Amy C. Nichols is talking to us

Amy is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. Her home studio is Tattooed Heart Studios, located in Hanover, Maryland.

We want to thank her for being so open in answering our questions.

How did you first get involved in the tattoo industry?

It’s a long story, but essentially, a boyfriend of mine noted that I had been pursuing my artwork, and suggested I think about tattooing. He bought me the guetto “tattoo kit” you can sometimes find on the internet and volunteered his skin to a lot of bad tattoos. After it was clear that I couldn’t teach myself how to tattoo, I set out for a tattoo apprenticeship. I didn’t find anything at the time in my local Baltimore area (as apprenticeships are quite hard to acquire.) 

It was around 2003-2004 I packed up everything and decided to move to Kentucky with my boyfriend (who was native to KY) and it was there that I found my first apprenticeship at Cherokee Tattooing. I only tattooed there a year. As much as it was my first dip into the tattoo world, I really don’t think that my education in tattooing started until I landed my second apprenticeship in 2009 with my current boss (John Garancheski) at Tattooed Heart Studios. It is at Tattooed Heart Studios that I still reside to this day. 

Do you have any tattoos yourself? How many? What was your first tattoo? Can you tell us a bit about the first experience?

Yes, I have tattoos myself. I believe I have 13 (quite under tattooed for a tattoo artist really). My first tattoo was on my upper back, about the size of a dinner plate of 7 snakes eating each other in a spiral formation. I think that my first experience getting tattooed was much like everyone’s first except that I was a tattoo apprentice before I even had a single tattoo; That and I had 3 different people work my first tattoo to completion (big NO, NO in the industry, but I didn’t care much for industry faux pas at that time). The first person to work on my first tattoo was my first mentor (Nevil Baldwin of Cherokee Tattooing). All I can remember is that I was asked a lot if I was sure that I wanted to go that big for my first (which I was), and that when the line work was done, I didn’t think it was half as painful as I expected. I was also a tattoo based off a drawing I had done in response to a reoccurring dream. 

In retrospect, I do think that I would have done it all differently. For one, I don’t think that I would have marked my back so soon in my tattoo acquiring. It really limits the rest of the back later. The other thing is that I have since learned the value of selecting the right artist for the project. The reason why it too 3 people to complete this tattoo is because I kept going to the wrong person for the job (not bad artists, just not the right fit). 

It’s a tattoo that I wish I could do differently, but in no way regret. I still cherish the experience and the knowledge it brought me. The tattoo represents an Earth-bound journey, and it’s quite serendipitous that it was a journey in the acquiring of it.  

Have you noticed any particular trends when it comes to tattoos?

Tattoos are very trendy! I see trends all the time! In fact, if you’ve been in the industry for a while, you could probably date a tattoo pretty well by just looking at it. I think that new technology in machines, and the influx of art kids in the industry has certainly made a shift to seeing the tattoo industry as an art profession, like graphic designing and illustration. It’s moving into an artistic expression rather than marking people with mainstream ideas/designs. When I started, for example, the rage was big, graphic tribal tattoos, Old English lettering, and Cherry Creek Flash. 

Now-a-days, it seems that the trends depend on what is on Pinterest (not to dog Pinterest at all… I personally love it for reference material). Personally, as a tattoo artist that is trying to focus on my own artistic voice, it’s very sad that these trends happen. I understand why trends happen; because people only want what they can see. It’s hard for people to go to an artist and trust that they are going to get something they can live with forever, but I believe that is what makes a tattoo truly special (when it’s just you and the artist making something that doesn’t already exist.) In my personal journey acquiring tattoos, I have found that giving an artist (who you adore the style of their tattoo work) a vague idea/subject, a body part to put it on, and then just letting them create, is the best way to get a tattoo. I’ll never micromanage the process ever again!

Talk us through a typical day?

Depends on the day, but of late, I started learning Jiu Jitsu, so 3 days a week, I get up at 4:30 am and stretch/get warm for my 6am class training Jiu Jitsu. I mention my Jiu Jitsu training because it has been so amazing to my physical health. I believe I’ve been tattooing for about 9 years now, and tattooing has definitely done progressive damage to my physical self. It’s hard to counter 8 hours a day sitting, and leaning over a tattoo. Watching my boss John Garancheski work and keep up with his workout regimen has certainly influenced me to do something about the deterioration of my body. I was starting to get back pain, and happily, it no longer exists. 

After my workout, I manage my house a bit, and get ready for work. Depending on the day it’s either a draw day or a tattoo day. In the past I was doing half day tattoos (up to 2 tattoos a day) and full day sessions (one 8 hour tattoo session). Lately, because I want to slow down, and offer consistent quality to my clients, I’m switching to one tattoo a day, no matter if it takes me 3 hours or 8. I just think that will give me more opportunities to design for my clients, and help me relax whilst tattooing, being that I won’t be monitoring my sessions based on who I’ll have next. 

When it’s a draw day, I design for the week ahead, and if I’m in a phase of taking on new projects, I might have consultations lined up throughout the week. 

After work it could be a collection of things. Emails, and admin work fall a lot to my personal time, along with designing for clients. I often take work home with me. If it’s a free night, I usually try to relax with my cats, and get to bed at a sensible time so that I can get up early the next day and give my clients the best that I have. 

I really don’t do much socially. I try to be involved in the lives of my friends and family, but my art is my main focus admittedly. I’ve definitely struggled to find balance between home, and work with this profession. My romantic relationships have definitely suffered, mainly because I loved art first, and I think art will always be my first love. 

Who or what influences you?

Well, all art influences me. I really think that a continued investment in art and doing personal work is essential to being a good tattoo artist. 

My co-workers are also essential influences to my tattoo career. We regularly push each other and they all have become family. The other artists at Tattooed Heart Studios include John Garancheski (owner, and boss), Natalie Seki, Meredith Bertschin, Kinsey Roehm, Andrea Jensen, and our new addition/apprentice Amber Ramirez. Each artist at our studio has a unique style, and craft to what they do. We all work to push and motivate one another. My boss John has been extremely influential to my life as a tattooer since he’s not only my boss, but the man I count with really mentoring me in the world of professional tattooing. He’s a fantastic business man as well. However, I learn so much from everyone at Tattooed Heart Studios. It’s a rare environment, and I couldn’t be more blessed in working there. 

Life in general is an influence. I know that’s cheesy, but life begets more life, and with everything I do, and learn through experience, makes me a new (hopefully better) version of myself. I think that the key to being a good artist and staying young is to embrace change; I regularly like to see what’s not working in my world, and try new things. I also think it’s essential to isolate fears, and regularly challenge those fears. I try to conquer new fears all the time. 

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