Prairie Wife of the Week February 28, 2014
Posted February 28, 2014 by Prairie Wife - 7 comments
Addition: Since this interview was posted Lelia has established her own shop. Feel free to contact Leila through her shop Sweet Misery Electric Tattoo (make sure you LIKE her FB page (and ours)) or WilcoxLeila@yahoo.com (307)441-4379
As most of our readers know I am a city girl living in a country world, and my type of city girl has a little bit of a rocker edge. So, it will probably not come as a surprise for you to learn that I have a tattoo…or a few (all tasteful I assure you). I met this week’s Prairie Wife of the Week Lelia, when I went in a year ago to get a tattoo to commemorate the birth of Cowboy C. I had heard about her amazing work as a tattoo artist, and specifically her beautiful artistry with flowers. I was immediately struck by her super cool vibe, and as I got to know her I was more and more impressed with her poise, positive attitude, and artistic talent. Tattooing is becoming more and more socially acceptable and respected as an art form across the world. Lelia has more than her fair share of Prairie Wife grit, which she has used to charge forward in a male dominated field. Her determination to follow her dreams with the support of her family, make her the perfect Prairie Wife of the Week.
Prairie Wife (PW): First tell me a little bit about your family.
Leila (L): I come from a big family with 11 of us all together; I grew up in the middle of Alaska with no electricity and no roads. When I was in my early teens we moved to Iowa and the family kind of separated. I was pretty much on my own when I was 14, and I lived with my 16 year old sister. I eventually wound up in Minnesota because of some family connections. It’s where I met my husband through friends when I was in my early 20’s. We connected and moved apart a few times but after about a year and a half I ended up seeing him at a bar and reconnecting, it was one of those crazy fate things. We’ve been together for a little more than nine years. We have three children, two boys and a girl ages 9 to 4 years old. We have lived in Wyoming for 8 years, I love Wyoming because of the stability it offers my family.
PW: Has art always been part of your life?
L: I can’t remember when I wasn’t drawing, I never had the opportunity to take art classes, even in school. As a child I spent most of my time drawing on the inside covers of books because we didn’t have paper and pencils readily available. Almost every day I worked on my art, especially during those tough teenage years. It was therapeutic and offered an escape from the pressure of the world. It was great to create something positive. When I was older I tried painting a little bit, but I never got that into it. I always kept things simple with a sketch book and pens, I didn’t really think of it as something that was worth focusing on. One day as I looked back at my work, I realized that I was improving steadily every year and that motivated me to keep working at it. Then suddenly one year, I realized that nothing was changing, so I actually gave up on the drawing because I wasn’t improving at all. During that time I branched out with other things, like pottery and woodwork. After a time I realized I was missing drawing and started back up again.
PW: What led you toward tattooing as a way to express yourself?
L: I had a few tattoos and one of the times I went to Andy (current owner of Black Sunday Tattoo). It was such a great experience and his work was amazing. I reconnected with him several times and it turned out that he was building his own shop. One of my friends brought up my art to Andy, and I was so embarrassed that I didn’t really follow through. Later, the same friend set up a meeting with Andy. I put together a portfolio and he said that he was interested in having me as an intern.
PW: What does becoming a tattoo artist involve?
L: It depends on how you go about it. I went about it the traditional way. Basically you put together a portfolio of your art and research a shop that fits you. You get them to agree to train you. You then do a two year apprenticeship, this means working for free. That apprenticeship was so hard mentally, physically, and emotionally for me. I was a wife, mother, and held down another paying job besides doing the apprenticeship. I wanted it so badly, so I just plowed on through, I knew this was my future and I wasn’t going to let anyone take it away from me. The first year was the hardest, and I am thankful for my husband and his belief in me.
I would arrive at work 3 hours before everyone else and do the cleaning. Then any free time I had I was watching others tattoo or I was drawing. They would give me an assignment of what to draw and when I showed it to them they would tell me everything that was wrong, and have me redo it. Sometimes I would have to do drawings over and over for days. This is how you get better and learn, you draw they tell you what sucks, and you draw it again and fix it. Flowers were the hardest for me, I had never liked them and I just fought it. My first rose took me weeks to get correctly. When I finally got it done, Andy of course said it looked bad, but it resulted in me finally breaking through my mental block. And now it’s one of my favorite things to tattoo and I’m known for my flowers!
I was told at first that it would only be a few months before I could actually tattoo but it turned out to be over a year. We had some tattoo artists come in from Utah (1896 electric) to the shop, which we all really admire and look up to. The owner of the shop (Nate) and I struck up a conversation and we had this wonderful talk where he just told me that I had what it took, and that week is when I got to start tattooing. My husband was my first customer, which is pretty typical. Usually your first tattoo is on yourself and I’m thankful that Andy allowed me to start out on whatever friends and family members were willing, they were all free of course.
Then after a few months Andy said I was allowed to start charging $10, so using the wonders of social media I would advertise that I was doing simple all black tattoos. Then as Andy saw my work improve he would add another level (color and what I could do), and allow me to charge more. After 2 years I finally was able to charge the regular shop fee and was able to do whatever my customers wanted.
PW: Can you walk us through a normal day for you?
L: After I get all my kids taken care of and dropped off at school I try make sure I get to work a little bit earlier than everyone else. That strong work ethic is just part of who I am, I never want anyone to be working harder than I am, or learning more. I use that time before my clients come in to straighten up the shop. I drink my coffee and draw while I listen to classical music. It seems like I always have one appointment a week that pushes me out of my comfort zone, something that I am stressing over. Not because I can’t do it but, because I want it to go well and be my best work. Those pieces are usually the ones I end up being the most proud of. Then my customers start to come in I am usually booked back to back, no time to eat, and half the time I don’t even get a bathroom break! Any minute left in the day I am drawing and designing new work, or trying to get new customers by posting and advertising myself and our shop on social media.
PW: You know everyone wants to hear a few stories…can you share one good one and one bad one?
L: Let’s see…this is a funny one. One time a Nurse came in for a wrist tattoo. Her husband came in as well and joined us to watch. Her tattoo is almost done, we’ve all been talking and chatting, and she gets up and asks her husband to get her purse. He stood up to get it and suddenly was all wobbly and fell over. We hadn’t even realized it, but he had passed out while watching her get tattooed! That’s a man for you!
The worst one I can think of happened when I was just starting out. A gal came in for a big flower on her shoulder; she already had one on the other side. She told me that she usually cries when she gets tattooed which was fine, I feel like you need to do what you need to do to get through it. So I start and she starts to pull away from me, so I am trying to hold her in place while I tattoo, which is pretty tricky. Then, she starts crying and then screaming. Just absolutely screaming the entire time! I was mortified, it turns out that everyone could hear and then they all started to make fun of her so it was even worse. She called back for another one and I just couldn’t do it.
PW: Tattooing is a mostly male dominated profession what kind of challenges has that caused for you?
L: Being a woman made my apprenticeship harder because other artists didn’t have the same confidence in my work or my ability to handle the career as a whole, that they would have had in a man. There was definitely a lot of teasing that went too far. I ran into more than a few male tattoo artists that felt strongly that women don’t belong working in the shop. They had no problem sharing their feelings with me, loudly and frequently. I’m not going to lie, there were times when what they said and did really affected me on a personal level. But in the end I kept my focus, I wasn’t going to let their ignorance keep me from the future I knew was waiting for me.
PW: Any advice for people out there thinking about getting a tattoo?
L: I would strongly advise against getting a significant others name, I know it’s silly but I think it jinxes things. But other than that, the biggest thing is you need to shop around. It’s not about the price it’s about finding a tattoo artist and shop that is doing work that you connect with. It’s a special thing getting a tattoo, and their work is going to be on your body forever. Look at their portfolio, check them out on social media and watch them for a bit. I know it’s hard to wait but don’t just rush in. No price shopping, you get what you pay for, and it’s just not worth it. When you find someone you like take care of them, be respectful of their time and remember that this is their job.
PW: How about advice for people interested in becoming a tattoo artist?
L: A lot of people aren’t aware that you have to buy all your own equipment. The machines (buy the best it’s worth it), the power supplies, the containers, cords, and inks. I would say that initial monetary investment for me was $10,000. And now even though I don’t need to buy as many new machines, I go through the ink and needles fast, so I would say I still end up spending that amount yearly to replenish supplies.
As a tattoo artist I would really encourage you to treat others how you want to be treated. Remember that it’s a special moment for them even though you do it every day. They are thinking about it for days, months and even years before they come to you. Make your customers feel welcome, and show them how you value who they ar. Even if it is simply a tattoo of initials put everything you are into what they are asking you to do. Talk to them and keep them comfortable and they’ll keep coming back, and tell their friends about you too. Never underestimate the importance of word of mouth, positive or negative.
PW: Any last Prairie Wife Words of wisdom?
L: Find what you love and let it kill you!
Addition: Since this interview was posted Leila has established her own shop. Feel free to contact Leila through her shop Sweet Misery Electric Tattoo (make sure you LIKE her FB page, tell her PrairieWifeInHeels.com sent you) or WilcoxLeila@yahoo.com (307)441-4379
She will be checking back in over the next week to answer and comments or questions!
Categories: Prairie Wife of the Week