Her style. Her line work. Her shading. Everything is intentional. Stephanie James focuses on high quality first, period.
Every day, I work to get better and my work has to be deliberate, intentional and high quality or I’m not interested.
Even if it means taking the hard way.
I like a difficult path. Jumping in deeper waters helps me learn to swim.
Jumping in is exactly how she began her career. There wasn’t one moment or one art class that made her an artist. She just began to draw.
I would draw on the backs of my papers. I didn't do a lot of formal training. I was fascinated by moving pictures made from drawings like Fantasia and Thumbelina and I would draw little three square comic strips inspired by the Sunday paper comics.
But an art career is not exactly what she had in mind at first.
In high school, I thought I’d be in the medical field. I’m half logical and half instinctive, so part of me wanted something medical, part of me wanted to pursue art. My career as a tattoo artist is kind of a medical art.
It wasn’t an easy journey. Stephanie grew up in the bible belt where tattooing was still taboo. Her family was not thrilled at first.
For the first chunk of my apprenticeship, I had to sneak because I wasn't allowed to be there. It was hard, my family didn’t support it. They’ve come around, but it was a hard transition.
Thankfully, she had a good support system in her mentor.
The lady who taught me to tattoo had my back, Amber Thomas Wilson. She took me under her wing and made sure I was on the right path from the start. She made me feel like I was doing the right thing, even when my family didn’t.
As with most apprenticeships, Stephanie did a lot of the grunt work, from taking out the trash to scrubbing the place down. But she would also put in the extra effort to pick up some skills along the way.
I would stick around and draw with the artists. I got to know what I was doing. They had a sister shop and I started tattooing there as soon as I graduated.
Years later, she still is a firm believer that hard work is what it takes.
What I like about a career in tattooing is that it’s something you have to build for yourself, no one can hand it to you.
As for her style, Stephanie doesn’t box herself into any one category, although line work is her jam.
Line work is the backbone of the tattoo and you should always have that structure. If the lines aren't good, the shading doesn't matter. My main focus was always to make sure the foundation was solid. I can offer several styles but I stray away from other styles that don’t have the grounding of good line work.
One of the pieces she looks back fondly on was a small, last minute tattoo.
This lady called, and we were about to close. I stayed late so she could get her tattoo because it sounded important. It was her third and final tattoo of a series, she got them on the dates: 10.10.10 then 11.11.11 and now 12.12.12. I learned that She had a stroke at 35 and almost died. She has a blood clot in her brain and it could take her life any day. This tattoo was important to her. I think about her sometimes. You never really know what something means to someone.
That’s just one of the many moments Stephanie has had with her clients. At Hart & Huntington, she has a lot of moments with her coworkers, too.
We show each other tricks and tips. We’re a close knit group and we work really well together.
As for her future, Stephanie will keep moving forward.
I’ll just keep moving forward like a shark because it makes me a better artist and a better person. Being stagnant is a dangerous place. Progression is what gets me out of bed in the morning.