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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Tattoos for Everybody

Soon-to-open Marmalade studio aims for inclusivity and experimentation.

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The tattoo industry in Utah has remained traditional for decades, even as tattoos become more mainstream and more tattooers move toward unique fine-art styles. That attitude has shut many prospective tattooers out of the space—and cut off potential clients who aren't comfortable in what are often all-male spaces, or don't find traditional styles appealing. Everybody Tattoos aims to change that.

As an aspiring tattooer, Gheybin Comish was turned down for an apprenticeship after helping out at a local shop for more than a year. Comish says the owner told her, "I just think it would be too dramatic to have more than one woman working here." She sought out apprenticeships at other shops, only to be turned away for being a woman or having an experimental style. After some soul-searching—and a lot of encouragement from friends—she struck out on her own, buying tattoo supplies online and tattooing her partner and friends. Eventually, she set up her own private studio in Utah County. "It is really, really difficult to learn [to tattoo] on your own without people helping you," she says.

Comish drew from her experience to create a new kind of tattoo community. Although Everybody Tattoos won't officially open until May 1, she's already recruited more than half a dozen young artists. One of them, Justin James, says, "Gheybin reached out to me based on my art, not my tattooing, and she's teaching people how to tattoo based on their art. The fact that she's reaching out to artists who haven't even thought about tattooing, and then taking them on and teaching them to tattoo, is pretty insane. It's very, very rare."

The artists join a burgeoning movement toward fine art, experimental tattoos that has taken root internationally, but until now, hasn't found a place in SLC. "My tattooing is fine line and whimsical—bright pastel colors, a little bit earthy and a little bit bright at the same time," Comish says. She inks animals and magical creatures; you can find, among her recent work, an orange-and-purple chihuahua-bumblebee hybrid and a blushing, noseless human pot with a yellow-and-green ombré cactus sprouting from its head.

"I want to offer the styles of tattoo art that aren't currently being offered," she says. That has meant reaching out to a new wellspring of artists—often female, often LBGTQ and always passionate about their art—and mentoring them in tattooing, although Comish has shied away from calling in-studio collaborations apprenticeships. "There's no set structure, there's no timeline; I'm helping them to learn as they want to, at their own pace, and really happy to do it because we all benefit," she says.

Those artists include folks like Jill Whit, a tattooer from Logan who inks mostly black-and-white fine-line tattoos: rainbows, segmented bodies, plants with hands as blossoms. Whit's story arc echoes Comish's—rejection, solo practice and, eventually, a private studio. But having an in-person community changes the experience for would-be artists who don't fit the traditional mold. "I really was completely on my own. If I had a tattoo question, there was no one I could ask at all," Whit says. "That's why I'm so hyped about the shop, because I feel like it's going to be an actual hub for that same idea physically, rather than just something that exists online."

The existence of a shop, and a supportive group of artists, means new tattooers won't have to go through the same ordeal Whit and Comish experienced. Take Devin Lindley, Comish's chief brainstorming partner. Lindley has never worked or even been tattooed in a traditional shop. But it was with Lindley that Comish came up with the idea for Everybody Studios. "We just bonded over a mutual need and want for a safe, positive, artistic space for people," Lindley says. Comish recalls them asking each other, "What if there was a place to be tattooed that was beautiful and welcoming; what if instead of just getting a tattoo, a person could have a meaningful experience, a magical experience; what if getting a tattoo had elements that were even fun? What if it was sort of spiritual?"

That magical experience means clients enter a space designed to make them feel like they belong. One client, Dana Fenster, won a design from Comish in one of her frequent tattoo giveaways—a colorful betta fish-cat hybrid. She says Comish went out of her way to create a positive, comfortable experience, immediately handing her a drink—kombucha—and making sure she felt really good about the tattoo's placement. Comish also gave Fenster a small pebble to hold onto while she got tattooed and chatted with Fenster while she worked. "I'm really excited," Fenster says of the shop's impending opening. "I know I'm not going to be judged when I walk in there. I know it will be safe, and welcoming, and loving."

"I feel as if I have struggled very hard to open a very heavy door, and once I managed to pry it an inch ajar, a flood of people have stepped in to help me fling it wide open," Comish says. "People really want this to happen, and that feels really good."