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Whether you’re looking for advice as a woman in a male-dominated industry or just want to know what tattooers are really thinking when you walk in the shop, Chelcie Dieterle has something for you. I’ve known Chelcie for a few years — in fact, I have three one-of-a-kind pieces of original art in the form of tattoos by Chelcie.
I got to know her in one of the more awkward ways that I’ve gotten to know anyone. To distract myself from the general “Ouch” factor of getting a tattoo, I found myself talkin’ up a storm with Chelcie every time I was in the chair. And the more I learned about her experience tattooing, the more I wanted to share her story.
Name: Chelcie Dieterle Location: Sherwood, AR Title: Tattoo Artist at Diamond State Tattoo Educational Background: BA in art history from the University of Central Arkansas
What inspired you to get into tattooing?
When I was 16, my uncle let me come along with him to see him get tattooed at a shop in Conway, AR. The moment I walked in the door I knew I wanted to get into the industry. The music, the artwork on the walls, and the carefree vibe instantly had me interested.
On that note, how do you even get into tattooing? What kind of training and licensing is required?
It’s different in every state, but in Arkansas you have to take a written test administered through the health department that allows you to begin the apprenticeship process. Once you pass the tests and if you’ve found a shop that wants to teach you, you can then start gathering hours in the shop. After six months, you can test out through the health department if the person apprenticing you thinks you’re ready and if you have enough hours. Otherwise you have up to two years to get the hours and a license.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Generally I wake up around 7:30, get ready for the day, and then head up to the shop a little while before we open. I like to be up there before hours so I can drink my coffee, finalize my drawings for appointments, and mentally prepare for the pieces I’ll be doing that day.
Once we open, things can get pretty chaotic, with phones ringing constantly and people walking in and out of the shop to ask questions and schedule appointments. You have to be on your game at all times and be ready for anything the day might throw at you.
Once closing time rolls around, I reorganize my booth, sweep, mop, and get ready to go home. When I get home, I take care of whatever I need to there, and then sit down and start planning out and sketching my appointments for the next day.
If you could have given yourself a piece of advice when you started, what would that be?
I definitely would have told myself that I don’t have to bend over backwards to draw up a tattoo that specifically caters to the demands of a client. Sometimes things don’t work well within a tattoo design. A lot of times clients come in wanting 300 things crammed into a design the size of a quarter, and that’s just not possible to do.
When I first started, I was timid and lacked confidence in my voice. People used that to their advantage and I ended up doing some pieces that I could have been happier with had I put my foot down and told them it would be better to not do certain things. The biggest example of this is the trend that involves putting a sentence, oftentimes a very long one, and twisting it into the shape of an infinity symbol that the client generally wants to put on their wrist. This is difficult to do for so many reasons and makes for a piece that probably won’t hold up very well in the long run. And when I began tattooing, I spent so many hours just trying to compromise with clients to give them a good tattoo that still upholds exactly what they’re wanting—when I should have just told them it wasn’t a good idea.
What’s your favorite part about tattooing? What’s your least favorite part?
My favorite part of tattooing is getting to hear ideas from clients and then getting to interpret those ideas into a tattoo. It’s really a lot of fun because people can come up with some pretty unique things. A lot of times now, I have clients come in who just let me have free reign with their tattoos and it’s something I appreciate and enjoy so much.
My least favorite part about tattooing is getting people scheduled sometimes. People will ask you about getting tattooed a million times before they do it, if they do it at all.
As a tattooer, what do you wish people knew before they walked in?
I wish they knew that they won’t always be able to get tattooed right when they walk in. Quite often people get irritated when told they’ll have to wait, come back later, or set up an appointment. Walk ins are first come, first serve and still come after actual appointments. If a client decides half an hour before they walk in that they want a tattoo, they should be aware that it doesn’t always work that way and that it’s okay to wait.
Tattooing is a male-dominated industry. Do you feel like that’s made it harder for you?
It’s harder in the sense that sometimes I felt as an early tattoo artist that people, both other male artists and clients, treat you a little less seriously. Part of that may have been attributed to my status as a female tattooer, but it was also because I lacked some confidence in my voice when I first started. Eventually the confidence shows up and the ability to stand my ground and stop taking crap from people rose up and cut off a lot of that difficulty. At the end of the day, that kind of treatment just fuels my drive to be a better tattooer, really.
What advice do you have for other women in male-dominated workspaces?
I would say that it’s really important to not let people walk over you. Work at whatever it is you’re doing and be the best at it. Be confident in your words and your actions and demand the respect that you deserve.
You’re also in the art world. How do you reconcile your love for art with the art world’s sometime-disdain for tattooing?
During college, I had a drawing professor who made a lot of back-handed remarks about tattooing, knowing I was a tattooer. She used to say it was tacky, that tattooers probably had difficulties trying out different mediums, and that it’ll probably be harder for me to do certain things for our projects because I’m a tattooer. It was a little frustrating, but I took every drawing project and completed it the way I wanted to and made A’s and B’s on all of them.
It made me realize that even if a piece of artwork isn’t what a person necessarily likes or appreciates because they don’t like the subject matter or style, it doesn’t really matter because they still have to respect that it was something that was done technically well and that it deserves the same respect as something done in a subject matter that speaks to you.
A lot of tattooers have art degrees nowadays and even more of them experiment with a ton of different mediums and push boundaries to the point that the art world is accepting of tattooing and even interested in it. Experiences like those with my drawing professor just push people to do better and help recognize when criticism is actually constructive or just coming from a generally negative opinion of a medium.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened in a tattoo shop?
So much stuff happens in tattoo shops, but generally the craziest stuff involves clients and their willingness to show you…well…all of themselves without letting you know beforehand. You’ve really got to be prepared for just about everything when you work at a tattoo shop, especially when it comes to tattoo placement.
What are your hobbies?
I have so many hobbies! Lately, I’ve been teaching myself to crochet little plants to use as home décor. I also do a lot of watercolor painting, oil painting, one shot sign painting, lino printing, woodburning, and I wire wrap jewelry.
How do you balance your work with your personal life? Especially because you don’t exactly work 9-5.
I feel like I never have enough time in the day, but I always get a lot done. I don’t go in to work until noon, so I get a lot of house stuff done before I go in and get to hang out with my puppies until then. If I ever have gaps in-between appointments at work, I’ll take care of other things like drawings for later appointments or paying online bills. When I get home at night I finally get to relax and play around with other mediums and hang out with my boyfriend and my pups.
Have you ever considered opening your own shop?
I have! But really, right now working for someone else is really nice. Owning a business, especially a tattoo shop, takes a lot. Right now, I’m able to travel freely and worry about pushing myself as an artist rather than worrying about other people working for me and running a business. Someday if I settle down in one spot and start making more permanent life decisions, I think owning a tattoo shop would be really great.
What’s next for you?
Tattooing at some conventions and hopefully doing guest spots in Europe. I’ve tattooed all around the United States at conventions and other shops and it’s a great learning experience getting to meet other artists and tattoo in different environments. I’d love to start branching out overseas.