Monday, July 15, 2024
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5 Queer Tattoo Artists Who Travel the World

Over the past decade, we’ve become quite familiar with the term digital nomad. Before it became part of our cultural lexicon, some professions have always offered some flexibility for people to work while exploring the world. Queer tattoo artists are an example of a nomadic profession that allows them to travel wherever their tattoo kits and clients lead them.  

Vacationer Magazine wanted to talk to queer tattoo artists – trans, gay, and nonbinary – to see how they got started and to get a glimpse at how much travel plays a part in their line of work. From rural North Carolina to Richard Branson’s luxury cruise line, these five LGBTQ+ artists explore the world providing their unique personalized services while creating a safe space for queer people who love ink. 


Jennifer Billig (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

There is no one specific path one person takes when pursuing his, her or their passion to become a professional tattoo artist or piercer. Jennifer Billig, who currently works at Four Star Tattoo in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been in the tattoo business for 30 years.

Jennifer Biling (Photo Credit: Jennifer Biling)
Jennifer Biling (Photo Credit: Jennifer Biling)

“When I started there weren’t that many women in the field, so being bold and having a thick skin were necessary traits,” said Billig. And her tenacity seems to be paying off. In the fall, she plans to open Altura Tattoo, a queer-positive safe space for the community, especially women. 

Billig not only has regular clients in Santa Fe, but she also travels to Portland, Oregon; Boulder and Denver, Colorado; and Fayetteville, Arkansas to focus on long-term projects and provide her signature botanical-themed tatts – thanks in part to her Master of Science in Horticulture. 

She remembers the days when she would save money to buy a rail pass ticket to Amsterdam. It was normal practice years ago when she would travel around Europe working conventions and doing guest spots.

“My favorite international place to travel was Barcelona,” she said. “I went a few times to work a convention there in the late 90s. It’s an amazing city, and if I hadn’t been working, I couldn’t have afforded to go there.”


Siete (San Antonio, Texas)

As a nonbinary Chicanx, Siete started their journey doing fine line, minimalist, and Chicano-type with stippling. Eventually, they expand their professional skills to Chicanx imagery, working with primarily Black and Brown clients in cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico; Houston, Texas; and now their new home in San Antonio.

Siete
Siete is a queer, nonbinary Chicanx tattoo artist at Prestige Collective Tattoo in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo Credit: Siete)

Currently, a tattoo artist at Prestige Collective Tattoo, Siete is obsessed with tattooing because of their identity. “Being queer, Chicanx, and a nonbinary person – being in the industry with these identities – I definitely think it has created a place for my own communities to get tattooed in a safe space. Where they are just treated normally,” they explained.

Even though they have their sights set on traveling to New Orleans and possibly settling in Portland, Oregon, Siete still hasn’t scrapped their long-term goal. “My dream is to buy an RV and travel all over… from state to stay,” said the 28-year-old tattoo artist. 

Siete enjoys working in different shops in different cities because it allows them to learn new techniques, meet new people, and experience different vibes — all while having a good time.


Leticia Bomtempo (Jacksonville, Florida)

Born and raised in southeast Brazil, Leticia Bomtempo remembers tattooing her dolls as soon as she was old enough to hold a marker. At 13 years old, she began working on commissioned artwork and playing the violin at special events. 

“As a kid, I was drawn to tattoo shops because I could see the true art behind it, and I longed to have a lifestyle where I could feel free to be my authentic self,” said Bomptempo.

Leticia Bomtempo and her wife (Photo Credit: Leticia Bomtempo)
Leticia Bomtempo and her wife (Photo Credit: Leticia Bomtempo)

Due to her conservative upbringing, she decided to pursue a more traditional career. She enrolled in the Law School at Unileste-Minas Gerais in Brazil, but she couldn’t deny her passion for art. She accepted an apprenticeship in 2013 and has never looked back.

After graduating from law school, Bomtempo moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she now owns the Queen Tattoo Co., a shop known for being a safe space for all people. “Being an artist has made it possible for me to work from pretty much anywhere,” she said.

North Carolina, Vermont, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Georgia are just a few places she has visited to provide her tattoo services, but she also tries to spend some time exploring each place she visits. 

Her success has allowed her to work with reputable brands such as World Famous Ink, Recovery, FK Irons, and Virgin Voyages. The cruise line’s ships are home to Squid Ink, the first-ever tattoo parlor at sea, which is how Bomtempo was able to visit Mexico and several Caribbean islands. 

Bomtempo’s schedule is booked with several conventions in addition to her regular clients at her tattoo shop, but she’s looking forward to squeezing in some time to visit her family in Brazil this year and take her American wife to her first Brazilian carnival. 


Dennis Gensinger (Squid Ink on Virgin Voyages) 

Like Bomtempo, Dennis Gensinger also works at Virgin Voyages’ Squid Ink, but he’s a manager and resident piecer. The 25-year-old Long Island native became a certified piecer in 2017 but started out running the front counter of a tattoo studio when he was 19. 

“Many people told me being in the tattoo industry wasn’t a real career. I’d never go anywhere, and I should just give it up,” said Gensinger. “I used that as motivation to make something of myself.”

The best part of the piercing process for him is capturing the personality of the client through the style of piercing and the meticulous selection of the right jewelry. He said, “They can express themselves with confidence, authenticity, and tranquility.” 

His expertise and income as a piercer have granted him opportunities to travel to several countries, including Spain, Dominican Republic, Italy, Belgium, Costa Rica, and England. In addition to returning to a few places he’s already visited, Gensinger wants to travel to Greece, Turkey, Croatia, and Montenegro. 

Traveling a lot does take its toll. He admits that traveling a lot makes it difficult to be away from his family and friends. However, he enjoys making friends all around the world. “The hardest part about going back home is wondering if you’ll have the opportunity to see all the great people you met again,” said Gensinger. 


Avery Theodore (Hillsborough, North Carolina)

Much like the other tattoo artists, Avery Theodore had hesitations about whether or not being a tattoo artist was a viable career, especially after they initially started doing work for free or trade. But as a transgender co-owner of the Critter Swamp Tattoo in Hillsborough, North Carolina, the shop has attracted a specific type of clientele. 

“I have a specific kind of following. A little over 90% of my clients are queer or trans. It took me over a year and some change before I ever tattooed a straight white dude,” said Theodore.

Avery Theodore (Photo Credit: @sasss.world)
Avery Theodore (Photo Credit: @sasss.world)

Theodore’s passion to become a self-taught pro tattoo artist started when queer and trans friends complained that they didn’t feel comfortable going to tattoo shops where there were usually white cis-hetero tattoo artists who would make them feel uncomfortable about their tattoo requests or ideas. 

Initially, Theodore’s travel related to their tattoo services started with Instagram shout-outs, where they would tattoo clients in their homes located in places like Philadelphia, Richmond, Virginia; Asheville, North Carolina; and Columbia, South Carolina.  

Where is Theodore heading next? They are heading to Salt Lake City, Utah, and while they admit the tattoo scene isn’t very large there, the camping and hiking have them excited all the same. 

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