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Local tattoo artists navigate effects of COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up factors of cleanliness around the nation, many tattoo shops in Albuquerque were already adhering to these standards. Now, however, artists are navigating woes in their own safety factors, increased supply chain prices and a changed social atmosphere in their shops.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, artists had to be extremely careful regarding sterilization, according to All Is One Tattoo artist Bianca Sanchez, so the increased sanitation wasn’t anything new to her.

“It's not too different, just because everything's already pretty clean … We have to sanitize (tools) out of sight and everything like that so, really, the only difference is masks,” Sanchez said.

For Statut St. Louis, a tattoo artist at Cheeky Monkey Tattoo, the COVID-19 pandemic made him realize how unsanitary tattooing without a mask actually is.

“Now, even if we're not required to wear masks, if I'm tattooing, I'm wearing one because you're right on top of a person,” St. Louis said. “And the cleanliness factor of not breathing on their open wound has been a real insight for me through this.”

Elvis Shirley, a local tattoo artist at Stay Gold Tattoos, said the nature of tattooing forces a close proximity between the artist and the client, which is nerve-wracking when you don't know how cautious the client is being.

“It's been difficult because you're always afraid that you might contract (COVID-19) because you're dealing with so many people and it's hard to keep track of how many of those people were doing things,” Shirley said.

St. Louis said he is dealing with frustrations from customers because of price increases at his shop, which has added another layer of difficulty to his work. He said there has been an increased cost of supplies, such as paper towels and gloves, due to COVID-19-related supply chain issues.

“As artists, our supplies is tripled in cost in a lot of places. And so that's had to kind of drive up our minimum setup costs and stuff,” St. Louis said. 

Oshun Rappa, who first got into tattooing during the pandemic and works at Ace Tattoo, sees the COVID-19 pandemic as somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Being forced to not work and receiving unemployment gave her the opportunity to shift careers out of the service industry.

“It gave me a lot of time to focus on (art), because I literally wasn't able to work. And before now, I was always balancing working in the restaurant industry with apprenticing, or before that I was in college,” Rappa said.

There has also been a change in the atmosphere of his shop, mainly due to fewer people in the parlor at any given time, according to Shirley.

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“It's definitely changed a lot of the way we interact with each other and even with clients. You know, before (the pandemic), a tattoo shop was lively,” Shirley said.

Some people have just been excited to get back into tattoo shops for therapeutic relief and to reconnect with people after living in a pandemic for so long, according to St. Louis.

“(To) get to talk to more people and hear their experiences and share our different experiences with COVID and shutdowns and different losses and gains that we all had through, it has been definitely therapeutic for a lot of our clients and for us too,” St. Louis said.

Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at, or on Twitter @maddogpukite

Mackenzie Schwartz is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @mackenzid5


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