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Hand-Poked Tattoos: An Act Of Healing And Liberation

Culture
Photographed by Jonathan Schoonover

Artists Tea Leigh and Kelli Kikcio tell us all about the art

The following feature appears in the October 2017 issue of NYLON.

Jade Taylor sat down with Brooklyn, New York-based hand-poked tattoo artists Tea Leigh and Kelli Kikcio at their studio, Welcome Home, to discuss the therapeutic side of tattooing, feeling comfortable in their own skin, and breaking the stigma of hand-poked tattoos once and for all.

Jade Taylor: How did you both get started tattooing?

Tea Leigh: I started tattooing my friends, which is definitely a no-no in our industry, but there weren’t apprenticeships available in the method that Kelli and I wanted to work in, so we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. We wanted to do hand-poked tattoos, but we didn’t have access to any fucking information. We completely figured out everything on our own. It was the most anxiety-ridden, terrifying experience, because we knew we were gonna get shit for it, but we loved it, and we knew that if we pushed past the stigma, we would eventually be taken seriously and have the potential to really help people love their bodies.

Kelli Kikcio: It’s one of those rare industries that there’s no serious school for, you can’t easily get an apprenticeship without experience, you’re not supposed to tattoo at home, and you’re not supposed to be self-taught. So what are you supposed to do?

TL: A traditional machine apprenticeship was definitely an option, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for, plain and simple. I love machine tattoos and I completely respect the practice, but it just isn’t my essence. I need the intimacy of hand-poked tattooing.

KK: I would go to my day job, come home in the evenings, and tattoo myself. Hand-poked tattooing wasn’t that popular at the time, but for me, that process was all about reclaiming a sense of autonomy. I was dealing with feelings of being really disconnected with myself, so tattooing became an outlet. Like, this is how I’m going to present myself. This is how I can reclaim who I am and feel good about who I am as a person. So many of our clients struggle with those issues as well, so I want them to leave feeling that they were listened to, that their opinions and needs were honored and that they felt comfortable and safe here. The bonus is that we get to mark them forever, and that is beyond humbling.

Photographed by Jonathan Schoonover

On Opening Welcome Home

TL: We named this studio Welcome Home because Kelli and I have never felt a traditional sense of home. You are a sense of home. Your body is that.

KK: That’s a big thing for us. No matter where you are, where you came from, where you’re going, or who’s in your life, your body is the only real home that you will have until you die.

TL: All the workshops we offer have to do with building your foundation of home, whether that’s your physical house, your body, spiritual, or mental.

JT: It’s amazing that after all that, you guys could open up this space and say, “Hey, we’re professional. We know what the fuck we’re doing, and we did it ourselves.”

TL: Yeah! Kelli and I were Instagram friends for years, and the third time we hung out, we talked about what we wanted out of our careers, and found that we were extremely aligned. We both wanted a multidisciplinary community space for making clothing, recording music, hosting workshops, just a community space. And we laughed and were like, “Yeah, we’ll probably never have that.” Funny, right?

KK: This is literally one year ago!

TL: We had a small studio for a little over six months, but I got into an argument with landlord, and I was like, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, we have to find a new place. Kelli, I’m so sorry.” And she was like, “OK, cool! I can’t believe I’m going into business with this person.” [Laughs] I fucked up by rage-quitting, so I took it upon myself to find the space for us, and made a spreadsheet. One column was like, “Regular studios we can afford,” and the other was like, “Dream Studios,” and this was at the top of the “Dream” list.

KK: You were like, “Let’s go see it so we can have closure and know it’s not going to work out for us.” And then we got here and our jaws dropped, because it was everything we could’ve imagined.

TL: Opening a business makes you a shell of a person, but it was so worth it. When we walked into the space I flashed back to that first conversation about our dreams, and was like, “This is it. This is the right thing. We’re supposed to invite people in here and make people feel safe and good, because that’s all we’ve ever wanted: to feel safe and good as a body existing in the world, which is traumatic enough—to just be a person.”

Photographed by Jonathan Schoonover

On Tattooing As Healing

KK: A huge advantage that we have as hand-pokers is that we don’t have the noise of the machine running, so we get to honor the conversations that we’re having with our clients, and the serene, calm environment. I’ve rarely had an experience where I’ve been able to walk into a tattoo shop and not feel my heart pounding in my chest. And it’s not necessarily because I’ve been nervous about getting tattooed, it’s because I feel uncomfortable, out of place, judged, rushed, or unsure about the cost because no one has been transparent with me.

JT: Especially for women. I’ve been to so many tattoo parlors where I’m not even looked in the eye when I walk in.

KK: We hear that a lot from queer folks, and also people of color who have been wrongfully turned away because tattooers have been intimidated to work with them.

TL: From what I know, we are the first all-female-identifying hand-poked tattoo studio in America. But we do have guest artists that use machines. Kelli’s and my work is similar enough, so we want to make sure we have artists with a completely different style. But they have to more or less share our political-mindedness. We go through their Instagram and chat with them just to make sure that they’re queer, a woman, or, if they’re a straight dude, they’re not gonna fuck shit up.

JT: Can you talk more about the relationship between tattooing and body ownership or reclamation?

TL: Our first and foremost thing is that we want to give people the chance to reclaim themselves, their skin, their body, from whatever they have walked in from, into our space. Kelli and I are both very open, we have both experienced a lot in our lives. You want to talk about something fucked up that happened to you? Let’s fucking talk about it. I think people are more vulnerable like that, because you’re getting this painful tattoo, and in a weird way it makes sense to talk about something painful. And for me, that is where that magic intersects, and that is where the heart of our job is. We’ve been floored by everyone’s reaction to us. We would be nowhere without our clients. Like fucking nowhere. They are the birth of Welcome Home.

Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

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Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.


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Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

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Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.

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Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

He'd previously said he wanted to punch Jackson's 'Leaving Neverland' accusers in the face

Aaron Carter has been one of Michael Jackson's fiercest celebrity advocates in the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alleged that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In a new clip from People, however, he seems to walk back his defense.

People reveals that Carter will be joining the upcoming season of reality TV show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition with his mother. It's noted that he will be revealing more thoughts regarding Jackson following the documentary and the sneak peek specifically sees him alluding to a negative experience with the singer.

Carter, who has previously said that Jackson was never inappropriate toward him, says that Jackson "was a really good guy," though he does note that this is only true "as far as I know." "He never did anything that was inappropriate," he continues before stopping himself, as though remembering something. "Except for one time. There was one thing that he did that was a little bit inappropriate."

Carter does not provide any more detail after this statement. He has previously said that he would stay at Jackson's Neverland estate and sleep in the same bed as the much older star when he was 15 years old, though he hasn't seemed to understand then just how creepy that is. He also said earlier this year, in a clip from TMZ, that he would be telling a story of something that happened between them in an upcoming book about his life.

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