Stella May Vlad: I started to think about tattoos at a young age, around the time I was in elementary school. I remember my curiosity peaking after asking my dad and uncles about their tattoos and being excited about the reveals whenever they got new ones. As a young person who made art regularly, decorating my body made sense to me and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to receive my first tattoo.
Being a confused, young, closeted trans girl, I was uncomfortable in my own skin and would soon realize that body modification in the form of wearing tattoos would be one of the first steps towards embracing my body and eventually feeling more body positive.
Photos by Stella May Vlad
SMV: I have been practicing my craft for a little over a decade. I was living in New Paltz and I was super fortunate to know a large group of supportive friends that recognized my artistic potential and knew I was interested in making tattoos.
For my 21st birthday, they surprised me and had all pitched in and bought me my first tattoo machine, power supply, inks, etc. These folx*, as well as my mom, dad, brother, and sister were some of the first people I practiced on, (aside from myself) and wear some of the funniest, best/worst tattoos I’ve made in my career. Many of these friends have continued to collect tattoos from me over the years and wear my artistic progression quite visually. After moving from New Paltz to Brooklyn, I began to take tattooing more seriously. I started and finished my apprenticeship at 22-23 years old in NYC at Triple X Tattoo. I’ve been making tattoos full time ever since.
SMV: My style has evolved and continues to evolve and always will be evolving. I often look for something new to try or a new way to approach my projects’ subject matter. When I first started, I consciously worked to change my way of drawing to what I thought my tattoos were supposed to look like. I realized later on that I was able to appreciate other styles and ultimately find ways to incorporate elements into my drawings, tattoos, and other mediums.
I tend to not tattoo or draw in one specific “style”. I appreciate the bold and solid “traditional” tattoo styles, folk art designs, their subject matter and their aesthetic. I appreciate all that is queer and/or strange, the occult and its imagery and symbolism. I also appreciate botanical art and illustrations, fine line details, and textures. Versatility has helped me stay steady and grow while simultaneously meeting many different walks of life.
Stella May Vlad / Photo by Emily Nugent
SMV: The most memorable tattoos I have done are the most honest and sincere connections during some of our most vulnerable moments. It’s incredibly difficult to choose a favorite or rank them. I feel like I’m doing the right thing when I can help someone feel better about themselves through the practice of tattooing and opening up through conversation. It’s important to me that people feel comfortable and free of judgment when they come and get tattooed by me. “Tattooing for all bodies.” Since coming out almost three years ago, being honest with myself, and living my most authentic life, I find that all of my interactions are the most genuine now and I’ve seen more folx from the LGBTQIA community coming into our space to hang and get tattooed and I couldn’t be happier.
I value the tattoos I make for my queer family so much and they are absolutely some of the most memorable, meaningful, healing, and special tattoos I’ve been lucky to make in my career.
SMV: I have no idea how many. I lost count years ago. I’ve been collecting tattoos for the last 15 years. Most of my arms, hands, fingers, and legs are tattooed as well as parts of my neck, chest, rib areas, back, and other parts of my torso. I still have some room!
Photos by Stella May Vlad
SMV: Speakeasy Tattoo in Peekskill, NY is my full time tattoo home. I do not work anywhere else regularly but would like to travel and do guest spots a bit more in the near future. “Transitioning” publicly with the help of Hormone Replacement Therapy and presenting femme for me has felt a bit like a second puberty and has definitely been a bit awkward and uncomfortable at times. I had been working full time at Speakeasy for about two years before starting to live and present as my most authentic self. Patrick and everyone at the shop, including my colleague and partner, Emily, have all been incredibly supportive.
The majority of folx in Peekskill have been supportive as well. I’m very lucky to be part of such a loving and accepting crew/family at Speakeasy and a part of a community I care about and am proud to live in, work in, and continue to be visible in and help grow in a positive and more inclusive way.
SMV: I would like clients to know that I appreciate them and I am thankful if they’re interested in working with me! I want them to know that they are in a safe, all-inclusive space, and that they should be honest and feel comfortable any time they are spending time with me.
Photos by Stella May Vlad
SMV: I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and friends, meeting new friends, and making art in a Hudson Valley space full of incredible talent from our backyard and around the world. (Also, my three-year coming out anniversary is the 28, so I’ll be mentally celebrating my self-actualization while being visible, tattooing, and hanging out!)
SMV: All I know is that I will continue to try to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I want to be there for my friends, my family and chosen family, and my cats and loved critters. I’ll try to push myself to be less shy and introverted while consciously trying to be kinder to myself and love myself for the person I have grown to be. My goal is to never stop learning.
* “Folx,”an alternative spelling of the word “folks,” is a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people.