For the longest time, I’ve been contemplating my third tattoo. I knew exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it, but wasn’t committed on where to go. The artist of my second was through a recommendation, but also located deep into Alphabet City; which meant no subways were in a weather-convenient walking distance. During the Girlboss Rally, I met Shanzey Afzal, Founder of Ink Minx, a mobile tattoo studio for feminists in Queens.

Shanzey and I met up a few weeks later at her studio to talk why Ink Minx is for women, what to look for in an artist, and her plans to take Ink Minx on the festival tour. Oh yeah, and to get inked.

P.S. There’s a crowdfunding for the Ink Minx Tattoo Tour, in case you’re looking for a place to give some extra holiday cheer. 

Tell us, what is Ink Minx?
Ink Minx is a mobile tattoo studio for feminists. Our main market is women between the ages of 18 and 40, but we have a secondary market of gender nonconforming people or LGBT people as well. What I’m trying to do is kind of revolutionize the industry in a way that brings a lot of kindness, inclusiveness and really a lack of intimidation; make tattooing more accessible to people rather than the average run-of-the-mill shop that a lot of people feel kind of unconformable going to. I want there to be comfort talking to your artist and feeling like your design is going to be understood. I want more women artists to be able to feel like they can tattoo and be welcome in their workplace.

As a female tattooer who went through my apprenticeship, I found my apprenticeship really archaic and abusive especially towards me as a woman. In the past, a lot of sexual favors have been expected as an apprentice especially as a woman.

Oh wow.
Even now as a woman, you’re expected to be sort of submissive in a way that’s different than a male apprentice hazing kind of ritual. One thing that I’m not ashamed of, but I’m mad about is my mentor asked me to pose nude for him for his paintings. I didn’t know what to do. He’s in a position of power, so I did it. A lot of woman have this experience. Ink Minx also wants to serve as a collective for female artists to collaborate, to connect with each other and so far we’ve got four artists meeting up and doing things together and it’s great.

Do they all come to the studio or do they have outside places?
They all work at their own places, but so far I have come to them with my studio because Ink Minx is able to do that.

Have you gone nationwide or just been in New York right now?
Right now I’ve gone to Portland, Maine and Philadelphia. I’m hoping to go on a tour this summer and I’m crowdfunding for a nationwide tour.

Photo credit: Shanzey Afzal

Do you already have like set out what festivals or where you …
January is going to be a big month for me because that’s when I get to confirm these festivals. That’s when vendor applications open up, but I’m definitely going to be doing Warped Tour 95%. I will be at Coachella.

I might not be in Coachella, but I will be around Coachella.

Are there any brands out there that aren’t necessarily tattoo focused that you feel they align with your beliefs?
Yeah, I want to work with a couple of brands. Baked by Melissa is really supportive of me. I’ve worked with them in the past. I want to work with doing events with say Bumble and Bumble and Seventeen Magazine.

There’s a tattoo parlor I really am aligned with called Nice Tattoos and their vision is to be a tattoo studio where everyone is nice to you. I personally get tattooed at Beaver Tattoo, which is an all female tattoo shop.

Why don’t we see more female tattoo artists? Where I got my second tattoo, it was mainly men. I don’t think I saw one woman except behind the front desk.
Well, despite I think 39% of women being tattooed; having at least one tattoo, and that is according to a Harris poll. I think that’s a 2016, but you might have to look that up. The tattoo industry is entirely dominated by men. It’s really hard to learn to tattoo without having a mentor. The fact that it’s all men dominating the field makes it really hard for women to find an artist that understand their design. A lot of women come in wanting something delicate and perhaps they come out getting something a little bit more bold.

It’s interesting because now that I’m thinking about it, people find their mentors typically by working together. How do tattoo artists find a mentor? Do they wind up going to the shop, working at the shop and then going from there?
Yes, or pounding the pavement; just going shop to shop and showing your portfolio. I had an alternative where I did get a traditional apprenticeship, but what I had to offer was different. I had the skills to build them a website and a web presence in social media and that was something they really needed at the time. A lot of circumstances aligned and I got it out of luck.

So, for someone who is looking to get their first tattoo or they’re moving to a new place and they’re looking to find a new studio, what tips do you have to find it? When I was looking for a place for my second tattoo, I went by recommendation. I have a girl who I know who have a lot of them, but then I also was like, “What about Bang Bang?” Their minimum, I think their starting rate…
$600 I think. Bang Bang is the top of the line, but their clientele, they’re not looking to serve everybody. They’re looking to serve a certain demographic. Oh my gosh, do I love their artists.

But I think to myself, “I wouldn’t pay $600 for this.” You know what I mean?
It depends on what your design is. For example, my first tattoo was this little star and moon. I didn’t really do research on let me find an artist. My qualifications were are they licensed and do they work at a clean shop.

It’s hard because you need to pay for a tattoo and you should expect to pay, I would say on average $100 more than you think you’re going to pay, for like a designed tattoo. You have to go in for a consultation. Don’t go to someone who’s going to make you get tattooed right then and there.

When they’re setting up, what should we look for?
New needles. New tubes. This piece here, I use both disposable and steel tubes. If they’re using a steel tube, make sure that they have an autoclave on site. I have my own autoclave. I can’t emphasize enough to make sure that they’re licensed. In New York, you can’t get licensed without the support of a shop behind you. In Philadelphia, you can’t get licensed without putting tattoo artist on your tax returns for two years.

What, why?
You’re essentially getting surgery. My dad is a doctor, so I was lucky to get an education on little tips like say he told me always to lube up the skin to make sure the needle goes in smoother. I got two different mentors in a way, but it is a procedure. There are risks involved. That’s why we make you sign a consent form.

Hmm, I never thought about it like that.
Then on the other hand, tattooing is so fun. Its permanent makeup. It’s no different than, I think, getting laser hair removal or something like that, something permanent, but it’s there to adorn yourself. It’s your body. It provides so much expression for you and it can provide healing and closure or motivation for your future goals. It’s great.

So, as a person of color, I’ve been to a few places where they’ve been like, “Oh, this won’t show up on your skin.” I find it to be very telling of someone’s talent.
I agree. I find it to be telling of … I mean honestly racism is so covert and I believe that a lot of times tattooers won’t tattoo people of color because it won’t “look good” in their portfolio. You can see that on Instagram all the time.

I want my Instagram to be as diverse as possible. On the other hand, I want it to look good on my portfolio. There’s probably so many factors involved and certain tattoos won’t look good, but that’s just one reason that really stands out to me and that I want to change as well.

Do you think some tattoo artists have their specialty? How would you go about finding someone who gets your esthetic?
I know my specialty is not black and gray realism. While I would tattoo a close friend something like that, I wouldn’t tattoo a client something like that. I would say no or try to show them my style, which is very illustrative. You have to look at their portfolio. A shop should have a wide variety of people or sometimes an entire shop will specialize in one style. It’s important to find someone that fits your style.

Do you have any places that you recommend for people who aren’t New York based or people in your collective that you’ve met that you think are great?
There’s one girl. Her name is Victoria. She goes by V Bear on Instagram. She does very therapeutic holistic tattoos. She treats tattoos as 100% a therapy session. Her consultations are really in depth about your life and what you want to get out of this tattoo. I think that is an incredibly unique experience. Another tattoo artist goes by Sacred Poke in Philadelphia and she does only hand poke tattoos, which some artists are very into because it’s something that’s thousands and thousands of years old and doesn’t include machinery. There’s no fear of that noise. There’s no technology entering your body. I love all that stuff, but I’m a traditional tattooer. I learned from a street artist and I learned from a guy that was in and out of jail.

They taught me skills that these women weren’t taught from their mentors, but these women are teaching me styles that I am very interested in.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you sort of want to get out there?
Tattooers are like a different breed of person. We’re artists. I do this because I love skin as a canvas. I love working with people. I know I don’t fit that stereotype of a tattoo artist and I love that. I’m going to sing while I tattoo. I’m going to be really gentle and take a lot of breaks if that’s what my client needs. You don’t have to settle for your tattoo artist. You can find someone that’s going to give you exactly what you need and you don’t have to feel ashamed of needing someone who’s gentle with you. It’s like a relationship. You need what you need.