In 2010, a Columbia University study found that just one in six tattooers were female. While the industry still remains heavily male-dominated, tattoo artists like Kat Von D and Tatu Baby continue to break barriers for Latinas and women all over the world through their art. Though the two ink babes are well-known in the industry, there's one Colombiana who will soon be the next HBC (Head B*$^@ In Charge).
Meet Michelle Santana. Whether you've been looking for your next tattoo inspiration or simply scrolling through your Instagram feed, chances are you've probably seen some of Michelle's amazing tatts. Her portfolio boasts an eye-catching collection of delicate lines and lettering that pleases our aesthetic-loving corazones.
The Colombian-born artist, who is no stranger to tattoos herself, took the plunge and got her first tatt when she was just sixteen. Although she had no prior experience tattooing, the artist-in-training bought a tattoo kit and got her first shot at inking by practicing on her friends. "I started tattooing in my bed in Colombia. I had friends from the neighborhood. They were like, 'free tattoo? Yes!' I practiced on them and after a few month I realized that is what I wanted to do."
Captivated by her work, Santana started gaining popularity among her friends for her tattoos. The Colombiana, who from an early age developed a passion for graffitis and paintings in oil, saw tattooing as another form of expression. She credits learning her tattoo style, thanks to the music she listened to.
"Since I was a kid, I've always loved hip-hop. I discovered this Chicano style thanks to the rappers I used to listen to. Eminem and 50 Cent got tattooed by Mister Cartoon. Mister Cartoon is Chicano from California. I loved that style and the letterings," Michelle said.
While 26-year-old is known for her lettering in her native country of Colombia, in New York, Santana is highly recognized for her delicate lines. However, the artist admits her minimalistic tattoos can be just as hard if not harder to ink than conventional tattoos.
"Believe or not small tattoos are hard to do too. Just because they are small doesn't mean that they are easy. You can see any little mistake with any little movement. With a big piece, you can just go over it," the Latina explained. But despite their difficulty, small ink will continue to be a major trend in 2017. "Lettering is going to stay. Now that we can do tattoos more cursive, small, and feminine, lettering is going to stay longer. Of course, tiny tattoos that you can place anywhere in your body is going to remain popular," the artist predicted.
It's no secret social media platforms like Instagram, have become a branding tool for tattoo artists like Michelle. With over 60 thousand followers on the photo-sharing app, the Colombiana uses the 'gram to showcase her talent and personality, one photo at a time.
"Instagram is so good for artists. I remember when I started tattooing I had to print the photos of the tattoos I had done, put them in a book, and look for a job. Now, everything is on Instagram. I don't have to bring anything. All my portfolio is there. The other day I was thinking, 'What if I lose my account and all those tattoos?!' [Laughs] I have to start saving them," she told Latina.
Santana, who has only been in New York for nearly two years, has quickly been recognized in the tattoo community thanks to her following. She credits her amazing customers for all the love and support she's received in such a short amount of time. "It's been so crazy. I never expected to have so many people sending me emails every day. It's so cool! That's why I post pictures with my customers. I'm so grateful and I appreciate them so much. It's really amazing how people [in the states] can show me so much love. I even feel more loved here than in my own country [Laughs]" a thankful Santana explained.
But her success has not come without a series of rejections along the way. While in Amsterdam, Santana was offered a job under false pretenses. "He wanted to have something with me. He told me he didn't hire me because I had talent," she said. Michelle rejected the offer and traveled back to Colombia.
Of course, the brunette beauty didn't allow this incident or other people's perceptions about herself get in the way of her success. And she hopes other women will also thrive even after being told "no."
"As long as you have talent, go for it. No one can tell you 'no.' People used to tell me I was not good enough and I wouldn't care. A lot of people are going to tell you 'no' but that will happen in a lot of things in life. As Latinas, we are strong women. My mother was a single mom and I've seen her hustle since I was a kid. I didn't want to disappoint her. We know where we come from and we don't settle for anything but the best," Santana explained.
These days, Santana divides her time between the Big Apple and her own shop back in her native country of Colombia: “A couple of months ago I was really focused on New York so I didn't have time to go to Colombia. Now I'm really trying to be present here and there. I'm trying to go to Colombia at least one week, every two months, so I can tattoo my clients there."
Check out more of Michelle's amazing portfolio here.