Seven Minutes in Heaven with Queer Tattooist Virginia Elwood

I’m also willing to make myself visible and vocal. I love being a queer tattoo artist.

Welcome to “Seven Minutes in Heaven” GO Magazine’s brand new interview series that profiles a different queer lady each day, by asking her seven custom (sometimes random) questions. Get to know the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the groundbreaking, fierce forces-of-nature in the queer community.

Virginia Elwood got her first tattoo at 16-years-old. Skipping school and arriving with a fake ID, she immediately fell in love with the whole process. While she’s been traveling throughout Europe and the States for the past year avidly tattooing, she’s finally finding her routine back home in New York City.

“I’m back into my regular swing lately, which usually starts with my partner Stephanie and I taking our dog to the park and getting some coffee,” Virginia said. “Then I get back to emails, do an hour of drawing and go into the shop until 8pm. When I come home, sometimes I’ll try to draw a bit but mornings are my creative time. On my days off, I work in my studio and I love to go rock climbing.”

With our current #AmericaShowUsYourTats contest running on Instagram, it felt like the perfect time to sit down and learn more about queer tattoo culture and her own personal process. Get to know the tattoo prowess in our interview below.

Virginia Elwood Photo by Andy Grant: 

GO Magazine: How did your relationship with tattoos begin?

Virginia Elwood: I got tattooed when I was really young, like 16-years-old. It wasn’t legal but I had a fake ID and skipped school and snuck in. From there, I fell in love with it. My first exposure with tattoos was my mom having radiation in chemotherapy, so she had radiation tattoos where it was being done. I wanted to be a professional dancer but then learned to tattoo when I was 20. It’s been a crazy journey ever since.

GO: Tell me about your own tattoos.

VE: I’ve been getting tattooed for 20-years now. They all sort of look more like Americana traditional style. It’s what I was very attracted to. Some are huge and took over a year to do. Some are really tiny, little ones from friends I got on a whim. They all tell a story, but not one an observer would be able to figure out—which is what I like.

Great time tattooing and reminiscing with @erinaking and @nadubs #leopard #itsforme #savedtattoo #bobsmithlovesosaka

A post shared by Virginia Elwood (@virginiaelwood) on

GO: Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling discouraged or depleted?

VE: My partner Stephanie is also an artist and tattooer. Sometimes talking with her helps me get out of a rut; looking at books, going to museums, caring for my dog. Sometimes for me getting out of a creative rut is just making myself have butt glue and sitting there trying to name what’s keeping me blocked and process it and going from there.

GO: Describe yourself in three words.

VE: I hope to be kind. I think that I usually am. I think funny and creative.

GO: How does your own identity as a queer woman interact with what you do as a tattoo artist?

VE: It doesn’t always interact in the way you’d think. I’ve never hidden or been in the closet. Also when I’m doing interviews about my artwork it doesn’t always come up. Just like how one of my female coworkers who is straight wouldn’t get asked about her boyfriend. But I’ve been really lucky along this whole journey to mostly be able to surround myself with open and accepting people. That’s not the case for the entire tattoo community. But yeah, it was luck and hard work that I was able to make myself feel safe.

Now I feel like I have a strong foundation of perspective and being older and wonderful people in my life that if my queerness intersects in a negative way, it wouldn’t affect me as much. It’s funny because as much as I say that, they do actually intersect more because there’s more room in tattooing for different types of people. Especially women. I get questioned about being an artist and being a woman. I’ve spoken to other queer people and women artist who get angry at that. But we’re just not there yet. Where I can just be accepted as a person artist and that sucks but I’m also willing to make myself visible and vocal. I love being a queer tattoo artist. As my platform has grown larger, I really hope that I can reach people in a more meaningful way. As maybe not a role model but ‘hey you can do this.’ You’re gay or trans or queer in rural America, but you can make a path yourself in the world. There’s space for you.

GO: Can you speak about your aesthetic style a bit? The colors you use are so vibrant.

VE: Like I said earlier, I’ve always been attracted to traditional Americana tattoos. When I got exposed to them in the ’90s, they were more new school looking. Artists were experimenting with them. But I’ve always loved the old flash from the ’20s and ’40s. That style was how I was taught to tattoo, put a black outline down and fill in with color because in 20-years the color will be lighter than the black line.

The whole reason for these simple designs isn’t because the artists weren’t technically skilled—it has a purpose. I have tattoos that are 20-years old that still look great because they have bold outlines. There are a lot of different schools of thought. I’m not saying watercolor tattoos are bad. I just love traditional style, it’s like folk art. I’ve brought in my personal inspiration which is a lot of textile design, tapestry, and carpets. Textiles are a huge influence on my color.

GO: Can you speak a little bit about the role tattoos play in queer culture?

VE: The first thing that came to my head is that tattoos play a role as an identifier. I think they do that for a lot of people. Like when I was a teenager in the ’90s, I wore certain things or styled my hair a certain way that was in keeping with the times that was like announcing ‘I’m queer identified.’ I think that this isn’t the only reason queer people get tattoos, but everyone wants to feel connected and add meaning to their lives. Even if they’re an introvert, most people want to be seen. Even if that’s a scary prospect, like coming out or being queer. Tattoos help ID one another and define themselves. Especially when society says as a woman, queer or trans person you have to do this or subscribe to being this type of person. Tattoos give space for rebellion, adornment, and armor.

Follow Virginia on Instagram for news about her exciting new projects. 

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