Boulder County straddles the Front Range, with part of the county in the mountains and part on the plains. The city of Boulder has been called the Berkley of Colorado since the 1960’s, with its peculiarity seeping into surrounding communities. Longmont is close enough to absorb the good things about Boulder while retaining its own unique flavor of immigrant families and traditional Colorado culture.
On Main Street in Longmont, there’s a doorway that leads up a narrow stairway of a historic downtown building. It reminds me of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. The muggles don’t notice it. But if you’re a little bit magic, the metal cactus cutout and the “Cactus Coven” storefront next door will beckon to you. Thistle Witch Tattoo is at the top of the stairs, where Ana Lara-Steely and three others artists operate their studio.
All of their clients come from word of mouth and Instagram. Their friend opened this studio, and more recently the femme pagan curio shop downstairs, by building on reputation and relationships. The work that comes out of this space is quality, creative, and edgy. They take themselves and their art very seriously, and business thriving.
I sat down to chat with Ana (they/their) this week while they were designing tattoos for clients. Their passion about their work became clear immediately because of the depth of their answers. They were intense and emphatic about tattooing. But they aren't simply producing tattoos. Ana's life is immersed in actively creating an inclusive and loving tattoo culture in their community and beyond.
Me: What is your favorite color?
Ana: Yellow. It’s bright and happy. I think my soul is yellow.
Me: Tell me about tattooing.
Ana: The industry is changing a lot right now. There’s more tattooers than ever been before. It’s kind of effecting how people see tattoo artists and treat us. Instead of going to just some random shop, you can seek out someone because you’ve heard good things about that service. And that’s new.
Me: It seems like there are two components of getting a tattoo. The artwork itself and the experience in the studio.
Ana: Definitely. Word of mouth is huge. If someone comes to you and has a bad experience, that gets around. So it’s important to provide a good service. I have clients who come who have been to a more traditional tattoo shop. And they didn't have a positive experience. They were bullied or harassed or belittled by the artist. So a lot of times people come to us and they're really surprised by how positive and kind and affirming we are. That's something that's changing in the industry as it's getting bigger. The people who are negative or abusive are slowly being pushed out. That's a good thing.
Me: When you talk about offering a positive and affirming experience, what does that look like?
Ana: When somebody leaves the studio I want them to feel good. I don't want them to feel like they got talked into something that they didn't want. They should feel like they got what they wanted and paid a fair price, that they've got something that empowers them. The whole point of tattooing is to make you feel empowered in your body. It’s about being able to choose what your body looks like. It's just this whole new level of empowerment because you get to decide. You’re taking ownership of your body.
Me: How does your own personal journey reflect in the work that you do?
Ana: I think especially for women in this society we're so disempowered with our bodies. There's always these messages of what women should or shouldn’t look like. Tattoos are just really beautiful fun ways break away from that because traditionally it was very unfeminine to do that to yourself. Most of my clients are women. It's kind of this thing where collectively we've decided that this is what we want to do. My generation is like, well screw that, no one can tell us not to tattoo our bodies, we're going to do what we want. We're tough.
I think that falls in a lot with queer culture. They haven’t always been welcome in those hyper-masculine spaces. And so, like a lot of things, queer people have created their own spaces within tattooing. That's what we're doing, opening up this femme queer space. A lot of us identify that way. Only one straight person works at the shop. The rest of us are more fluid. In more traditional shops they couldn't really be open about that. So we just want to embrace and encourage those queer spaces because they're so precious and we want the industry to be more inclusive. That's the kind of energy that we need. We want to create safe spaces for ourselves and our baby gays to get tattooed and express themselves and, again, to take that ownership. I make a point of getting tattooed by femmes and queers because the industry has tried to push them out. They deserve support. I’ve never had a creepy experience with a queer tattooer.
Me: You have created a space for yourself as an artist and an individual to be authentic and to encourage others’ authenticity. What advice do you have for other creatives who have similar goals?
Ana: Do it. Don’t give up. The secret is persistence. I think a lot of people are gonna tell you no. Everyone's a critic, and no one's gonna believe in your dreams as much as you do. And so… just do it. Even if you hate it, you still do it because you love it. There's no magic words, there's no magic formula. You just got to put in the time and the heart and the love...... and that’s all I have to say about that.
Ana on Instagram - @anita.bruxita.tattoo
Thistle Witch Tattoo- @thistlewitchtattoo
The Cactus Coven shop- @the_cactus.coven
Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
facebook: Karrie Steely Fine Art and Creative Services
Youtube: Homesteading and High Adventure