Meet the Tattoo Artists Changing San Antonio — One Body at a Time

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click to enlarge COURTESY OF DYLAN DONOHUE
Courtesy of Dylan Donohue

Essentially, Tara Quinn is just a kid who never grew up.

A look around her work area, the furthest back corner of Dandyland Tattoos, and you’ll find toys still in boxes and comic book covers neatly attached to the wall, making it look like it’s covered by one giant poster.

Quinn was born in California and at age seven moved to Beeville, a small town an hour northwest of Corpus Christi with a population of about 13,000. There was absolutely nothing to do there, she says, so she spent most of her time drawing — and still does. 

On a shelf in Quinn’s work area sits a thick stack of sketchbooks, each one completely full of drawings. But that stack, she says, hardly makes a dent in the number of books she’s filled up in her history as an artist. More recently, she’s started keeping her drawings in a tablet, which she uses to quickly sketch up ideas when a client comes to her wanting a new tattoo. She talks about her tablet with pride, knowing that some of her best work sits in there, stored as a rough draft.

Quinn is a new school tattoo artist, which means her work often incorporates vibrant colors, varied lines and animated styles. Her tattoos often look cartoonish (think exaggerated features) that are sometimes unsettling, but always unique. And though her work has evolved over the years (you can scroll through her Instagram to see her early drawings), her style is distinguishable among new school artists for her attention to detail and use of shading. 

click to enlarge COURTESY OF TARA QUINN
Courtesy of Tara Quinn

Quinn remembers watching her uncle practice giving a tattoo during a family trip, and at that moment, something for her just clicked. Right then, she knew she wanted to be a tattoo artist. 

She began to practice tattooing on fake skin (it’s a thing, really) and landed an apprenticeship where she got her first taste of the tattooing industry — an industry, which she quickly learned, isn’t always that welcoming to women. 

Throughout her career, Quinn says she’s experienced sexism, from past employers who treated her differently than her male co-workers to the clients who didn’t believe in her as an artist. Some people told her there’s no way her work could actually be hers because she’s a woman. In the beginning, it took some time for Quinn to get used to being the only woman artist at a shop, as well as one of the few women professionally tattooing in San Antonio.

“It’s not as much of a good ol’ boys club anymore,” she says while scrolling through her phone. She’s searching for photos of her work that other artists — other male artists — have ripped off, claiming her drawings as their own.

At first, Quinn didn’t feel the need to call out the impostors, but when she saw her work being replicated more frequently, coupled with clients questioning her abilities because of her gender, she began putting the copycats on blast.

Quinn’s passion for respecting original art is commendable. Don’t expect to walk into Dandyland with a photo of a tattoo — a photo of a tattoo designed by a different artist, that is — and have her needle that image onto you. Instead, you’ll get a Tara Quinn original, a piece that’s been reworked and reimagined. Which is part of the reason why clients keep going back to her.

Currently, Quinn is the longest standing tattoo artist at Dandyland. She started working at the shop around 2009 and has worked on countless tattoos since, building relationships with clients that she now calls her friends. 

Any tattoo artist will tell you that this career is not for the weak.

“You deal with assholes all the time,” she says, “and back pain, no medical insurance or benefits.” And artists typically work by appointment, getting a cut of each piece they tattoo. That means that if a client bails, you don’t get paid. But it’s all worth it, she says, for the moment when a client finally sees their finished piece. 

click to enlarge COURTESY OF TARA QUINN
Courtesy of Tara Quinn

“You know that weird kid who always sat in the back of the class,” she asks. “Yeah, that was me.”

It wasn’t until she started getting tattoos that Quinn began to feel comfortable in her own body, and giving that gift to other people — helping people grow into themselves through her art — is why she got into the business in the first place.

She’s currently booked through the next couple of months, but folks interested in working with Quinn can get in touch with her through Dandyland or Instagram, which is where about a third of her clients discover her work. However, if you’re going to request a tattoo from Quinn, there are a few things she wants you to know: She considers herself a giant nerd and apologizes in advance for all the dumb things she’ll say during your session, which, depending on your tattoo, could take a few hours, so be prepared. Bring your phone and watch Netflix, listen to music or use the time to catch up on a podcast. She asks that you don’t bring a million friends into the shop because it’s distracting and more people usually means more opinions, and more opinions can get in the way of your artist's advice. 

And last but not least, respect your artists. Whether it’s Quinn or not, your tattoo artist knows best. Trust them.

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