Machete Memoirs – Tattoo Ideas, Artists and Designs
Many kids these days grow up aspiring to be tattoo artists, but in the 80s and early 90s, that was rarely the case. Jess Mascetti first fell in love with tattooing around the time the ban was lifted in New York, although it took over a decade for all the pieces to finally fall into place after she started getting tattooed by her future mentor, Josh Lord. We sat down with Mascetti to find out how she became a world-renowned artist and what valuable lessons led her to where she is today.
What were your favorite artistic mediums and when did you decide to become an artist?
Bic pens, markers, pencils or whatever was available for drawing. Markers are always my favorite and definitely the most fun. My childhood creations were very inspired by comic books and animated films of the time. As far back as I can remember, I imagined myself to be an illustrator or a comic book animator. I’ve always been drawn to the moving image, whether it’s dynamic panels juxtaposed on a page, frames on a reel, or images printed on living skin.
Tell us about your career as an artist before becoming a tattoo artist?
I was lucky enough to be born in New York and to have the opportunity to attend the High School of Art and Design, a fantastic institution for budding young visual artists. When the tattoo ban in New York was finally lifted in 1997, I was hungry for an apprenticeship at any shop that took me. My brother put me in touch with an old childhood friend, “Mad Dog”, who owned a shop on the Sixth Ave strip.
Unfortunately, between my hours of day school, night school and full-time work, I didn’t have many hours left to be a real apprentice and I lost this great opportunity. After high school I attended FIT which was a complete waste of time and effort, but I had a scholarship for their illustration program and had no affordable options outside of that , so i fucked there until i got my associate degree. and quit shortly after.
I managed to get some freelance animation and motion graphics gigs here and there, as well as creating boards for a marketing company for a while, but my heart wasn’t in any of those jobs. The money wasn’t very good either, and I had a lot of student debt to pay off. I had worked in the New York nightlife and club scene as a cocktail waitress since I was 15, then after Giuliani’s war with nightlife culture, the dance clubs that had made NYC great were all shut down and turned into bottle service “clubs” that catered only to the black AmEx Crowd. So I drank the Kool-Aid and became a sparkling bottle service for a few years. I lived hard at the time. I got involved with the wrong people, made terrible life choices, stayed in abusive relationships and completely lost my identity, my voice, my art and gave up on my dreams because I didn’t didn’t know how to get them. The money, at least, was fortunately good enough to reduce my student loans, and for the first time, I had some money left to invest in the file that had haunted me for so long.
In the days of pre-smartphone social media, tattoo artists were sought by physically going from store to store and looking at wallets, as well as rummaging through tattoo magazines. It was in Tattoo Magazine that I discovered the incredible work of Josh Lord and I had to have his work on me. Luckily, he happened to be best friends with my friend B Paul, who has always been my champion and my advocate. B Paul was able to get me what is usually an impossible consultation.
The time spent working with Josh on my back reignited that desire to not only create art again, but also to become a tattoo artist. I knew this was the art I had always wanted to create, because I love artistic collaboration and the stories people carry with them.
As my bib with Josh was coming to an end, I managed to convince Josh, along with Patrick Conlon and East Side Ink (with the help of B Paul) to take me on as an apprentice. As an apprentice, I sought an opportunity to learn this sacred craft, not knowing then that I would also gain a loving family.
I officially started tattooing in 2010, which at 29 is a late start in our industry. And even though I feel like I’m a decade behind in my craft, I’m so grateful that the art of tattooing came back into my life when it did.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned during your apprenticeship?
As someone who had suffered from low self-esteem, Josh and Patty tried to instill in me the confidence to have someone in my care and under the needle. It is our responsibility as tattoo artists to trust and believe in ourselves and our acquired skills, otherwise we are doing a disservice to anyone who seeks to trust us with their body art.
How did you form your signature tattoo style?
I don’t know if I have a signature style. I hope that my work will always be constantly evolving and I am always open to change. Although I’ve been in this business for a decade, I still feel like I still have a lot to learn. There are themes and images that I’m more drawn to creating, but applying the style varies from person to person depending on their preferences. I always want to grow, to be better and to try new techniques, hoping to improve my skills day by day.
What is your favorite flora and fauna to tattoo?
Anything with feathers, petals or scales. I think the movement and patterning of these elements flows so well and so naturally with any part of the body.
Who is your favorite pop culture fandom? What nerd tattoos would you like to get in the future?
I’m still a weeb stuck in the cult of 80s and 90s anime. My first and last love will forever be “Sailor Moon” and I would love to tattoo any character or item from this epic series.
What advice would you give to new artists?
Draw every day, even if you don’t want to or don’t know what to draw. Keeping a daily practice will speed up your skills and expand your imagination.
When you’re not tattooing, what do you like to do?
My current hobby between tattoo appointments and tattoo designs has been learning to memorize a monologue from every Shakespeare play written. It’s a relatively new hobby and I’ve only had five so far: ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Henry V’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Macbeth’ and I’m working currently on “The Taming of the Crone. Get me drunk and I’ll perform them all annoyingly for anyone in the ear with or without their consent.
What else should our readers know about you?
My dog Owen is the best part of me.