Webster alumna turns passion into a career


Jessica Childs is a regular client of tattoo artist Susie Balloni. Child said prior to going to Balloni, she never wanted to recommend a tattoo artist.

“I have recommended [Balloni to] my sister, my best friend, my husband and my mom,” Childs said. “We all go to Susie.”

Balloni worked as the executive assistant to the Dean of Business after graduating from Webster University with a degree in philosophy. She said she has always had an interest in art, and she spent her lunch breaks at work drawing and designing tattoos.

After working at Webster for two years, she said a disagreement in management style led her to quit her job. She started working at Threshold Tattoo & Body Piercing in St. Charles a week later.

Balloni places a tattoo on a client. Photo by Christine Tannous

“I was starting to not be happy doing the whole administrative thing,” Balloni said. “So I decided to just take the plunge.”

Balloni currently works as a tattoo artist at Steel & Ink Studio in St. Louis. She said her favorite style to tattoo is black work, a style that combines shading and line work through the use of black ink. She said she also enjoys tattooing neo-traditional style tattoos as well as working with vibrant color.

Balloni said she received her apprenticeship at Threshold after setting up an interview at the parlor during a friend’s tattoo appointment. She was hired to work at Threshold’s counter, but the job transitioned into an apprenticeship. Balloni said the apprenticeship was shorter than expected, however, after her mentor decided to move away from St. Louis.

“There’s legal documentation with the state and since we had just started the apprenticeship, we hadn’t done any of that, so I had nothing showing that,” Balloni said, “That kind of sucked.”

Balloni said losing her mentor gave her the opportunity to spend time at different shops in St. Louis while she searched for another apprenticeship. She said she worked counter at Evermore Gallery Tattoo and Body Piercing and spent time at shops she did not work at until receiving another apprenticeship at Never Fade Tattoo. She then finished her apprenticeship at Alchemy Tattoo Collective.

Matt Hodel is the owner of Ragtime Tattoo in St. Louis. He said he first met Balloni when she was in between apprenticeships. He said he warned her of sexism in the industry before inviting her to his shop.  

“I wasn’t in a position to give her an apprenticeship. It would’ve been a dead end for her,” Hodel said, “What I did do for her was I sat with her and I taught her how to draw, or I did my best to show her how to draw tattoo styles.”

Balloni said when she left Webster, she felt she made the right choice. Losing her apprenticeship, however, made her reconsider her career.

“I had to sacrifice a lot because of financial things and of course work other jobs,” Balloni said. “There definitely was a point where it went the other way and I started to wonder if I had made the wrong decision. Ultimately, I don’t think that I did.”

Hodel said if anyone has earned their spot as a tattoo artist in St. Louis, Balloni did.

The finished tattoo on Balloni’s client. Photo by Christine Tannous

“Susie put up with a lot,” Hodel said. “She really earned her chair at the table.”

Childs said she first found Balloni after searching for a tattoo artist online. She said Balloni was good at communicating what would and would not work with Childs’ tattoo design.

Childs said Balloni was different from other artists she had worked with previously. She said Balloni’s demeanor surprised her when they first met.

“She’s this little tiny blonde female,” Childs said. “She is soft spoken, very polite and very easy going.”

Balloni said after a client makes a deposit toward their tattoo, she draws the design and lets the client see what it looks like. She then makes any changes the client requests before starting the tattoo.

Childs said Balloni has done several tattoos on her, including a dreamcatcher and a girl holding a red balloon. Balloni’s personality and communications skills, Childs said, is what keeps her going back.

“She’s very sweet and she’s present the whole time,” Childs said. “Just the combination of those things, along with her abilities, are what keep me going back to Susie.”

Balloni said she hopes to keep growing in her art and learning new skills as a tattoo artist. She said she thinks the key to success in the industry is making sure the customer is satisfied with their tattoo.

“I think something that’s a little unique to me versus a lot of people in the industry these days is it really is about customer service,” Balloni said. “Some people are going to come in because they want your art, but a lot of people are coming in because they want a certain tattoo.”


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