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Tattoos done by donation

Madison Fernstrom, a sophomore majoring in math with a minor in computer sciences, is passionate about math, visual art, and tattooing. She is making getting a decent tattoo affordable for the Mills community. Last month she posted an ad titled “Tattoos by donation!” on the Mills Student-news mailing list. The solicitation described her as possessing a “natural artistic ability” and made it known that she possesses a tattoo gun and offers tattoos, real tattoos, for a donation. The ad also said that if a client doesn’t like the tattoo then they don’t have to pay for it. She received ten responses in the first week.

Photo courtesy of Madison Fernstrom
Photo courtesy of Madison Fernstrom

Fernstrom, got her start as an aspiring tattoo artist after being gifted a tattoo gun and a complete tattooing kit from an ex-girlfriend. The relationship didn’t last very long but, at least, Fernstrom said, she was able to keep the tattoo gun. Her former partner gave her the tattoo gun and accessories after Fernstrom mentioned she desired to apply her passion for drawing and painting to tattoo art.

When Fernstrom was bored during class in high school, she would draw on her hands.

The first tattoo that Fernstrom did was a simple design consisting of three dots on her own foot. The dots would later become a heart with swirly line designs around it.

When a prospective patron contacts Fernstrom, they typically want to see her work. She offers to show them a few hand drawn designs and then explains that she mainly does line work, designs that are created by using lines, and would like to experiment with color. If a potential patron is serious about getting a tattoo she then provides a formal consultation for the desired design, showing them the progress of the design as she creates it. The tattooing takes place at her apartment.

“She is super-professional and legit. She always uses new gloves and sterile needles,” said Stephanie Szanto, Mills Ssophomore Political, Legal, and Economics Analysis major. Szanto is Fernstrom’s roommate and was one of the first people to receive a tattoo by her.

For Szanto’s birthday Fernstrom encouraged her to think of a “dumb” design. Szanto opted for an outline of a steaming coffee cup on her right ankle. She said that she’s obsessed with caffeine. Fernstrom then came up with a draft that Szanto liked.

So far Fernstrom has tattooed five people; four of them are Mills students and one is a non-Mills student. She said she has two more prospects lined up.

“I told her to do it by donation. That she should advertise and show people she’s doing this,” Szanto said.

Fernstrom smiles a lot when she talks about the element of this endeavor that she most enjoys: meeting new people and hearing their stories.

“You meet a lot of interesting people. Everyone wants something different. Everyone has a different meaning for their design,” she said.

Tattooing seems to not only offer her a means to connect with new people, but she says it also helps to get her away from the stress of math homework. And unlike drawing on paper, tattooing pushes her to complete the project.

So far Fernstrom says she’s gotten good at line work, swirls, and geometric designs. She recently purchased tattoo tracing paper, which is paper a design may be preprinted on in order to tattoo a more exact design. It also allows the artist to create the tattoo by tracing over the design with the tattoo gun. Fernstrom is excited at the potential of creating more complicated designs with richer color schemes and shading.

As she looks to the future, the Mills math major sees no time for a formal tattoo internship, so she’ll just keep enjoy tattooing by donation.

Szanto says that the quality of her roommate’s tattoos are fairly close to those done by professionals.

“In terms of her skill level, it’s really good. Her line work is on point,” Szanto said.