“I hurt people every day. It’s weird, but then they thank me and give me money.”
Jaclin Grace Hastings—an illustrator and tattoo artist at White Whale in Cincinnati, Ohio—has a cozy, chill home. The light is dim, incense is burning, plants line the window sills, and lots of figurines, books and objects dripping with backstories adorn the space, including a neon “Bitch City” sign and a large religious sculpture I immediately want to ask her about (but don't, ha). There’s no doubt that a super-talented (and interesting) artist lives here.
We settle in around her dining table and start chatting it up…
Mandy: So...how did you become interested in art and illustrating?
Jaclin: My mom would always take us down to Final Fridays in OTR. She had a lot of artist friends, and we would visit their studios, so I was just always around art. In high school, drawing and painting came really easy to me. I had a lot of great art teachers in school, but one in particular I remember is Carol Shell. At our senior art show, her daughter was there and told me that my work was really cool, I should study illustration. That was the first time I’d heard that term in a job perspective. They all strongly encouraged me to go to art school, so I did.
I studied illustration at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Savannah, Georgia. It’s a wonderful school. I had really wonderful professors who were still working while they were teaching, which I think is really cool and important. They all had a lot of experience.
M: Did you know that you wanted to do tattooing from the start?
J: Not at all. I’ve always been interested in tattooing, but I didn’t know how to get started. The best way to get into tattooing is to get tattooed, and it’s not an easy world to break into.
When I first got back to Cincinnati, I worked in retail at a beautiful little store called Little Mahatma. I had worked there seasonally while in college, and eventually became a buyer/manager there. I loved working there, I had great mentors and bosses who taught me a lot, but the day-to-day was hard. I was still creating art on the side, did a few shows with friends and solo, but I wanted to do more. I could only use so much creativity in my job, and I needed to figure out something else.
I knew Becky, who co-owns White Whale, so she was familiar with my style of illustration (lots of line drawing and shading). When she and Jeremiah were considering opening up a shop, they asked me if I would be interested in tattooing. I was very lucky. All my illustrations are pen-and-ink line work, so I guess they saw some kind of fluidity there that would translate well to tattoos.
M: I can see that! Your drawings are so GORG too! How did you make the transition from illustrating to tattooing?
J: Everyone has to apprentice under a licensed artist in a licensed shop and get a few certifications through American Red Cross. One of my favorite parts of my apprenticeship was building my own tattoo machine. It was not a great machine because I built it, but it was really fun to do. And it was really worthwhile. It taught me a lot about the components of a traditional coil machine. And I had to use it for a little while. Once you’ve learned on the traditional machine, the newer ones are very easy. Way better.
M: How is tattooing someone’s body different from drawing on paper?
J: Oh, it’s way different. It was so hard to get used to at first. There’s so many factors. Not only is it a difficult medium, but you have to get over the fact that it’s living flesh. It’s weird, and you are permanently marking someone, even though it’s what they’re asking you to do. There’s just a lot of psychological things I started thinking about, and I need to not think about them. I hurt people every day. It’s weird, but then they thank me and give me money.
It was super difficult and hard to learn, but it was good for me honestly. I was so confident in drawing. It’s good to knock yourself down a little and do something new. It’s still a challenge. Every tattoo is a challenge. I love it. It’s great!
M: Hahah true true! Do you feel tattooing gives you that creativity you were searching for?
J: Yes! I don’t know why, but tattoo clients, at least mine, are really easy and give me a lot of creative say. I mean a lot. Maybe it’s because they know my work, or maybe it’s my position at the shop. Most people are ok with letting me do whatever because they’ve seen my work.
Most of my work is custom work. So if someone has an idea for a custom piece, they email me with photos for ideas of what they want and other details like size, placement, etc. I get back to them with a quote on price and timing. We pick a date, and I say that I’ll have the design ready that day. If the client wants to make changes, most can be done on the spot. It’s not a problem at all. If it’s a bigger change, which rarely happens, we might reschedule for a later date. But I haven’t had to do that in a long time.
And it’s weird, but I actually do more illustration art now too. Tattooing has really opened me up to different styles, which I didn’t really expect. I thought I would be exhausted from spending so much creativity throughout the day. I thought I wouldn’t have any motivation for anything else, but it’s the complete opposite. I have a lot of inspiration and motivation at the end of the day, just super motivated to make a bunch of stuff and experiment.
M: Where do you get your inspiration?
J: All kinds of things. I love looking at the color palettes people use. I get inspiration from books, the internet, everything around me. A lot of my art is about personal symbolism and meaning. For example, I feel like my spirit animal is a hare, so sometimes I have rabbits in my work.
Actually I just finished a show at Indigo Hippo, this reusable art supply store in OTR. I used these triangular pieces of wood that came from an old staircase and painted scenes of alliteration on them, like "Butterflies on a Banana" or "Caterpillar on a Cantaloupe."
M: Yes, I loved all your pieces! I heard all of them sold, congrats! Super jelly I didn't get one in time! What are you doing next?
J: Right now, I see myself tattooing long term. I’ve been at White Whale for almost 4 years, and it’s just flown by. Every day is different. This year, I’m trying to focus more on traveling for work. I think it’s good to be able to work around as many artists as possible and the number one way to grow, so I’m trying to figure out how to do that in this field.
M: Would you ever want to do illustration full-time or own your own shop, u think?
J: Right now, I would say no. If I ever opened my own place, I’d have to deal with the whole business side of things. I’m sure I could learn how to do it all, but I worry that I would get resentful of illustration if I was doing it full-time. Right now I really enjoy it, and I think I might enjoy it more because it’s not my job. It’s not something I have to do, but something I want to do. I like it that way.
Ah yeah, I totally get that! You’re so talented and I LOVE your work, girl. I can’t wait to see what you do in the future. And who knows, maybe I’ll come see you at White Whale someday and get my dream half-sleeve I've always wanted!
To follow Jaclin’s work, check out @jgracetattoo on Instagram. And stay tuned to @therealfreelancelife this week for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate toward a tattoo with Jaclin!