We had the good fortune of connecting with Jo Atwood and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jo, as a parent, what have you done for you children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
As a parent who is in a somewhat unconventional line of work (tattooing), it has always been important to me to model to my son (15) that a career in the arts *is* possible if the drive, ability, and persistence is there. I’ve wanted to be a professional artist my whole life, and though I could have pursued other careers if I had wanted, being an artist is the thing that brought me the most joy and achieving that dream meant real success to me. My college education was geared to the study of art, and I pursued a career in tattooing for five years before I was able to get my foot in the door and begin my training. There were many times I could have given up but I was hell-bent on seeing this goal come to fruition, and did not stop until it did. When my son was born, I was five years into my career and raised him around the tattoo shop environment surrounded by my artistic friends and coworkers. I have other friends in more traditional careers as well, and I’m happy he was raised around so many different types of interesting people with very individual career choices. He grew up believing he has options, and that wanting a career in the arts isn’t irresponsible or impossible. He has seen so many of my artist and musician friends be able to carve out a living and raise families being creative, so he understands that it is viable with hard work and dedication. Now that he’s in high school and really exploring his creativity, I continue to encourage him. He’s an excellent student who is already an accomplished musician and has more recently been developing his visual art talent. He knows he is free to pursue whatever dream gives him the most joy, and I’m confident he will make good choices that are well-thought out and the best choices for him. He saw mom do it, so he knows it’s possible!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I started tattooing, the industry was still coming out of the “old school” era and the internet was not yet a part of our craft. I was also a rare woman in the business, so much so that sometimes people would assume I was the receptionist at the shop, instead of an artist, and seemed genuinely shocked that a woman could do this work. As time went on, more women got involved in tattooing and it became more normal to see female tattooers. I’ve always tried to be encouraging to younger artists, especially women, who were new to the industry because I remember what it was like for me and it feels good to give back in that way and to encourage someone else, who will hopefully pay it forward later as well. I’ve had many ups and downs in my career (like big geographical moves where I’ve had to re-establish a clientele, a failed marriage, and other challenges), but I take great pride in being able to carve out a living for me and my son by doing something I truly love. I’m certainly not rolling in money, but the fact that doing tattoos has paid my bills for twenty years feels like an incredible accomplishment to me. My quality of life is very good because I’m happy with my career and I have an awesome work-life balance. My schedule allows me to spend quality time with my son and to be present as a parent, which is a challenge when you’re the sole guardian. Being a tattooer has afforded me the luxury of not being away from him too much and really knowing what’s going on in his life and being able to be there for him. Now that I’m 20 years into the business, I’ve seen the industry change dramatically with the rise of social media and reality television. Something that was only understood by those on the inside is now part of mainstream culture, and there is a lot of baggage that has come with that. As someone who was trained in the “old school” ways, it’s sometimes difficult to understand where I fit in. I use social media as a necessary tool, but the hype and the chasing followers and the general social “noise” that comes with it is not something I get too involved in. I’ve always believed that if I do good quality work, I treat my clients with kindness and respect, and I conduct myself in a friendly and respectful way, the work will be there. Yes, I understand it’s important to have a social media presence these days, but to me it’s still not as important as having that one on one connection and realizing the client’s artistic vision. I try to provide an overall pleasant experience for people, and I know that they appreciate that. Doing good work and staying humble, grateful, and loyal will never not matter to me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I used to live in Canada, I have visitors from there from time to time, and I love to take them on a driving tour of the city. We usually start around Balboa Park, then through downtown to the harbor, then around Shelter Island and Point Loma before heading to Ocean Beach, where we usually stop for a stroll down Newport to the shops (especially The Black), then to the pier and the beach. We then drive past Sunset Cliffs, then head toward La Jolla to maybe check out the glider port if there’s any activity there. It’s a VERY cool, California thing to show visitors these amazing cliffs with people floating around on these brightly colored chutes. Then we might head to Mt. Soledad to check out the monument and take in the incredible 360 degree view- very fun to show to visitors. If there’s time we’ll even head down to Barrio Logan and then take the Coronado Bay Bridge over the water and head down the Silver Strand through Imperial Beach and back up through I-5. Other places I like to to take visitors is Old Town- it’s fun to sit down for lunch and have a couple margaritas before hitting some of the awesome shops there. I also make sure to take them to Ponce’s for a great sit down meal, and they also need to have some Roberto’s for the taco shop experience. If possible I also like taking them to the Red Fox Room for the history and atmosphere, and if there’s a good band playing we’ll hit the Casbah, Soda Bar, Ken Club, Black Cat Bar, Bar Pink, or Space Bar. Having visitors is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the city’s nightlife. If my visitor is so inclined, we also like to go to the Zoo; and if there’s time we’ll also hang out in South Park – maybe grab food at the Station or see my friend Dave Warshaw at Warshaw’s Provisions, and look at vintage at Bad Madge or records at Vinyl Junkies. If we’re in North Park we like to take them to Ono Grinds for Hawaiian food or have a dirty flattop burger at the Friendly, and then pints at Fall Brewing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I was lucky to be encouraged at a very young age to cultivate my artistic abilities by some of the adults in my life. My parents were always so supportive of my work, and even though I was raised in a military household with pretty traditional values, my folks never tried to dissuade me from becoming a professional artist. They were always very effusive about my artwork and let me know they were proud of my ability, and I feel that really set the tone for my belief that this was something I could actually do for a living. They even let me attend a school outside of our area so I could take part in their Creative Arts program. I went to school with other talented people who weren’t so lucky, who were discouraged from regarding art as anything other than a hobby. I remember being very grateful my parents allowed me to dream of such a thing. I also had an art teacher in middle school (Vicki Jones-Pittman, with whom I am still friends today) who was (and still is) an incredible supporter and made me believe that I had real talent and that I could definitely have a career in the arts. Her teaching, encouragement, and genuine interest in me as a person really shaped me and gave me the confidence to keep drawing and to keep growing as an artist. She truly believed in me, and I felt it. It’s no surprise many of her students have gone on to successful artistic careers, and that she is a huge influence on all of us. And of course I’ve tattooed her!
Linkedin: Jo Ann Atwood
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All photos taken by me (Jo Atwood)