Needlesandsins.com has been a staple in the tattoo community, just like it’s author – Marisa Kakoulas. This tattooed lawyer has recently released a series of amazing books chronicling tribal, color, and black & white tattoos. Marisa took a few minutes from her hectic schedule to talk exclusively to The Hope Blog about her work both on and off her body.
What sparked you to start Needlesandsins?
Needlesandsins.com, like my former tattoo blogs, is essentially, “Look at this cool stuff I found” — from artist portfolios, to my convention experiences (and bad photos), book & product reviews…everything I geek out about with tattoos. It’s a labor of love, not profit, but I have a lot of fun with it. It’s also often about the laws affecting tattooing & tattoo culture as well, so I feel I’m using my law license for good & not evil.
I’ve been blogging about tattoos since 2003 (with the start of my “Legal Link” column for BME as well as for Suicide Girls & my old site Needled.com), so I’ve been mouthing off online for a while now.
What was your official roll in the publications “Color Tattoo Art”, “Black & Grey Tattoo” and “Black Tattoo Art”?
I author the text & conduct the artist interviews, but really, people just like the pretty pictures, so I feel my greatest role is curating great tattoo art from around the world. I’ve also been called a tattoo cheerleader because I get really excited about finding exciting & innovating tattoos. [But I’m more of a “horns high” than pompom chick.]
What is the stress level on projects of that magnitude?
There’s so much amazing talent and it’s just impossible to have every single top artist around the world in one volume. People may ask me why a really good artist was not featured and it could be that the person declined or never got back to me, or I just simply didn’t find that person in my research (regrettably), so my biggest stress is making sure that I keep all that to a minimum and be vigilant about researching portfolios and also trying to be persuasive with artists whom I really want to be a part of these projects. Going to conventions and plying them with drinks helps.
What are people’s reaction when you tell them that you are a lawyer?
It’s pretty funny. Non-tattooed people are in shock. And the tattooed are cool & just want free legal advice [and I have done a lot of pro bono work for artists]. Being a lawyer, and particularly one who has worked at very conservative firms, it’s opened my eyes to just how much prejudice is out there against tattooed people even today. But I believe that you can change opinions from the inside of those environments as well as pounding on the doors from outside. When you “come out of the closet” as a heavily tattooed woman — and I believe women have a way harder time than men — it’s not as big of a deal when you make your firm/company a lot of money. My big dream, however, is to form a law firm with just tattooed brilliant female attorneys. I can’t think of anything more badass.
Are all of your tattoos black?
From the very beginning, I always had blackwork. I was attracted to it because I loved the way it looked on indigenous women, from many cultures, around the world. BUT, I do have one big color piece on the back of my head by Tim Kern. It’s an evil charicature of me as a little girl that’s popping out of my skull with chain in her hand. My friends were mocking me that all my blackwork tattoos were too “Type A” and serious, so I showed them! My hair covers it now and Tim threatens to shave it every now & then. I also have a small Americana piece by my friend Michelle Myles (boss lady at Fun City & Daredevil) who put a NYC tattoo on me when I returned to my native city after living almost 8 years in Belgium.
What artists do you have work by?
In addition to Tim & Michelle, I have work by Anil Gupta (who did my first tattoo of an ancient Greek crest), Mike Bellamy, & Peter Shachner who hand tapped a Thai good luck talisman. The fabulous Jacqueline Spoerle of Corazon Tattoo tattooed one of my feet at a convention in Auckland. But all of my big work is by Dan DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo [calypsotattoo.com] in Belgium. We’re working together on my bodysuit. Because we were married, I can get away with being a pain in the ass on the design elements but I really think he’s one of the greatest blackwork artists out there today — artistically & technically. He packs that black in.
What do you think it the best thing to happen to that tattoo industry in recent years?
Information and the sharing of art & technique. It pushes the art in further directions but also creates a collegial community. For example, I love what Gabe Ripley is doing with his artist retreats & seminars, as well as the conventions being put on by tattooers like Horitaka and Durb Morrison (among others) that make us feel like one big freak family.
Information. On the flip side of the good, people who don’t really have a passion for it can easily get into the industry just to make money or be cool. But leaches are in every industry. You can’t help it. Ten years ago, when I asked Spider Webb about the popularity of tattooing, he said, “May the strong survive,” and I believe that.
What are future projects that you are working on?
I’m working on a book called “Tattoo Law” on the US laws affecting the tattoo community, from copyright & licensing, to employment discrimination, and zoning and so many other issues. It’s designed to help artists and collectors better navigate the law & protect themselves. I’d like to do seminars on these issues because I think they could be of help. I’m also working on the second volume of my blackwork tome, “Black Tattoo Art 2,” which should be out next year.
Who are your favorite people in the industry?
I’m seriously grateful to those who keep shops running smoothly & deal with people like me nagging for interviews & tattoo photos. Shop managers & assistants, the wives & husbands of artists who handle the business end of things — they really fuel my projects and get the art out there.
On the geek front, I’m grateful to academics like Dr. Matt Lodder and Nick Schonberger, who I can call at any given time & get the most obscure and awesome historical & contemporary tattoo info. And then there’s my boyfriend & personal editor (writer & performer) Brian Grosz [lapdanceacademy.com] who always tells me what better word to use, and if I look fat in my jeans.
What makes NYC a great city for tattooed people?
NYC is fuckin great all around! You’re talking to a Brooklyn girl! For tattooed people, NY and the Tri-State area is graced with scores of brilliant tattooers. And there’s also an appreciation for tattoos, which we take for granted– until we go places where we’re gawked at & even harassed. New Yorkers own our tattoos. They don’t define us necessarily, but they enhance & sexify our lives. Yes, I said sexify. And I stand by that.
Wanna check out Marisa’s tattoo books? You can purchase copies at the NeedlesandSins store. Including the Color Tattoo Art at the reduced price of just $150.