'I Tattooed My Parents'
Liana Joy cut school with her best friend, chalked her ID, filled a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup with beer and rode the train into Manhattan to get her first tattoo. At 16, she was hooked.
‘I got a little tribal gecko that I picked off the wall and my friend, Kim, got a little cross that I later covered up. The shop was under a clothing store off of West 4th. Back then a lot of the tattoo shops were still underground since tattooing in New York only became legal five or six years prior to that. It was a fun adventure for both of us that eventually became my future.’
In her early twenties, Liana completed a 6-month apprenticeship and gave her first tattoo—a Harry Potter lightning bolt on an old friend. Nearly a decade later, after stints in New York, Colorado, and Arizona, Liana is one of two female tattoo artists at Jinx Proof. The well-known M Street shop was established in 1996—the first tattoo parlor to open in DC since 1983.
‘Mountains, hiking, camping—everything I loved was in Colorado, besides my boyfriend. We kept going back and forth on who would go where and throughout our conversations I said, ‘If I have to come out to DC, I’m not working anywhere else but Jinx Proof. It just so happened that they were looking for an artist. For an extremely busy shop, this place runs incredibly smoothly. It’s my favorite place I’ve worked.’
Before moving, Liana associated DC with politicians and suit-and-tie government employees. She was surprised to find a city full of diverse careers, cultures and lifestyles, all of which are reflected in Jinx Proof.
‘Tattoo shops have always been a space for all types, but especially with how popular tattooing has recently become, and how transient this city is, we get everyone. It’s great that tattooing is more accepted in the corporate world now.’
Black and grey tattoos are popular at the moment, but Liana says she likes working with color—gravitating toward clean, illustrated, palm-size tattoos with a lot of line work. She loves to draw anything associated with nature—from flowers to plants, animals, trees and mountains. Her own tattoos reflect this—an entire leg tattooed with flowers, with plans to do the same on her arm.
‘Sometimes people will open up and tell me the story behind their tattoo, but I don’t need any of mine to mean something. I like things that are growing or living, and I would steer away from anything mechanical or robotic. I’m greatly affected by what is visually in my presence every day, so it’s nice that I also get to draw what I like.’
Liana says she’s found her life’s work, but acknowledges the physical toll tattooing takes on her back, arms, and hands. The male-dominated field can also be mentally draining.
‘It was a rough gig to get into back in the day, and you had to be a tough one to survive in the tattoo shop. Women are still the minority, but we’re becoming more abundant in this profession. There are so many amazing female tattoo artists, and we end up standing out even more.’
Liana is frequently sought out, doing up to 20 tattoos during a busy week. That’s too many to count over the course of a decade, yet it was a simple request from her parents that’s been the most nerve-wracking of all.
‘I’m an only child, so my mom wanted a henna swirl with my name on her back, and my Dad also wanted my name. I was procrastinating tattooing them for years. My Dad hated tattoos when I first got into the business, but now he thinks they’re cool and he loves his.’
It’s the permanence of the act—whether on her parents or a complete stranger—that Liana reveres.
‘What a way to leave your mark, making art on people. It’s really an amazing craft if you think about it. It’s like putting a piece of you on someone else.’