Long before Ryan Ashley Malarkey was a finalist on Spike TV reality show “Ink Master,” she was a budding artist growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Before she put herself under bright studio lights for the entire country to see, Malarkey was an outstanding art student, a resident artist in the world of fashion design, a sought-after tattooist and a successful businesswoman.
Malarkey grew up in Sweet Valley and graduated from Lake-Lehman High School in 2005.
Malarkey’s mother, Diane Green, said Malarkey, now 29, was creative from a young age.
“I used to carry a bag with us wherever we brought Ryan,” Green said. “We called it the to-do bag, and it had all kinds of art supplies. She was always making little projects, and she’d sell them at our family gatherings.”
Green said Malarkey’s eye for detail was apparent even as a child.
“Even at 5 or 6 — one particular picture was a cowboy and cowgirl, and they had holsters and stars —it was really detailed for a young kid, Green said.
Malarkey pursued her artistic education at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where she was a critic award winner, and she took a job as an in-house artist for a private label company that designed clothes for companies like Chico’s and Boscov’s.
Eventually Malarkey left the fashion industry to take an apprenticeship in a tattoo shop, an enterprise she said she found more fulfilling.
Austina Obscure, who owns Kingston tattoo studio Holier Than Thou, is a friend of Malarkey and knew her during her development as a tattooer.
“Early on, I knew she was going to be great, because her art was already on point and that’s always a huge bonus,” Obscure said. “It’s a great thing to watch her come so far in such a short amount of time.”
Since transitioning in her career, Malarkey has become known for her intricate black and gray tattoo work that portrays a femininity in style and contours to the bodies of her subjects.
Jacquelyn Andrejko, of Hanover Township, has been Malarkey’s client for over two years, and Malarkey has done seven pieces on Andrejko’s body.
Andrejko said she loves Malarkey’s work and gives the artist creative license.
“She definitely works with the body, and all of her stuff comes out amazing,” Andrejko said.
But Malarkey’s artistry is not the only thing that makes Andrejko a regular customer.
“I love her personality,” Andrejko said. “It’s like therapy for me when I come to get work done. I get my girl talk in. It’s like my night out.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Malarkey also co-owns an oddities parlor, Kington’s The Strange & Unusual, with fiance and keyboard player in internationally touring metalcore group Motionless in White, Josh Balz.
Eryn Sullivan, of Scranton, is the store manager at The Strange & Unusual and was, until recently, also Malarkey’s personal assistant.
“Eryn’s been here day in and day out for two and a half years,” Malarkey said. “She’s been with me on my good days and my bad days.”
“Ryan and Josh are my second family,” Sullivan said. “I work for them, but they’re friends first.”
Sullivan said the oddities parlor and Malarkey’s reputation have grown side by side so quickly Malarkey had to hire another person to be her assistant so Sullivan could focus on managing the store.
“We used to tell people the waiting list was a month long,” Sullivan said. “Now we say it could be six to eight months before you hear from us.”
Malarkey, Sullivan said, has clients from all over the country.
“There’s a client who comes in from Hawaii who comes in for three straight days to get tattooed,” Sullivan said.