Tattooing has a history as old as the human race. Whether as a method of fitting in or setting ourselves apart, to enhance beauty or to make a statement, the ancient art of tattoos is still as popular as ever. While men have historically been the more visible wearers and makers of tattoos, women have a long history of using body art to express themselves and their cultures. Today, the number of female tattoo artists is growing, and here in Indianapolis, we have a long list of talented women with a wide variety of styles and specialties who are owning their part of the tattoo industry. This series aims to highlight a few of these women including Nevada Orenda Jade Buckley-King Cazares.
Evelyn Allee: How did you get started with tattooing?
Nevada Buckley: I’ve always been one to try new mediums in art. Painting, printmaking, fiber art… Three years ago I stopped working at a local coffee shop because my anxiety got the best of me, and that time off led me to try this totally new art form.
EA: How long have you been tattooing?
NB: When I met my husband, he was tattooing but quit to get his master’s degree. Six years later I unboxed his tattoo machine during my spare time and tried it myself. I was self-taught; I first researched how to take the machine apart and put it back together. Then I practiced on fake skins (totally unlike real flesh, by the way!) and soon after I began working on my own skin.
EA: You’re a part of Firefly Tattoo Collective now. Have you ever tattooed independently?
NB: The first tattoos that I did were on my legs. That very first line went in so fluidly and I instantly fell in love with the process! After a few months, I worked on some close friends and family. No, I never had a traditional apprenticeship and I started at home, but from the very beginning, I took this very seriously and soon reached out to get in a shop.
EA: When did you get your first tattoo?
NB: Technically my first tattoo was done by myself, in middle school, during a class! Ink and a safety pin… I still have it and love it. It’s a small labyrinth on my ankle.
EA: Do you exclusively design all the tattoos yourself? What does that process look like for you and the client?
NB: I absolutely adore drawing custom pieces for clients especially witches and other portraits of women. I do however get projects where I directly use references, such as old Tarot imagery and characters from Miyazaki films. On occasion, I will even have clients that draw and collaborate with me!
EA: How would you describe the art that you do?
NB: My style formed years ago when I started to heavily focus on drawing and embroidering portraits of stylized women. I also have my BFA in printmaking which was definitely influenced by my time creating woodcuts and etchings. I suppose my style is line heavy with witchy illustrations. That’s a difficult thing to answer!
EA: Do you think that being a woman brings unique challenges or advantages to your job?
NB: Again, this certainly is a male-dominated industry, but I have had the best time since I started tattooing. Firefly Tattoo Collective took me in, and I received an abbreviated apprenticeship by Laura Black. I really held firm when looking to get into a shop, to work with a woman. She is also an owner and that was extremely inspiring. Currently, I am pregnant, so as for unique challenges, that’s a big one! I’m in my third trimester and simple things like putting on stencils and bending over to tattoo is getting to be more difficult by the day! But ladies are strong as hell.
EA: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
NB: When I have someone hug me or cry after getting an especially meaningful piece. That means everything to me. I have done self-harm cover-ups, tattoos for family and beloved pets that have passed away, suicide awareness pieces…Tattoos can truly be a healing therapy session.
EA: Are there other Indy-based female tattoo artists that you follow or keep up with? Do you think the number of female tattoo artists is growing?
NB: I work with three other outstanding women here at Firefly, one being the owner! Her name is Laura Black and she took me in. Kimberly Cochran is also a part of the Firefly family and I feel so lucky to have these two to learn from and look up to for inspiration and support. We also have another lady joining us soon and her name is Annie Burkhard.
EA: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a tattoo artist but doesn’t know where to start?
NB: Apprenticeships are not easy to come by, so stay determined and dedicated to your artwork while you search. Build a portfolio and fill it with drawings that you are super proud of! From simple, clean line drawings to fully rendered black and gray & full-color pieces. This collection will help artists understand your style and commitment to the work.
All photos by Savannah Calhoun