Permanent Markers

Briana Sargent gets sketchy with tattooist Jasmine Wright.

By Catharine L. Kaufman
Photos by Stacy Keck (unless otherwise noted)

As the popularity of indelible ink and the proliferation of tattoo shops peaked over the past couple decades, millions went under the needle. And while sticking it to them used to be the work of men alone, these days, women are in on the action, too. These three San Diego tattoo artists go a lot further than skin deep, crediting their success to having “a gentler hand,” offering “better listening skills and patience”-and knowing when to say, “No!”

Briana Sargent, Buju Tattooo, Mission Hills
Buju Tattoo was named after owner Briana Sargent’s blue Brindle Pit Bull, who multitasks as the Mission Hills shop’s mascot and therapy dog. The place is filled with funky Victorian antiques, crystal balls, quirky old photos and other kitschy touches. Mint chocolate chip-colored floors and light green walls give the space a soft, girly ambience, which Sargent says is a far cry from the hairy armpits, popcorn ceilings and hockey player smiles of the typical man’s seedy tattoo shop.

Sargent supports her fellow female artists by attending women-only expos, and by hiring some of the women she meets, including Buju tattooist Ashley Doherty. Realizing that a tattoo can sometimes have negative, even devastating implications down the line, Doherty once refused a woman’s request to have her forehead tattooed.

“If they’re not heavily tattooed, they just don’t grasp the commitment,” Doherty says.

Susan Kidder, Flesh Skin Grafix Tattoo, Imperial Beach
Raised in Japan, where tattoos were taboo, Susan Kidder was drawn to the mystique of body art from an early age. She eventually broke into the male-dominated field through a serendipitous encounter with the owner of Avalon Tattoo II in North Park, who offered her an informal apprenticeship.

Kidder says being in the gender minority gives her an edge in the industry. She credits the popularity of female tattooists to “better listening skills and patience,” which allow them to capture the true essence of the tattoo.

Working out of Flesh Skin Grafix Tattoo in Imperial Beach, Kidder says that couples generally request a female tattooist, in some cases because the men may not want their significant others handled by another man. Kidder and her female co-workers have also noticed that guys wanting to have their privates tattooed also seem to request female inkers. Go figure.

Kidder regards tattooing as “an ancient right; a bond that links every ethnic, religious, spiritual and gender group.” Her father, once vehemently opposed to her giving or receiving tats, now proudly sports three of her designs-and is hounding her for a fourth.

L isa Fasulo, The Tattoo Learning Center, Pacific Beach
Tattooist Lisa Fasulo, who majored in art at SUNY Cortland, founded the bi-coastal Tattoo Learning Center, a hands-on, two-week intensive trade school for budding artists, with locations in Pacific Beach and Albany, New York.

Fasulo says people perceive female tattoo artists as being more sensitive to a client’s pain and tending to work with “a gentler hand.” She says that some men and most women are more comfortable being inked by another woman.

“Much like a spa treatment, the procedure involves handling, shaving, touching and wiping,” she says.

Fasulo’s most sensitive assignment was to tattoo a nipple on the reconstructed breast of a mastectomy patient. She has appeared in more than 50 tattoo publications and is currently filming a reality TV show scheduled to air this summer.

Heather Sinn, Avalon Tattoo, Pacific Beach
Ranked the fifth-hottest female tattooist by, Heather Sutherland (a.k.a. Heather Sinn) had a rocky start breaking into the tight, testosterone-controlled world of tattooing. She now thrives in the field, where shops are eager to have a female or two on staff.

Sinn slung ink for 12 years at Avalon Tattoo in Pacific Beach, under the tutelage of pioneer tattooist, Patty Kelley, who paved the way for emerging female tattooists like Sinn. Her artistic accomplishments including a San Diego Tattoo Convention award for the best black and grey back art.

These days, the tatted lady slings ink at Studio City Tattoo, returning to Avalon each month to tattoo loyal clientele by appointment. Sinn has tattooed musicians such as Billy Ray Cyrus, and Natalie, Charlie Sheen’s female flavor of the month, who requested her beau’s “practically illegible” autograph on her instep. The appreciative client rewarded Sinn with an exorbitant tip.