Spending the early portion of your career at a tattoo shop down the street from where Bert Grimm's once stood in Long Beach is a daunting proposition for even the saltiest pro. If you do well, you'll immediately become a staple in America's most historic tattooing scene. If you don't, it's a sizable mark against you.
Chelsea Jane took that risk, working out of Paper Crane Studio after only having tattooed for a handful of years. And so far, it's paying off. After all, the Long Beach product practically grew up at Grimm's legendary shop.
"It's awesome to tattoo here, like a dream come true," Jane says. "It's so difficult open a shop in your hometown. I remember walking up and down this street. My dad was all tattooed, and he used to take me to the barbecues they'd have at Bert Grimm's."
Did having tattooed parents influence her into becoming a tattooer? No doubt, but her parents weren't alone in convincing her to get into slinging ink for a living. Jane met American Beauty Tattoo's head honcho, James Real, while she was at Long Beach City College, and ended up with a job as the shop helper before becoming the apprentice.
"I cleaned the shop and worked on drawing for about two years before I did my first real tattoo on James," Jane says. "It was all older dudes and a really old-school apprenticeship, which made it interesting and tough. I worked my ass off and I hated it, but I didn't just learn to tattoo, I learned to work through adversity."
A short seven years later, Jane has established herself as a formidable tattooer in Long Beach's scene. While she technically does the traditional style that the Pike initially made famous, it's often more her own take on it than what anyone would've been doing down the street decades ago. Rather than living in traditional tattooing's past, Jane prefers a slightly softer and more effeminate spin on the classic Americana style. A quick glance through Jane's portfolio shows a variety of owls, cats, and several other designs, many using slightly more pastel colors and a general gentleness you don't always see in the bold-lined tattoos.
"I love traditional tattoos," Jane says. "I think my style is maybe a little more new or feminine or whimsical than a lot of traditional tattoos. I'm still exploring my own style."
Her style isn't the only thing Jane is looking forward to exploring, as the young tattooer is looking forward to hitting the road for some conventions and guest spots in the future. As a side effect of that traveling, Jane will meet tattooers from all over the world, although she's already pretty good at connecting with fellow artists and clients alike via social media.
"I'm still a baby [in the tattoo world], but even since I started it's a lot easier to connect with like-minded people who want to get the kinds of tattoos that I want to do," Jane says. "I get to know people from Instagram and they get to know me. Ideas move around so fast these days, I think people are willing to take risks and try new things now."
Of course, Jane (like most tattooers) spends much of her time in the present and looking toward the future, but there are still those old tattoos that invade her nightmare from time to time. It comes with the territory when you're your own harshest critic.
"I had someone say to me when I was first starting out that there would be tattoos that would haunt me," Jane says. "It's an adventure every time. I think if you don't look back and see things you would change in older tattoos, you're not getting better."
Have you ever encountered any resistance from men as a female tattooer?
I had a guy at the shop before tell me that women shouldn't tattoo and if I became a tattooer he would leave the shop. With something as old as tattooing, there's some bad that goes along with the good. That's it.
What was it like to have an old school apprenticeship when so many new tattooers are coming out of art school and going straight to tattooing?
The apprenticeship made made tattooing more humbling. Learning to draw and tattoo at the same time was tough. I would've loved to go to art school, but I left school to start tattooing and I would do it again.
Do you have a favorite part of tattooing?
I think it's when you meet a person who you can really connect with. The design comes out perfect because you're on the same page. The tattoo comes out clean and everything goes smoothly. I made a new portfolio recently, and it became emotional because it was full of friends who've become clients and clients who've become friends. I have such strong connections with all of them.
What's one thing about tattooing that people don't see on the TV shows?
Tattooing is really fun, but it's also really hard. People don't see the hard work behind it. It doesn't come easy, but I think there's still some magic left in tattooing.
Paper Crane Studio, 530 E Broadway, Long Beach, 562-999-1454, Instagram: @dearchels