Marked For Life, Florida - Female Tattoo Artist Expo 2006

Published: 30 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 133, May, 2006

As you walk into the Marked for Life ’Women’s Expo in Kissimmee Florida there is a lot of ‘eye candy’ for sure. The women are adorned with a Kaleidoscope of colour and exotic images placed upon their delicious flesh.  As the banners go up and the booth is ready, soon the sounds of buzzing tattoo machines are pushing ink into the flesh of those who just can’t get enough.

The female tattoo artist has not only crossed the boundaries into what was once a ‘man's world’ but, she has also walked a solitary road traveling from one tattoo show to another creating her expression of art upon the receptive skin of those who love ink.  She rarely has found time to have a conversation with her tattoo Sisters in her travels or to share their walk in the world of pushing ink.  Deanna decided to change that and created the Marked for Life Women’s Convention. 

The conference is the one place that the female artist has found to make that sacred connection with the women who walk in the world of tattoo. Until Deanna created this conference it was not easy for these women to bond with one another. Women come from all over the country and world to unite at the Marked for Life Expo and agree it is a comfort to know that they are not alone in their profession.

As the Expo has grown in size and popularity so has Marked for Life. In the past show it cased 181 women tattooing at the Expo and it still keeps growing.  “This is still the only show of its kind in the industry.” Deanna says proudly. While walking the aisles it is apparent that a lot of blood sweat and tears has gone into this production for women in the world of tattoo. 

Deanna became aware eleven years ago that there were a lot of talented female tattoo artists out there so she decided to create the First Female Tattoo Artist Expo in 1996. Having worked at conventions since 1986 she has gained vast experience.  While working with Grampa Groovie she met Sailor Moses.  Moses became a mentor, helping her with needles, pigment mixing and technical tuning.  He was her biggest supporter for her dream of a female expo and attended every show until he passed away. Crazy Eddie Funk only missed one show since the start. Sadly, he was unable to participate this year

”The first Marked for Life Expo was on the Martin Luther King Holiday.” Deanna recalls. “There were 21 booths and 32 artists working and I personally knew all the women except Clancey Warner, from Australia who was the International Artist.”

The second Expo, Lyle Tuttle suggested to her that she give a P.M.S. Award which he thought would go to a woman.  Deanna turned it into the ‘Professional Male Support Award’.  Lyle Tuttle, Crazy Eddie Funk and Robert Butcher were among the winners. This year, there were 4 PMS Awards; Mike Martin, Dave Bein who both worked in the drag booth, George Walker who is part of Deanna’s staff and Tattoo Marty an artist in Melbourne who was also one of the judges.  To date she has given awards to 51 men. 

Marked for Life is not just about tattooing.  Deanna makes sure to give back to the Community by having a raffle and an art auction from the “Art Fusion” event to raise money for the Shriner’s Hospital for children.

This year for the first time, Madame Chinchilla of TRIANGLE TATTOO and MUSEUM Fort Bragg California was the guest artist.  She is an internationally well-known tattoo artist and historical author of numerous books on the world of tattoo. She presented a hot pictorial review of IMAGES OF WOMEN IN TATTOO from 1900-2006 and a slide show of the tattooed women of India from her recent journey to the country.  Bowery Stan, a legend himself joined the presentation and talked about women and their place in the world of tattoo back in the old days in New York City’s China Town. Marked for Life also had some men who were brave enough to participate in a room saturated with female hormones, of course some felt the need to dress in drag to survive.  The ladies giggled every time they cruised down the aisles.  

Bald Bill Henshaw of Yankee Tattoo gave the ladies an opportunity to “show their stuff.” Thanks to the women and their fast machines and talent Bill broke his record of 35 tats all done by women in one day.  The first year in 2002 he had 20 in 12 hours and the next day 5 more.  In 2004 35 women tattooed him in 8 hours. This year, the ladies were fired up and cooking!  Bald Bill requested a simple fish design and now thanks to the ladies, has 41 new tattoos on his back. Let’s just say all took bets if he would sleep on his back that night.  The last tattoo done that broke the record was by Madame Chinchilla of Triangle Tattoo and Museum.

Bowery Stan Moskowitz of Old Bowery Tattoo Supply, a legend in the world of tattoo, the real deal. He started tattooing in New York City's China Town at the age of 13 when he tattooed his father.  He said: “We were poor, did not have a lot in those days and my father worked hard.” As he did not like school, it became apparent that the famous William “Jonesy” Jones and his dad were going to make a tat artist out of him. His journey has been a long one and he certainly knows the ins and outs of the tattoo world. Sitting by the pool Bowery Stan recalls his life as a tattoo artist he says that:  “back in those days you could buy 3 ten dollar William Jones machines and be ready to go.”  With great respect he continues: “Jones was the back bone of tattoo machines.” To him “those were the good old days”. He remembers the early days: “by age 14 I got real fast and worked all day and all through the night.  That was during the war 1945-1946 so all the guys would come in for a tattoo that was personal for them to take to war.” Back in those days you could get a tattoo for three dollars and thirty cents and a chest piece for eight dollars.  If they wanted a name it would cost fifty cents.  “We made a lot of money in those days and worked our asses off.  My father bought his first house from tattooing.” Stan recalls: “In those days we were tuff when the drunks came in wanting some work and maybe to start a fight but we put them in their place. We always had brass knuckles and a razor and were not afraid to use them if we had too.” Bowery Stan fought for the tattoo business through the years and to this day he shares his wisdom and stories with us.

Of course tattoos are important in this writing but the fascinating story behind the women who walk in the world of ink is the real story. 

How did these women become tattoo artists instead of working in the mainstream professions?  SKIN DEEP decided to take a peek into their lives as they were slinging ink at the Marked for Life Expo.

Jeani Joy Treacy

Jeani Joy Treacy of Tatujeani Apache Junction, Arizona has owned 3 tattoo shops; two in Linden and one near Sandy Hook N.J. called Think Ink Tattoo & Body Piercing. She believes that being a female tattoo artist is a blessing.  She wears her advertisement in the form of the art on her skin.  With a strong mystical side to her she believes that tattoos are not just skin deep. She believes that they are powerful Totems that invoke energy into our lives. She eats, breathes and loves tattooing.  Collecting them on her  skin tells a story.

Her Grandfather was an artist so it seems that talent runs in the blood. Many of her family were writers of music, her sister Nikki played the drums, ‘Armand Blasi’ and her Grandfather was an artist-carpenter.  She says: “I would watch him turn anything he had into an art project, metal, wood, paper, paint, it is he who inspired me to become an artist.”  She tells me that: “On a personal note, making peace with my Mother was a struggle for years and to have made that change in my life has opened a lot of tranquility for us both. I never realized how much she really loved me. All the good memories seem to get blocked when you let the demons win. I bring this up only because the tattoo I just recently received is my very meaningful to me”.

Pointing to her arm she tells the story. “It covers my right top arm sleeve. She is the Queen of Swords from the Tarot deck. There is one Butterfly in front of her, and 2 flying, to represent my 8 year old Casey Jean and my 13 year old Amber Jean.  At first the front large butterfly was supposed to be me, and after I realized the Queen of swords was me, and the Butterfly in front should be my Mother.”  Jeani spent a lot of time wanting to find something that meant a lot to her and finding the right artist to take what was left on her arms and not as she says,  “screw it up.” 

The front of her chest is a phoenix bird covering a black rose that was tattooed on the right breast. “I got it over 20 years ago from the man who apprenticed me at age 14. His name was Gene Barnardo, Body Art World in Asbury Park NJ.” Jeani ran away from home and he would let her hang in the shop so she would stay out of trouble. Barnardo inspired her to be a tattoo artist and wanted her to work at his studio. He wanted her to go full force into it but Treacy didn’t have the confidence it took to actually complete tattoos on a daily basis. She would instead work in the shop using a sharp object to etch stencils and clean tubes etc, stretch skin with him, and occasionally do part of the tattoo. At fifteen years old she was the only one in school with tattoos, getting 4 the first time.  Her choice was two roses on separate areas; a heart and sparrow. The sparrow meant ‘free bird’ in a Led Zeppelin song. 

Later Bardo covered it with the phoenix bird flying up to the sun adding a tiger climbing up her shoulder to meet. With a smile she says, “I didn’t realize I was getting such a large tattoo!  “Geeze, did people give me a hard time!” 

Heide Unger

The Ink Ladies Millennium Gallery of Living Art, Fort Collins is a family affair in the world of female tattoo artist’s. “The Ink Ladies” are, Suzanne Unger, the Grandmother, Heidi Unger the daughter and Ryan Corley the 22 year old daughter of Heide.  It all started with Heide who has been tattooing for ten years.  Her husband Tim Corley and Sister Bear were her teachers for about three years.  Tim and Heide opened their main shop, Millennium Gallery of Living Art in Fort Collins, CO in 1995.  In 1997 they opened Millennium Two in Greeley Co.  In 1989 they opened a third Millennium in Worcester, England.  They have seen quite a bit of the tattoo world in various countries and love their art.  Heide has tattooed in many conventions all over the world including Norway, Berlin, Frankfurt, Belfast, Dunstable, National Tattoo Association Conventions and the list goes on.

In 1996 she apprenticed her mother, Suzanne.  Heide recalls: “It was quite a challenge to me as my Mom was a graphic artist by trade.”  Although her mother had taught her art, Heide had to totally retrain Suzanne in a completely new and opposite medium. Daughter Ryan who is 22 is also a tattoo artist who was apprenticed by her dad, Tim Corely.  She has been a piercer for six years and tattooing for two and a half. 

Suzanne Unger

Suzanne Unger, Grandma and Mother comments: “I’m a very fortunate person. Since I was 19 yrs old I’ve made a living with my artistic skills and creativity.” Suzanne started out doing scientific biological illustrations at the University of Calgary, Alberta, where she was a student. A few years later she did illustrations and graphic design for advertisers as well as poster art for the theatre. 

The nineties brought a change in direction with her art when she began designing sets, lighting and special effects for the theatre and dance companies in Colorado. Now she tattoos and gives the credit to her gifted, talented and generous daughter Heide who had the challenge of apprenticing her seven years ago.  

“I love it” Suzanne says with a smile  “It is the most challenging and satisfying art form I have ever done.” 

Ms. Deborah

Ms Deborah’s Fountain of Youth, St Augustine, Florida has been tattooing since 1982 and was honored at the Toasting Women in Tattoo over 20 years dinner. Ms Deborah has been tattooing for 25 years. Her business card says it all:  “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Skill.”  She has only missed two of the Marked for Life Conferences and loves supporting the women who tattoo. She says that: “This is our only chance to talk with one another and to talk shop.  At other shows we are so busy working that we never really have time to connect.” Ms Deborah opened her first shop called the Ink Smith in 1982 in Jacksonville and was a close friend to Paul Rogers.  Back then tattoo studios were not part of the community.  Ms Deborah’s was the first.  Now there are a growing number of them scattered throughout the city.

Hayley Moran

Immortal Images Tattoo, Charlotte, North Carolina: Hayley grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and was surrounded by a creative family who emphasized individuality and freedom.  “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. My parents took me to my first tattoo convention when I was 14 and that did it for me. 

I was taught that it did not matter how long a tattoo took as long as it was ‘smoking,’” she says with a smile.  She continues: “I take pride in my work and want people to know that I really care as much about their tattoo as they do, if not more.” When you see her work, it is hard to believe that she has only been pushing ink for four years.  Hayley can’t see herself doing anything else.  When asked about the challenge of being a female tattoo artist in a male dominated field, she feels she hasn’t had too many challenges in the industry.  She says: “I’m sure there are some people who would never be tattooed by a girl. Or are surprised when they see one of my tattoos and learn that a girl did that.  But there are many people who choose me because I am a female and that’s okay by me.”  With pride Hayley states: “My work speaks for itself.  I love detail and realism and put my spirit into making a wonderful, wearable work of art in the light of lifetime commitment.”

At her first Marked for Life Convention in 2005 she won three trophies.  In the 2006 convention she won first place for the Friday tattoo of the day for Jessica’s throat tattoo.  On Sunday she won second place tattoo of the day.

SKIN DEEP cruised the aisles for five days and into the wee hours of the morning talking with these female tattoo artists and was amazed at their talent and deep connection with this ancient ritual we call tattoo.  A compliment to SKIN DEEP was expressed by these tattoo ladies. They were very excited that the magazine attended the event and can’t wait to grab the upcoming issue. 


Text: Elaina "Dive" Proffit; Photography: Elaina "Diva" Proffit & Thomas Dosedel