The Vancouver-based tattoo artist speaks with The MIX to talk about vulnerability, femininity, and positive growth through art.
Tattoos can be a deeply personal artistic expression, both for those who have them and the artists who create them. Vanessa Dong, a Vancouver-based tattoo artist, embraces her femininity and channels it through her artwork. After studying at Emily Carr, Dong’s career path lead her through unsatisfying corporate ventures until she found creative freedom as a tattoo artist. At her private studio in East Vancouver, she specializes in floral/botanical black and grey work. The MIX spoke with the artist to hear more about her journey, art, and self-reflection.
The struggle of the starving artist is all too real, but this Vancouverite is deconstructing the standard through her accomplished career. She’s become a successful artist in her own right — her tattoo shop is booked solid for the next few months. She has overcome familial and cultural adversity, quit secure but creatively-stifling jobs, and hustled her way to artistic success, all the while staying true to her creative passion.
“Growing up in an Asian family was all about having a good, sustainable job [as] opposed to [doing] what you’re passionate about.” she says, “So normally when I try to do something I let go of all fears and just do it.”
Females have traditionally been criticized for being ‘too sensitive’. Thankfully, this hysterical woman stereotype is being left in the past with the rise of feminism; more people are identifying with and embracing their sensitivities and emotional intelligence — regardless of gender.
Vanessa Dong knows, too, that despite these misplaced stereotypes, the feminine* psyche isn’t weak. She embraces her receptiveness, her intuitions, and celebrates being in tune with her emotions. And her work reflects this; her floral motif is emotionally charged: aligning beauty and strength. The fine-line work is done in a graceful, almost dainty style — with absolutely no room for error. Her work is powerful in its perfection; emulating femininity through the delicate and unbroken design work.
“Obviously, I am a woman. I am very emotional, very intuitive, and in touch with my feelings. And, I don’t know – I kind of thought that was a weakness. But, take away that sensitivity and you take away my consciousness, my intuition, my emotions – basically every characteristic of who I am.”
Anyone who’s laid on a tattoo artists table knows the meaning of being vulnerable, but finding the strength within that vulnerability is prevalent within her private studio. Often, her clients are getting an emotionally charged piece and trusting it in the hands of an almost-stranger. Her acceptance of her own sensitivities allows her to empathize with her clients’ vulnerability and lets her become open in return.
“The amount of different people that walk through the door always amazes me. It’s so interesting that people are being so open to a stranger – that’s the beauty of tattoos.” she reveals, “It actually allows me to open up as well.”
Art, especially in the form of tattoos, is expressive at its core. Tattoos can be used to honour a memory, commemorate a loved one, or as a tool to heal from the past. Being able to provide a pathway for this expression gives the tattoo artist a gratified outlook on the work she’s accomplished in her quiet studio.
“I’m not saving the world or saving lives. I’m just drawing on people, but when I can do things like cover up scars and help people heal in a way — then that puts things into perspective. I can bring positivity through art.”
*Feminine nature applying to anyone, regardless of gender, who identifies with it.