Starting university is a symbolic step in one’s independence and coming of age. This newfound freedom is, for many students, expressed in getting their first tattoos. Whether as a planned tribute to a loved one or an impulsively chosen design, tattoos serve as a vehicle for expressing one’s personality.
Olivia Bjerkelund, U0 Arts, who moved away from Vancouver for university this past September, saw her first year of independence as an ideal opportunity to get her first tattoo.
Ironically, Bjerkelund’s tattoo, a still life jug of lemonade surrounded by plums and daffodils on her inner arm, is representative of her childhood.
“I used to have a plum tree when I was a kid,” Bjerkelund told The McGill Tribune. “The daffodils are there [because] my mom gives me daffodils every year on my birthday.”
Like Bjerkelund, Gracie Thompson, U0 Arts—who already has several tattoos—decided to add to her bodily mosaic after moving to Montreal this September. Thompson made her decision within her first weeks in the city.
“I was with my parents [and] I saw a little sign that was on a compost bin,” Thompson said. “I thought it was so cute [….] I thought about it for two weeks, then decided to go for it as a ‘welcome to Montreal’ gift.”
In addition to this new piece and her previous collection, Thompson has gotten two other tattoos since moving to Montreal, creating a patchwork on her arms. For Thompson, skin can be a place to memorialize one’s personal growth.
“I like [getting tattoos] because it symbolizes who I was at the time of getting the tattoo,” Thompson said. “It makes you feel so confident [and is] a great conversation starter.”
Students looking to get their first tattoos or add to their existing collections in Montreal are in luck: The city has a wealth of local tattoo artists ranging from those working at established shops to DIY artists, each of them with unique design styles.
Among these artists is Aya Dazig, a multidisciplinary artist who has been tattooing since she was 15. Her journey in the practice began by tattooing her friends and acquaintances.
“I kind of got into tattooing by accident,” Dazig said. “I would fix my friends’ stick and pokes as a teenager, and [I] had a friend tell me, ‘you should really get into this.’”
Stick and poke tattoos have risen in popularity over the past few years. It is a method of tattooing that requires only a sterilized needle, pot of ink, and a friend’s—or one’s own—artistic hand. This DIY technique not only offers students a more affordable alternative to the hefty prices of tattoo parlours, but also an intimate memory to mark the inked design, with many receiving these hand-drawn tattoos from someone they know, and often in a personal space.
Dazig, who started out fixing stick and poke tattoos done by others for friends, turned her passion into a full-time job this past April. She now works with two other Montreal tattoo artists in a private studio located in the Plateau.
Dazig doesn’t lean toward a specific tattooing style; her inspiration comes from either her stream of consciousness or a direct reference.
“My main goal is to have all of my work feel intuitive and authentic,” Dazig said.
Dazig believes that students’ desire to get tattoos after starting university is tied to a newfound sense of independence.
“It goes hand in hand with moving out,” Dazig explained. “You have a new sense of ownership over your life and body.”
Though the permanence of tattoo ink can feel intimidating, Dazig advises students who are considering getting their first tattoos not to overthink how they will view the tattoo in the future.
“Don’t worry about pain or getting something timeless,” Dazig said. “Get something you genuinely like in the moment.”