Any of us would be happy to work in this space: A wide-open third-story room above High Street just off Campus, flooded with natural light, decorated to the artist’s preference with the work of friends.
A tattoo needle buzzes just beneath the crank of death metal.
Stacey Hill is in her element, slowly emblazoning the torso of a client with the image of Alice in Wonderland. The client, a student close to her 21st birthday, awkwardly lifts her head every several minutes to check the progress, then apologizes.
“It’s OK. You can peek,” Hill tells her.
Hill is just 24, but her love affair with tattoos has spanned nearly half her life. She was 13 when she accompanied her father to a Florida tattoo studio, where he was inked with a cross.
“I sat through a portion of it. They didn’t want kids in there,” she said. “I got to go back and hang out for about 15 minutes, and I was like, that’s so cool.”
Hill had always been into art — she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t drawing or painting — but she latched onto tattoo specifically. She started her apprenticeship just two weeks after she turned 18; her teacher asked to see her ID.
Hill’s body is the canvas for 37 images; she is a walking art gallery, carrying with her the work of other artists she’s known and visited. The phrase “Everything’s Ruined” sits like a necklace just above her collarbone. Still, “I’m not nearly as tough as I look,” she says.
She laughs easily, is a bit camera-shy — and, though she’s being peppered with questions, her focus is clearly on her client. She checks in with her every few minutes to make sure she’s comfortable.
Hill never gave much thought to being a woman tattoo artist, though the artist she apprenticed with believed, she said, that women are more humble than men.
Women tattoo artists in Columbus don’t gather in a regular coffee klatch — there’s no sorority among them, per se.
“I usually stick to myself,” she said.
Hill keeps her attention on her clients; she regards herself as an artist, yes, but also as an employee in a service industry.
“I’m not here to judge, and I don’t think that one tattoo is better or smarter or more important than any other one,” she said. “Just because I don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning for someone else.”