Alli MacGregor should count herself lucky to still be tattooing. No, she should count herself lucky to be alive.
MacGregor has endured a few near-death experiences in her life (which inspired her “weirdest tattoo”), but one should’ve probably ended her career, er, “love” as she refers to tattooing. In 2005, MacGregor and a friend were struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light — flipping the car four times, landing more than 100 yards from the crash.
“I’m pretty resilient to death. I‘ve come close a lot of times. I should be dead,” MacGregor said during an interview at her Olde Towne East shop last week. “Both my hands were … in braces for nine months. My back is all screwed up and I have a clot in my brain, glass in my eyes. They told me I wouldn’t be tattooing past 35 and I’m 37 now, so I’m doing OK.”
A couple years later, she learned the accident left her with PTSD, which is why she has a therapy dog, Herbert Porkins, who goes everywhere with her, including to work.
Resilient is an understated way to describe MacGregor. She fell in love with tattoos and the art when she was six years old after seeing one her brother had come home from the Army with. As MacGregor remembered, “It really intrigued me on his skin; it was so bright and colorful.”
But it took many years for MacGregor, a lifelong artist who’s been painting and drawing since she was a toddler, to practice her passion. At 18, she sought a tattoo apprenticeship, but was turned away because she’s a woman.
“Back then women couldn’t get into the industry that easily. It took me about 10 years to finally get an apprenticeship,” said MacGregor, who’s now been tattooing for eight years.
MacGregor got a shot at All or Nothing Tattoo in Atlanta under the tutelage of owner Brandon Bond and Josh Woods, who currently co-owns Black 13 Tattoo in Nashville. She counts them as people who were willing to take a risk in a profession with a history of sexism.
“When I started at All or Nothing, Brandon thought females can’t tattoo. A few weeks later [he said], ‘You got some tenacity, I gotta give you that.’ At the end he was like, ‘You’re the most stubborn bitch I know, but you did it. You proved me wrong,’” MacGregor said.
While tattooing has dealt with this unfortunate stereotype in the past (and even still when it comes to pigheaded traditionalists), MacGregor points out that females have now earned much respect from their male peers, mainly by showcasing amazing work and professionalism.
She shares this dedication, as does much of the best of Columbus’ tattoo scene, which MacGregor describes as “amazing, compared to other cities” and “[bit of] a weird hotspot.” And since opening her shop in 2009, MacGregor epitomizes this by building a loyal clientele with her neo-traditional, new-school, color-bomb work. She also specializes in animals and has an affinity for “dorky, stupid tattoos.”
MacGregor’s affinity for the weird, dorky or stupid brings me back to her strangest tattoo and the multiple times she’s escaped death. MacGregor has drowned three times in her life — once, dead for more than two minutes — so she decided to get a superstitious sailor tattoo (they would get pigs and chickens on their feet) to thwart any more drownings. MacGregor, not one to go the ordinary route, has the pig and chicken engaged in, shall we say, an activity best described by the mouth of a sailor.