A Little Ink on Tattooing

An Interview with Heidi Sandhorst

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The days when tattoos were most associated with sailors and ex-cons are long gone. Seattle has a diverse and thriving tattoo scene. Gage Academy of Art Artistic Director Gary Faigin moderates a panel of three tattoo artists on March 24 at Town Hall. Tickets are only $5 and free for anyone 22 and under. Update: In-Person programming at Town Hall has been suspended. We hope to have this panel discussion on tattooing to occur in the coming months.

One of those tattoo artists, Heidi Sandhorst of Dark Age Tattoo, sat down with Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss a tattoo as a celebration, black and grey tiger faces, and how there are no strange requests.

JS: When did you start appreciating the art of the tattoo? What spoke to you about tattoos?

HS: This seems like such a hard question because tattoos have been such a part of my life for a long time. Tattoos have been in my field of awareness since I was a preteen and when I really started discovering music for myself: punk and riot girl. Most of the people in those bands and those that went to their shows had tattoos. Most of my friends had tattoos. I have always been an artist, have always been creating art and tattoos are just another way to express myself, to shrug off the status quo, to heal, to just enjoy something beautiful, and so many other things. It can mean anything and/or nothing for those who decides to wear them and I love that.

JS: What was the first tattoo you got? How many do you have now?

HS: I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, I made the appointment a few weeks before it and I got a black and grey tiger face on my back shoulder. I can’t really say how many I have because I have larger pieces that took many sessions. I still have to tattoo my back and the back of my thighs, but that will be one big piece, and little bits here and there. I will probably never be done!

JS: What tattoo on you means the most to you? Why?

HS: The tattoo that means the most to me is usually the most recent one I got because it’s the one I am the most into at the time. Some people get tattooed for a story; I get tattooed to celebrate the art of artists and people I love. My most recent one is a peony on my knee by an amazing artist, Jamie August. Jamie is also one of the kindest people I have ever had the honor to meet.

JS: When did you start tattooing others? When did you decide to try and make it your job?

HS: I didn’t start tattooing people until I was well into my apprenticeship, so I had already decided to make tattooing my career when I did my first tattoo. 

JS: What tattoo did you do  for someone else are you most proud of?

HS: I strive to be proud of every tattoo I do.  I am proud when I execute a clients idea well, when they are happy, healed, safe, whatever their goal for the tattoo is and I have successfully aided in that process. I am also extra excited about subject matter I enjoy drawing and tattooing. Being given free reign to draw and tattoo it in my style is my favorite! 

JS: What’s the strangest request you’ve had for a tattoo?

HS: There are no strange requests! We are all human and you should never feel judged for being as “weird” as you want to be. I however will not tattoo anything racist/hateful and I deeply strive to not tattoo anything culturally appropriative that is offensive to the culture it was taken from, but I will admit that is a lifelong learning process and I defer to people that come from those cultures and actively seek out information from cultures and perspectives outside my own to be better informed. I know since these perspectives are outside my own I have to commit to always seeking out those voices and I will always be learning and growing.

JS: How long have you been at Dark Age?

HS: I have worked at Dark Age as long as it’s been open. Since 2014. 

JS: Why do you think it took so long for tattoos to make it to the mainstream?

HS: Tattoos have always been “mainstream” for me, so I’m not sure. Perhaps with the rise of Instagram and social media,  the ability to see so many people expressing themselves in so many ways so easily has made it more acceptable to express oneself.

JS: What’s the future hold for you in regards to tattoos?

HS: My future in tattooing is my future in life, to grow and learn always. To always be becoming the best artist, healer, steward of compassion I can be.

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