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Photo: Jen Bernard

Meet Tiffany Thornton, the unstoppable tattoo artist

By Jennifer Bernard on November 28, 2017

Determination is a powerful force, and when someone has it they will not let anything stop them from accomplishing their goals, especially being female. I had a chance to chat with Tiffany Thornton, an extremely talented tattoo artist who owns her own shop. While successful now, it was a long journey to get to where she is today. She has faces many challenges in a typically male dominated industry but did not let the sexism stop her. Tiffany was determined to do what she loved, no matter how hard she had to work for it.

“I was always an artist as a kid, I liked to draw. I can remember I loved to draw on walls and skin and other places you weren’t really supposed to. So I loved the idea, I still love the idea of tattoos.”

Photo: Jen Bernard

From a young age Tiffany Thornton adored tattoos and everything about them. She was born and raised in small northern towns, Elliot Lake and Massey. They were not the most artistic towns and she often felt like an outsider. She was continuously told that she needed to get a secure job that paid the bills.

“I remember being told as a kid ‘you should become a dental hygienist, it’s great for women’. I knew that I wasn’t going to do what I didn’t like. I would sacrifice all sorts of money and things, and just live very modestly to do what I wanted and enjoyed.”

Photo: Jen Bernard

Tiffany went to art school after high school but after two years she decided it was not for her. She knew that she had a passion for the art of tattooing. After taking some time off to raise her son she decided to pursue an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist. She was often laughed at and told that ‘girls don’t tattoo’ or ‘you could work the front desk’. Tiffany did not let the sexism stop her and continued to seek out an artist that would take her on as an apprentice. After countless no’s she reached out to a local tattoo shop in downtown Ottawa and finally got the yes she was looking for. It was one year make it or break it for her: because of financial and personal reasons, she felt like this was her one opportunity to do what she loved so much. During that one year she worked as hard as she’s ever in her life, spending long hours trying to learn the ins and outs of tattooing. Tiffany’s hard work paid off and she has now been tattooing for 12 years.

“I’m better tattoo artist I can say that, because when you’re a woman learning in a man’s business that you have to work much harder. You have to work twice as hard to get noticed and I know I am better because of that. She’s a girl but oh she’s really good”

Even after developing a name for herself in the city as a skilled tattoo artist, Tiffany faces countless occurrences of sexism. She would find herself convincing people that she would be able to do the tattoo they wanted, not because of skill level but simply because she was female. Tiffany did not let this get her discouraged and tried to focus on all the other awesome clients she had. Being a female tattoo artist sometimes has its benefits as well. Tiffany has people come to her because they are more comfortable with a female doing the work in a certain area of the body or feel she will be more sensitive. Tiffany has also has the opportunity to tattoo Muslim and indigenous women who would not be able to get a tattoo by a male. Tiffany loves what she does so much that she would never let being a female stop her from it. She encourages other women to stay strong and never give up in the face of adversity.

“I wouldn’t do what you think you shouldn’t do. Don’t try to fit into any mold and just be true to yourself no matter what. Do not try to be someone you are not just to be a little bit more likable.”

Photo: Jen Bernard

A local tattoo shop became home for Tiffany for 10 years. She grew as an artist but also observed the business side of a tattoo shop. As she learned more about how to run a tattoo shop, she itched for more. She knew that she wanted more control and input: working for someone else was not fulfilling enough for her. That’s when Tiffany, with the support of her husband Matt Gagné, decided to take a risk and open their own shop. In 2015, Hellbound was born. Since the opening of the shop there have been many challenges but equally as many success. Being a business owner has a ton of stress on top of being the only tattoo artist but Tiffany has a great team to support her.

‘I am super easy-going with some stuff but it’s like business is business, I want people to be treated nicely. I care about customer service. I don’t want people to feel like ‘oh I’m not cool enough to come in’ or ‘I’m not cool enough to get tattooed.’ I hate that. I just want the customers to feel super chill it doesn’t matter if you have no tattoos or 100 tattoos. You are welcome.”

Tiffany has big plans for the shop and is starting to think about her future. If she was not able to physically tattoo anymore she wants to make sure she is still heavily involved with the shop. She has considered taking on an apprentice but is in no rush. She knows that the circumstances would have to be right and she would need to be able to commit the time needed to be able to teach someone the trade. For now, Tiffany is focused on making the shop her own, from designing the sign to developing merchandise. She loves doing realistic portraits of humans and animals. Make sure to check out her incredible work and try to book an appointment with her for a rad tattoo. They are super busy so make sure to book ahead of time!