Jay'e Jones, owner of Strata Tattoo Lab in Yucca Valley.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANAIS AND DAX
I once was like you. I rolled my eyes and guffawed at all the young knuckleheads I saw with tattoos on their necks, their eyelids, their arms. I’d look at some young, tatted up dude and think, Do you not know that the snarling tiger on your bicep is going to look like an asthmatic weasel in 20 years? Don’t be stupid. Do not deface your body. That was my attitude.
Then, something horrible happened about a year ago and, not to be too dramatic about it, I almost died. Afterward, I spent many days in a darkened room with no windows and when I finally came home, all I did was sleep. Eventually, I was able to get out of bed, and I found I didn’t want to. What was the point? The world was nothing but doom and gloom except for these two little wondrous creatures, my granddaughters, Isabel and Rosie, who would sneak in to my bedroom and tell me I needed to get up and play with them. They made me laugh. They made me happy, even if only momentarily.
So, I did something I was certain I’d never do: I decided to get a tattoo. But who to do it? After spending days looking at the Instagram accounts of dozens of tattoo artists and feeling a bit like Goldilocks — this one’s images were too violent; this one’s too florid — I found a woman whose elegant, simple work seemed just right. She came up with a graceful design, Isabel and Rosie’s names entwined inside a small heart. Such a simple thing. But life affirming. Now, I love my tattoo. It reminds me every day why I should get out of bed.
“You started to see people on TV with tattoos and it became kind of normal in society. Now, it seems like more people have tattoos than don’t.” — Jay’e Jones
The tattoo industry is and has always been dominated by men. But, like a lot of things in our society, that’s changing. A growing number of fierce young women — many of them graduates of prestigious art academies — are entering the business. Their aesthetic is, perhaps, a little more delicate. A little more refined. It’s less about cigarette-smoking skulls and more about the stories and meaning behind their art.
“A desert rose is never just a desert rose,” says Taylor Elyse Compton, a tattoo artist in Yucca Valley. “It’s a symbol. Maybe of love or loss or grieving or rebirth — all kinds of things. Each desert rose is unique to the client, depending on what it represents. It’s a deep heart-to-heart thing with my clients. My art is the connection between us.”
Hear from five women whose tattoo art is blooming in the desert.
Taylor Elyse Compton
Owner of Love Always, Yucca Valley
“I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m a hand-poke artist, which means I don’t use a tattooing machine. It’s all by hand, dot-by-dot. People don’t really understand hand-poke tattooing. Some of the machine artists look down on us. It’s just a different way of doing it. If two artists are both painters, but one uses expensive brushes and sets their canvas on an easel, and the other uses their fingers — are you going to say that person isn’t an artist because they don’t use a brush and easel? At the end of the day, it’s just a different technique.
When I sit down with a client, it’s almost a ceremonial experience. I show them my art and talk about it with them, listen to what it is they really want. There’s so much communication that goes on between the client and me. It’s very involved. I strive to have original work and rarely work with a client who has their own art and just wants me to ink it on them.
Women tattoo artists are more patient about this process. They’re better, I think, at listening to the client, trying to understand what it is they want the art to represent. They have to feel like, ‘She gets it.’ That’s what I love about this business: the connection I have with my clients.”
Love Always, Yucca Valley
“I first saw [Love Always owner] Taylor’s hand-poke art several years ago and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really beautiful.’ It was so impressive, and I wanted to learn how to do it as well. We’ve been working together since 2018.
I’m also a musician. I sing and play guitar. I’m a solo loop artist and produce on the side. I grew up in Joshua Tree. It’s a very artistic community. A lot of my friends who I grew up with are involved in the arts — musicians, artists, craftspeople. I happened to end up in the tattoo art world.
“I feel like female tattoo artists are coming into their own right now. In three or four years, it will be a whole new culture. Gentler, not as macho.” — Gabriella Evaro
Liquid Tattoo, Yucca Valley
“I started tattooing in 2013. Jay’e [Jones] was my mentor, and I learned so much from her. It’s a beautiful thing when your thoughts and your client’s thoughts come together to produce a piece of art. It has to be a collaboration. There’s a kind of therapy that goes with being a tattoo artist. Often, people coming in are going through some sort of challenging time, and you need to understand that before designing your art. They come in when they’ve lost someone, when a relationship is over, or when a marriage ends. They can be sad memories. But they want to remember the experience and learn from it.
That’s what the tattoo is for, so it’s important for me to listen to my client and help them turn something that might be painful in to something that is beautiful for them. I find that that’s therapeutic for me as well.
You have to be lucky to even get in this industry. You have to be in the right place at the right time and hope you meet the right mentor to even become a tattoo artist. When all the right elements come together, as they have for me, it’s magic.”
Anarchy and Ink, Cathedral City
“I guess I would call myself “a life artist,” as I’ve always made art from whatever was in front of me, including chaos and heartbreak. So, interacting with my clients, with all of their stories, is second nature to me. People may have this idea in their head about who gets a tattoo, but they’d be amazed if they saw the actual diversity of people who walk in our doors. There isn’t a “type” who gets a tattoo. There are only people, and everyone is unique to me. For instance, I just tattooed an 84-year-old gentleman who’d never gotten a tattoo in his life. He came in and wanted to get a unicorn on his butt cheek. It was definitely a unique experience for both of us.
I also get a lot of tourists who come in and want a tattoo to commemorate their desert vacation. We do a lot of palm trees. I meet people from all over the world because of what I do, often exchanging Instagrams to keep in touch. My art becomes an everlasting bond between us.
You have to be a really good listener in this business. What is it they really want to get from their tattoo? Because even a palm tree can mean a dozen things to a dozen people. Being creative enables me to elaborate on ideas with them, to collaborate with them, and then we both get excited about it. Most clients seem to warm up to me right away because of my open personality. I’m just a kid at heart and I think it shows. I love to create and try to find some middle ground in this crazy world, and maybe bring out the magic in others. If not magic, at least a smile and a memorable time.”
Owner of Strata Tattoo Lab, Yucca Valley
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. In college, I majored in English and planned on being a teacher like everyone else in my family, but then I started apprenticing at a tattoo parlor, just as kind of a hobby. I’ve always been artistic, doing oil, acrylic, and charcoal, so the whole tattoo thing was just another medium for me to try. I fell in love with it.
At first, I was the outlier in my family. Now, not so much. Everyone has evolved. I think my family’s acceptance runs congruent with the rest of the U.S. and the slow acceptance of tattooing as an art form. When I started in the business, there weren’t many female tattoo artists. Eventually, you started to see people on TV with tattoos and it became kind of normal in society. Now, it seems like more people have tattoos than don’t.
I book up months in advance. Before the pandemic, we used to do a fair amount of walk-in business, but we don’t do that anymore. This is an all-female shop, and we found that eliminating walk-ins made for a less stressful work environment. Everyone who works here is independent. Now, they can plan their days to suit themselves. It’s much healthier.
People come here because they feel like they have a connection with you as an artist, and that connection isn’t going to be shared anywhere else. Probably 95 percent of my clientele has been with me since I began. I’ve heard a lot of stories and become very close to my clients. We’ve become more than just friends; we’re like family.”