What began as a passion in painting and creative animation led Webster alumna Rachel Meister to pursue her Animation degree at the university, where she uncovered her dream to be a tattoo artist.
At Webster, Meister developed her skills in illustration, painting, sketching and different types of animation, including 3D, stop-motion and papercut. These acquainted her with the basics of her current career: tattooing.
“My art education at Webster helped me a lot. Animation is a little more complicated because it doesn’t translate directly to tattoos, but I learned a lot about character design and movement in character. So when people come in with these ideas of traditional characters in tattoos, my animation background helps with that a little bit – like with dynamic poses,” Meister said. “You can’t animate on skin, but my art background definitely helped with composition and colors.”
Since March 2021, Meister has been tattooing patrons at Steel & Ink tattoo shop in Mehlville, Missouri. Meister obtained her bachelor of arts in Animation with an art minor in May of 2021. However, she knew months beforehand that she wanted to be a tattoo artist.
“I was really just wanting to learn everything. I’d do a lot of painting, I’d do a lot of drawing, I learned animation and now I was like, ‘Well, why not learn tattooing?’” Meister said. “I didn’t know if I would stick with it … I learn something and then I’m like, ‘Well I don’t know if I want to do this for the rest of my life, let’s learn something else.’ But I love it. I feel like this is something I could do [forever].”
Meister began interning at Steel & Ink after having received a tattoo from an artist there years prior. She sent an email asking about apprenticeships, was asked to bring in her portfolio and gradually learned the business. She started out working the front counter in December 2020 and within six months, was tattooing patrons for money.
During those months of practice, Meister was able to tattoo her friends and family.
“[My parents] were really supportive. When I told them I wanted to do tattooing, my dad actually let me give him his first tattoo, which was very sweet. He was like, video recording me the whole time, and my mom let me tattoo her, as well. She already has a couple,” Meister said.
Meister said growing up, she always knew she wanted to work in the arts. Her parents hung up all her creations when she was a child, and in high school, Meister did commissioned work painting portraits and pet portraits.
After graduating high school in 2018, Meister said she opted for an Animation degree over an Art degree because she thought it would be more practical. She chose Webster because she said it was the best university she could find in the Midwest for animation. She said this was because she could focus more on the creative side of the major.
Additionally, Meister was drawn to the SIGGRAPH animation club, where she served as president for the 2020 to 2021 academic year.
Chris Sagovac, associate professor of animation and chair of the Animation department, taught Meister in four of his classes. Sagovac said Meister was an exemplary student.
“Even more so than the performance, it was the attitude as a student,” Sagovac said. “She’s a really good team player. She definitely works with a very open mind. It was just nice to have her as a positive influence for the other students.”
He said during his Professional Development in Animation class of spring 2021, Meister knew she was not going to pursue a career in animation at the time. So, Sagovac helped her explore the field of tattooing.
“It allowed her within the confines of that class, even though it was technically Professional Development in Animation, to be in an experience where she could look into what it takes to become a tattoo artist,” Sagovac said. “I think I, along with other colleagues, trained her well to be an animator. We didn’t necessarily train her in the way of tattoos, but artistically and stylistically a lot of that does transfer over. So I’m excited no matter what if the student finds their passion.”
Perception, imagery, hand dexterity, putting down an idea in two dimensions and working with the volume and form of three dimensionality are taught to Animation students, Sagovac said. Each of these skills are essential to the art of tattooing.
In her typical day at the tattoo shop, Meister does appointments and walk-ins, the latter of which involves a lot of on-the-spot sketching.
“I’m drawing all of the time. When I come home from work, I draw out my appointments for the next week. Mostly I’m drawing what people ask me to draw. So, people send me their ideas. For walk-ins, I’ll just draw it right there and tattoo it,” Meister said.
Sagovac said Meister is a capable, self-motivated artist.
“[Rachel is] the ‘model student;’ not necessarily the student who is only there for the grades. She’s there for the project. She’s there for the experience and to see where that takes her.”
However, for Meister, pursuing tattooing was not without challenges. She was also juggling her senior animation overview while learning to tattoo.
“You have to develop a really steady hand and it is nothing like drawing or painting. Drawing and painting always came pretty natural to me and tattooing is really, really hard to learn,” Meister said. “Then I had to learn new things like tattooing colors and new styles. Once I learned one thing, I had to learn another.”
There is also a time and money commitment concerned with tattooing; the equipment is expensive and the skills take effort and patience to learn. Meister says anyone wanting to be a tattoo artist should be sure it’s something they really want to commit to.
“It is so much of a time and money investment. It pays off eventually, but not everyone will be able to learn it. Don’t expect it to just be like drawing on skin because it’s not,” Meister said. “But it is such a rewarding career, so I encourage students with an art background to consider learning.”
The reward Meister feels from her work is everlasting and trumps over the challenges. Meister says what she loves the most about tattooing is helping others visualize their ideas and express themselves.
“To give [people] something that will be with them for the rest of their lives … For memorial tattoos, it’s even more rewarding. The feeling that these people are trusting me with something so important to them, I’m very honored to do that,” Meister said.
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Kate McCracken (she/her) is the lifestyle editor for the Journal. She is a double major in Philosophy and History, minoring in Professional Writing. She has always loved to write and create stories, and she wrote her first book at age 10. Aside from writing, Kate also enjoys photography, environmental/animal activism, paranormal investigation and oneirology, the study of dreams.