Business

Women Get Inked

Lori Castillo-Meeker, is the owner of The Tattoo Gallery in Modesto.
Lori Castillo-Meeker, is the owner of The Tattoo Gallery in Modesto. Modesto Bee

Lori Castillo-Meeker is looking for some edgy mamas.

The co-owner of The Tattoo Gallery on McHenry Avenue wanted a place where getting inked felt as stress-free as booking a hair appointment.

"We want that soccer mom who can come here and feel comfortable getting a tattoo," said Castillo-Meeker. The former full-time teacher still substitutes, but also splits her time between managing the tattoo parlor and a design business.

A Catholic woman with no ink of her own, Castillo- Meeker isn't exactly your typical tattoo aficionado.

But she loves the business and hearing people's stories behind their tattoos. Her husband and co-owner of the shop, Rich Meeker, became interested in the industry after getting his tattoos.

The Meekers, who were involved in another tattoo shop, opened The Tattoo Gallery a year ago with longtime friends Jarod and Christine Focha. They also own Meeker Designs, a commercial art and graphic design business.

When The Tattoo Gallery first opened, it dubbed Monday nights "Chicks Night" in recognition of its three female tattoo artists and female piercer. Now its staff of six -- including an unpaid apprentice and piercer -- is made up of three males and three females.

Female artists have been gaining visibility in the largely male-dominated tattoo industry, thanks in part to the popular reality television show "L.A. Ink." A spinoff of "Miami Ink," the series follows the happenings at High Voltage Tattoo, a Los Angeles shop owned by female tattoo artist Kat Von D.

Being a female tattoo artist can be challenging at times because people have a set idea of what an artist should look like, said Jen Culotta, 27, an artist at The Tattoo Gallery.

"They think I'm the receptionist," said Culotta, who has been practicing her art since 2001.

Castillo-Meeker first noticed Culotta at her booth at the Skink Tattoo Show at Modesto Centre Plaza, a tattoo convention held last summer that drew 6,000 people on the first day of its two-day run.

"People look at Jen and say, 'That's your portfolio?' They look at her with the same respect as the other artists," Castillo-Meeker said.

While men still make up a large number of The Tattoo Gallery's customers and half of its artists, the tattoo shop's location next door to Salon Deville & Day Spa, as well as its reputation, have made it a destination for some women thinking about getting inked.

Tracy Shipman, a 43-year-old Turlock nurse and mother of five who had no tattoos, admits that she's "probably not your normal tattoo client." But she wanted a tattoo of four butterflies on her foot to symbolize each of her daughters.

"I've wanted to do it for about three or four years but never felt comfortable before," Shipman said. "It's the intimidation factor of looking into a tattoo parlor. You have these big burly men with tattoos all over their body and you want something pretty. That's scary for your average person who has never had a tattoo."

Shipman said the atmosphere at The Tattoo Gallery eased her trepidation. She chose a design and a week later she was tattooed by Culotta, the end result being something "I absolutely love."

Even though she initially described the tattoo as her "first and only," Shipman said she already is thinking about her next piece of art -- a design to represent her 24-year-old son.

Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at csalerno@modbee.com or 238-4574.

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