Apprenticeship Series: Mackenzie Rhiannon

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Welcome to the 'Apprentice Series' where we speak to some of the most promising Tattoo Apprentices from across the globe. We'll be discussing their journey, ups and downs, apprentice life and tips on scoring an Apprenticeship yourself.

This time around we spoke to Canadian based Apprentice Mackenzie Rhiannon
(@Kenzierhitattoos) all about her journey into the industry so far.  

Have you always wanted to become a tattoo artist or is this something you discovered could be a career choice?

I feel like tattooing is something that picks you when the timing is right. I’ve been drawing and painting in various mediums since I could hold a pencil, but it was never something that crossed my mind. When I thought of tattoo artists before getting into it, I had a very glamorised idea of what tattooing truly is - something I thought that somebody like me would never have the skills or be capable of doing. I moved away to a different province in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic to start a new life and go to university, but once I got there, things didn’t go the way I had hoped. I say tattooing picks you because had I not moved away and realised the life I was chasing wasn’t what I was looking for, I don’t think I would have gotten into it.

How did you develop your take on the traditional style of tattooing?

I spent a lot of time in tattoo shops getting  tattooed and watching my friends get tattooed. Seeing all of the flash from floor to ceiling was always inspiring to me. There’s something special about being able to pick a design from the walls of a tattoo shop. My take on traditional tattooing started out by me designing tattoos I wanted on myself based on things that spoke to me or old flash pieces I saw, and it really started to take its form from there.

How long was it before you started tattooing on people's skin?

My apprenticeship began in May of 2021, where I had weekly drawing assignments practicing and coming up with designs in various tattoo styles. In November I did my first tattoo on a grapefruit, but quickly moved onto fake skin. I spent most days tattooing fake skin until towards the end of December, where I moved onto tattooing myself. In January of 2022 my best friend kindly offered up her skin to me and that kicked everything off since then

What do you love the most about being a tattoo apprentice?

My favourite part of apprenticing, specifically apprenticing at my shop, has been being surrounded by my mentor Johnny, our 7 tattoo artists and the 3 other apprentices who all practice such diverse styles of tattooing. There’s always somebody around to ask for advice and to learn from. I thank everyone for my development in tattooing because of this. 

What is the most beneficial tip you have been given during your apprenticeship and what advice would you give to someone wanting to start? 

Besides the most cliche tip of drawing everyday, which is very important when you’re first starting out, the most beneficial tip I’ve gotten throughout my apprenticeship is to prioritise my health and have a good work/life balance. As a tattoo artist, it is so easy to lose track of this because of how busy the lifestyle is, and to overwork yourself. Although I’m still navigating how to do this, I try to utilise my days off as days for me so I don’t burn out or lose that passion. My best advice for someone looking to get into tattooing is to build a strong portfolio with different styles of tattoos. Drawing or painting on paper is really important. In the age of digital drawing, it’s a big help to have physical artwork in your portfolio. This is something I felt really helped me get my apprenticeship. 

Have you ever felt intimidated by the industry? Especially starting out as a young female artist?

Oh yeah, I have absolutely felt intimidated in this industry. I’m a young, queer woman doing traditional tattooing, which in itself is heavily dominated by men. For the longest time, tattooing has been something for a niche group of people, and if you didn’t fit into this “desired category of people,” you weren’t welcome. Of course, there is a lot of work still to be done, but the dynamic of tattooing is changing for the better, and I’m seeing a lot more diversity in tattooers which I believe offers space for EVERYBODY to feel safe, valued, and represented. 

What has helped you overcome and struggles you've faced starting out?

I think a lot of my struggles prior to getting into tattooing came from a lack of confidence in myself and my capabilities. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this, and who I want to be in this industry. Tattooers are humans, just like you and I. We all look at things we create and feel like they’re inadequate. Being around such talented people and seeing that we are all in fact human and that we all struggle sometimes has really helped me overcome the doubt I had in myself. 

What are you most looking forward to in your tattooing career?

When I started painting flash back in 2020, I was very lucky to make other friends in the painting community whose values align with mine, and I have watched them go through apprenticeships of their own and blossom into fantastic tattoo artists. I am most looking forward to the days when I can meet them in person and trade tattoos with them. I am also very excited about all of the people I’ll get to meet and tattoo and share space with. Everybody is welcome in my chair always, and I can’t wait to hold space for people, create tattoos and good experiences that will last just as long.