It took some major learning lessons to really see who had my best interests in mind and who didn’t.
Unfortunately, being a woman really hurt me in the beginning, but more and more I see mainly women apprentices, and more women making huge strides in the field, tattooing circles around anyone that tried to tell them otherwise. It fills my heart up with joy to see this! I just went to a tattoo conference in D.C. last month, and almost half the tattooers were women! We’re coming a long way, things are definitely changing, and it’s really exciting and beautiful!
As far as making the change, it goes with every other field. Call out B.S. Create open dialogue. Talk about it. Educate. I’ve been teaching my mentor about civil rights and femme/LGBTQ rights, while he’s been teaching me tattoos, and we’ve both come a long way. I’m very proud of him, as I’m sure he is of me.
I was working at a shop a few months ago with all dudes. Great guys, but also… Guys. So when someone said something inappropriate, I’d just challenge them immediately on it. I’ve found they lose steam really fast if you clap back. They aren’t used to having their jokes questioned, so when they are, they crumble.
Q: What are your strengths as a tattoo artist?
My personal strength as a tattooer is how much I care that my client gets the best tattoo possible. That is incredibly important. Regardless of how I feel, I want my client to have the best design and tattoo, end of story. That includes being honest with my clients about what is possible with a design and what is not. What I am capable of and what I’m not. I can handle pretty much anything thrown my way, but if I know I won’t be into it, I’ll send the client to someone I know will love the design and give them the best tattoo. Even if I lose money, I am more concerned with the client getting an amazing piece and an experience that will last the rest of their life.
My ability to have someone feel safe, and to establish trust in a vulnerable situation, is incredibly important. And, in my opinion, this is my biggest strength because the client knows I care and, thus, will trust me to lead.
Q: What’s your funniest experience tattooing a client?
Probably tattooing my boyfriend in my 3rd apprenticeship. I was tattooing a pizza tombstone that said R.I.P. (the p is for pizza) on his thigh. Which is funny enough on it’s own. We learned together he doesn’t sit through leg tattoos very well, and he was being a whiney baby the whole time. He kept yelling out random things when it really hurt and one time he yelled out “BUSTED CERVIX!” I had to stop tattooing for a second because it was so funny, but I felt bad.
Though Bri has encountered a lot of struggles throughout her years as a tattoo artist, she stuck to her guns in trying times and persisted. And it’s clear that her determination has paid off: she has made a career for herself out of her main passion, and she never lost sight of her goals, despite many bumps in the road. Check out more of Bri’s amazing work on her Instagram, @briappletree