You have to have thick skin to make it in the world of body art. Piercing needles and tattoo guns aren't the only things that sting.
That's the lesson Austina Obscure learned when she opened Holier Than Thou Tattoo & Body Piercing (318 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming) in 2007. Though she originally started out doing just piercings, expanding into tattoos simply made sense. Besides, she said, she'd always wanted to learn. Too bad no one wanted to teach her.
“It's a male-dominated industry. That was a problem back then. It's still a thing, but it's starting to open up more to women,” Obscure explained.
“Around here, people threw out crazy prices at me to start an apprenticeship. I didn't have that kind of money. This was even before I opened up my studio. I loved art; I was always drawing and painting, but I just got shunned. If you didn't walk into a studio with big boobs or a little ass, you weren't going to get a lot of attention.”
Undaunted, Obscure essentially taught herself, doing research, watching videos, and paying close attention to other artists. Zoom ahead to 2013, and Obscure found herself voted “Best Tattoo Artist” in the Weekender Readers' Choice Awards for the second year in a row. Holier Than Thou itself likewise won “Best Tattoo/Piercing Parlor,” and the shop's resident hole-puncher, John Holena, won “Best Piercer.”
With plans to open a second shop in Plymouth in a month's time, a lot has changed since those early days when no one was willing to give Obscure the time of day. That said, she remains ambitious and eager to continue developing her skills.
“Instead of chasing the industry, I'd rather have people chase me. I want the strength of my work to speak for itself and bring people to me,” Obscure said.
“When I first started, I wanted to be the rock star; I wanted to go to conventions and things like that. But then I saw how political it was. Even at conventions, I saw good work being shunned while awards went to OK work by people who happened to know somebody on the panel or knew the dude who ran the convention. And I realized I didn't want to be that kind of person. I don't want to have to kiss anybody's ass to get where I want to be.”
For Obscure, Holier Than Thou's success, and the recognition she herself has received from area ink-addicts, is an indicator that she's on the right track.
“I want to make my local people happy first. I know a couple studios in the area who push too much, I think, to be out there in the world that they've forgotten about the local people,” she pointed out.
“The local people are who pay your bills. The local people are who you come home to and have to take care of. Those are the people who've made me who I am.”