In 2020, after being sexually harassed by an older colleague during her apprenticeship, Janeen Scott and three of her female colleagues — Taylor Hudson, Geneva Haley and Marlee Watts — opened their own studio, Hemlock Tattoo. While Scott’s harasser was eventually fired, she says the experience revealed gaps in communication, safety (beyond hygiene) and consent between artists, clients and colleagues that need addressing in the industry. At Hemlock, they’re aiming to do just that.
Since opening, the team has implemented policies to shift what Scott describes as a power imbalance between artists and clients. “You’re the one touching [the client’s] body… inflicting a certain amount of pain…[and] marking their body permanently,” she says. “You’re the one that holds their health in your hands.”
All of Hemlock’s policies, including using safe words or gestures during a session, confirming pronouns and providing accessible parking, are steps towards being a “safer” studio. “Only the person coming into our space can deem it safe for them, so we would never want to come across [like] we figured it all out and that our space is the safest for every person,” says Scott. Hemlock also provides clients with access to an ombudsman — a third-party relationship and sexual-health educator who can step in to respond to client and employee complaints of inappropriate conduct.
When it comes to tackling racism and colourism in the industry, Scott acknowledges that both technical training and community outreach are required. According to Scott, proper technique and colour theory is often left out when white staff are training white apprentices, a knowledge gap she says “is a result of privilege.” Hemlock’s all-white staff completed a workshop with Ink the Diaspora, an organization that works to eradicate colourism in the tattoo industry by teaching artists best practices for tattooing all skin types — like the importance of producing flash sheets (pre-drawn tattoo designs) with a variety of skin tones. Hemlock also offers services at half-price for clients with richly melanated skin.
“We don’t have all the answers. We’re just doing our best,” says Scott. “We want to see positive change in the industry, and we want to participate in it.”