Margo Venomous, tattoo artist 

'You have to volunteer up your soul to the tattoo gods'

click to enlarge Margo Venomous has been tattooing since 2000 and currently works at Holy City Tattooing Collective

Jonathan Boncek

Margo Venomous has been tattooing since 2000 and currently works at Holy City Tattooing Collective

In each installment of the Working Life series, a local worker describes what his or her job is like. The stories are taken directly from interviews and told in first person with minimal or no editing of the subjects' natural speech patterns.

I went to college for visual communications and ad design, and I still like ad psychology. I like that stuff, but it will never feed your soul. People go into graphic design to create beautiful things for people, and they wind up alphabetizing a family reunion shirt for 10 hours a day. It sucks every bit of your artistic soul. No way. I did architectural elevations, and it was fun, but I would much rather draw skulls and flowers.

I did two apprenticeships, which I truly believe is the right way to do it. I've always drawn, my entire life, but it was a big change. You're never going to work a 9-to-5 job. Weekends, those are your busy days, not your off days. We work the most when other people are off. It's something that you commit to, and once you sign onto it, it's every bit of your life. It's not just part of it, and it's not something that you just leave at work for the day. When I work here, I'm here from 1 to 9 p.m. When I go home, I'm doing anywhere from two to five hours' worth of drawing for clientele. You have to volunteer up your soul to the tattoo gods. You don't get it back. It is non-refundable, and you just have to roll with that.

You have to be able to deal with blood, you have to deal with people screaming in your face, and you have to be cool with people watching you draw. I was not prepared for what that entails, but you have to be willing to create and understand how to explain this thought process of creating with the person who's going to be wearing it looking at you.

The first guy that told me I couldn't tattoo because I was a woman, he got in my face, and I was early 20s, and he got in my face in front of an entire lobby of people, barreling down on me, screaming in my face about how stupid I was to dare ask him, and I'm the counter girl, don't I know my place? And this giant, 350-pound biker stepped in front of him, grabbed the list, and he was like, "Oh, hey, I think I'm next. I'd love to get tattooed." We kind of walked aside, and he got me to where I wouldn't give that guy the satisfaction of crying my brains out, and I did. But the next time it happened about 12 years later and I had somebody say that, I laughed in his face. It's like, "OK, you won't let a woman touch your body? I can see that. Women don't want to touch your body, honey."

A lot of people think that we're not normal people, or that we're all rock stars. I could go out and drink myself stupid every night, or I can tattoo. No, I like staying home with my dogs. I'm a single mom. I work hard to send my son to a Catholic school. I started going by "Venomous" just because it makes it easier for my son in school not to be associated with somebody who they may know.

People will get into this business because they see the way we look, and yeah, it's awesome. I feel like I'm wearing my pajamas right now. But they get into it for the wrong reason. I just want to draw pictures until I can't draw pictures anymore. They think we're something we're not, and we're all normal people. There's rock stars, but they're like fireworks. You watch them go up in fame, and you don't see anything else from them again.

When you're taught to tattoo, you're taught to tattoo every style. I don't believe in starting off with any kind of speciality, and I don't believe that I get to choose my specialty. I got into it to do black-and-gray and realism and H.R. Giger and Paul Booth stuff, and people seemed to like my color work better. My customers tell me what my style is and what I'm the best at. I love realism. I love very accentuated pen-and-ink type styles. There's few styles that I don't like.

I hear every single reason under the sun for people's tattoos. Sometimes because it's funny, more often than not. Family members, something to remind them of their family, or a large accomplishment in their life. Those, I would say, are the most frequent. Unless they offer up, I don't ask, because sometimes it's so sad, you really don't want to know.

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