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The Only Way This Tattoo Artist Got Her Mom To Buy Her Toolkit Was By Telling Her She’d Go To College If She Paid For It

Most of the needles humming in today’s tattoo shops are wielded by men. Still, as the scale between the number of men and women sporting tattoos tips towards female,  artists like Michelle Santana are turning the male-dominated industry on its head. The New York City-based artist is the latest Latina, the likes of Kat Von D and Tata Baby, is shaking up the tattoo industry and giving the boys a run for their money.

Santana was 19 when she started slinging ink in her Colombian hometown.

✨??Colombian Yellow??✨ #santanatattoo

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Like plenty of Latinas, Santana was raised by a strict mother whose approval of tattoos didn’t go far. After getting her first ink job on her leg at the age of 16, Santana wore pants for two years to keep it hidden from her mother. “My mom asked me a few times why I never wore shorts but I have always dressed baggy with hip hop vibes so it was normal,” the artist told FIERCE. “When I turned 18 I told her I was going to get a tattoo… I showed [her] my leg and she was like ‘What is that, you got a diablo on your leg?!’ And stopped talking to me for two weeks. Even now she gets angry and makes sarcastic comments like ‘why don’t you get a tattoo on your ass?'”

Despite her mother’s reaction, Santana became hooked, and at 19 she got her hands on her own tattoo kit. Actually, it was her mother who fronted her with the cash. “I went to my mom and told her I wanted to buy it and she told me ‘no.’ I told her if she buys it, I’ll go to college and study whatever she wants me to. So, she bought me the kit and bought me a car haha. My mom would do anything to get me into college.”

Santana’s first tattoos were done for friends and locals in her own bedroom, until eventually she decided to travel the world and master her ink skills.

She’s since learned to balance the dichotomy of two clashing cultural tattoo styles. The urbane looks desired by her clientele in New York, and the bold ones of her home ground of Colombia.

Pic from @sirjacksonlewislee view, had a blast tattooing this legend last night, thanks for everything!!! ?✨

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“Because I started in Colombia and I traveled to other countries, I can see a difference in style,” Santana says of her ability to adapt to client demands. “In NYC, I always found it to be a good place to do tattoos. Since I started working here, its easier to get a person in the chair. They’ll get basically anything and have the craziest ideas. We’ll talk about it, and that’s it. New Yorkers/Americans in general are more flexible and don’t overthink it. It’s a good opportunity for me to develop other styles of tattooing and that’s how my style has changed. In Colombia people don’t ask for what’s out here, so I have to adapt. In Colombia, people want bigger designs and for them, the bigger, the better. To them color looks prettier too, and they like to add onto designs even if it isn’t needed.”

Santana’s desire to develop her talent has taken her across European countries like Spain and Amsterdam.

? #santanatattoo

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It’s also what ultimately brought her to New York, where she divides her time between a shop in Manhattan and the one she owns in Colombia. Despite the facilities she’s collected from her travels, Santana is no stranger to having her ability to brandish a needle questioned by the men she works with. Her skill of marking out the signature fine-macro lines of her pieces, which most artists struggle to master, has gained her quite a bit of attention in the past few years. Still, she finds that new male clients frequently hesitate to work with her.

“They want a masculine tattoo, and want a man to do it cause he can ‘relate.'”


A post shared by Michelle Santana (@mnsantanatattoo) on

For Santana, one of her biggest challenges comes when male clients take a seat in her chair for a consultation. “You can see the client not responding to what you’re saying. They’ll see another tattooer walk by and ask ‘is he a tattooer?’, then ignore me after that.” Santana says. “They just think I’m not able to do the design. They want a masculine tattoo, and want a man to do it cause he can “relate.'”

Still, Santana’s succes as a self-taught Latina tattoo artist makes the male skepticism easy to brush off.

Thank you all that got tattooed by me! I'm grateful for all of you ✨

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“Having all those people that live near me and trust in me to practice on them means a lot to me. I’m proud of every tattoo I have done — tribal, butterflies, and every infinity symbol is what makes me.” Santana says. “If I focused only on small tattoos when I first started, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be able to do the small ones if I didn’t do other styles. I learned so much about placement, skin types, and dealing with people while in small shops, different cities and different cultures. I’m proud to be able to get an genuine thank you from a client. Its important to have a good connection with them – its an experience they won’t forget and I want to make it the best that I can.”

With more and more artists like Santana emerging from tattoo shops, there’s no doubt the future of the industry is coming up female.

Read: This Brazilian Tattoo Artist Transforms Scars Into Works Of Art

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This Houston Artist is Bringing a Touch of Whimsy to Her Hometown


This Houston Artist is Bringing a Touch of Whimsy to Her Hometown

Art is often the manifestation of our emotions. It manifests the artist’s intentions and projects them onto the audience. Though we don’t all experience art in the same way, the visceral reaction we have to an especially moving work of art is universal. Through the lens of its artist, art makes us hope, feel as well as heal. For Texas-based Mexican-American artist Shelbi Nicole, the desire to share these feelings with her audience is what drives her to create.

Named one of Houston’s Top Ten artists back in 2014, Nicole is a Texas transplant originally from Oklahoma City. Using bold color and shapes, it’s her goal to put feel-good vibes out into her community. Working in a mix of media but a painter at heart, Nicole’s work can be seen all over her adopted home. Whether it’s through murals, in private and public art collections or through her newest interactive art installation, this artist is committed to drama and whimsy.

Recently, FIERCE caught up with Nicole to talk about the intention behind her lively art and see her latest installation.

For Shelbi Nicole, art was an instinctive passion to pursue even from an early age.

Instagram / @fiftyshadesofelishagray

In fact, the medium of painting became a therapeutic tool that helped the artist evolve into the woman she is.

“I have enjoyed creating since I was very young, which was when I discovered my love for painting,” Nicole told FIERCE. “I suffered from depression and found the benefits of painting to be extremely therapeutic. Painting has tremendously helped me combat depression and in a lot of ways been essential to my well being. Once I discovered the impact painting had on my life, I wanted to identify first and foremost as an artist.”

Drawn to abstract forms, Nicole traveled to France at 18 to study her craft. Exploring the numerous art museums Europe has to offer, she grew into herself as an artist. Her search to find her own voice as an artist took her to Miami. There, the vibrant colors of the South Florida Latinidad inspired her and made their way into her permanent color palette. Having found her signature style utilizing abstract shapes and vibrant colors, Nicole made her way to the University of Houston for her formal education.

“I think my constant exposure to so many different cultures has influenced my work,” Nicole explained. “Especially being back in Houston, the most diverse city in the U.S.”

Since then, Nicole has been a cornerstone of the local Houston art scene, literally leaving her mark all over the city.

Instagram / @shelbinicoledesigns

Putting her skills as a mural artist to the test, Nicole beautifies the Houston Metro through her work with Mini Murals. Mini Murals is a multi-city project aimed at bringing color to unsuspected places utilizing electrical boxes as mural space. The pop of unexpected art that these pieces bring to local neighborhoods is completely on message for this dynamic artist. With her mix of abstract and geometric shapes and bold use of color, Nicole has contributed a dozen mini murals to Houston.

Aside from her many projects with her own design firm, Nicole has collaborated with everyone from local artists to big name corporations.

Instagram / @shelbinicole
Houston Press / Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

“The last two years of my life have been some of my most successful, thus far, with my art endeavors,” Nicole proudly shared. Last December, the artist teamed up with jewelry designer Kendra Scott to create the “Korridor.” Next to the Kendra Scott jewelry store in the posh community of Rice Village, the bright mural space is a combination of Nicole’s colorful sensibilities and Scott’s elegant forms.

Another such collaboration matched Nicole with the largest rodeo in the world. The tremendous Texas event — once headlined by Selena herself — is also an opprotunity to take in arts and culture. This year, the artist won the opprotunity to paint in her own style a 6-foot tall ceramic boot for the Rodeo’s Boot Row. Nicole is only one of six artists chosen to execute a design for this piece that lines the Rodeo’s entrance.

Still, perhaps one of Nicole’s biggest collabs have been with coffee giant Café Bustelo.

Instagram / @shelbinicole

The Cuban coffee company established these pop-ups around the country for some time now. Not only do they bring their bold flavors, the pop-ups also invites emerging Latinx musicians and artists. For Nicole’s project, the people behind the iconic yellow can connected her with fellow Houston artist Gonzo247. At a Café Bustelo pop-up event in Houston’s art district, the two artists worked together to create a unique art piece to embody Latin flavor and culture.

While these accomplishments are impressive in their own right, the project that Nicole is most proud of has been five years in the making.

Instagram / @shelbinicole
Instagram / @thewhimsyworld_

A larger-than-life visual funhouse, Nicole’s newest exhibit — Whimsy World — is a colorful, interactive fantasy world. The exhibit debuted in Houston during February of 2019. It opened to rave reviews as Houstonians explored Shelbi’s brilliant dreamscape.

“What inspired me to create Whimsy World was an intense desire to showcase my work in a solo show that was unconventional and much more interactive,” Nicole explained. “I’d lost interest in traditional art shows and the lack of color in most gallery settings. I wanted people to be able to feel like they’re inside of one of my paintings rather than just standing back and looking at a canvas.”

The multi-experience installation spans several rooms, each with its own touches of magic. From a hand-welded claw foot tub and in-door rain cloud dripping with hundreds of crystals to the abstract paintings spilling over the canvas and onto the studio walls, every inch is art. Even the bathrooms — with their fierce boss lady Beyoncé motif — are a spot worthy of Instagram.

For Nicole, Whimsy World is a culmination of her artistic voice and the joy she hopes her art creates in others.

Instagram / @thewhimsyworld_
Instagram / @whimsyworld_

“I want to encourage everyone to understand the endless possibilities there are, when it comes to how we experience art,” the artist confessed. “It can be a feeling, a moment, a world that you enter that brings joy and elicits feel-good vibes. That is the intention of The Whimsy World and I hope everyone can experience its magic.”

For Nicole, the future is as bright as the art she creates. An extended version of Whimsy World will be debuting in Sugarland, Texas March 15th-April 27th. The installation will include 8+ brand new fixtures. The Sugarland show will also feature a new main attraction — a mirrored art room hand-crafted by the artist. Nicole is also planning to take Whimsy World to audiences beyond Texas.

Shelbi Nicole’s dedication to sharing her positivity and light with the world is evident whenever you see her art. It’s a reminder that through artistic creation, we can share who we are and what we want the world to be.

Read: It’s The Beginning Of The Year And Cardi B and Selena Gomez Have Already Topped Spotify’s Most-Streamed Female Artists

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Afro-Dominicana Fanesha Fabre Is The Artist Creating The World She Sees Around Her


Afro-Dominicana Fanesha Fabre Is The Artist Creating The World She Sees Around Her

In 2017, a study found that even despite the fact that Latinxs make up 16 percent of the United States’s largest minority population, only 1.2% of them are represented as artists in New York’s art galleries. Art is often called “universal” and “language-less” but when one of the most diverse cities in the world only has 1.2% Hispanic representation in it’s art Galleries, art might not be as universal as some would think. Thankfully museums are not the only places people can interact with art. On Instagram Afro-Dominicana Fanesha Fabre is contributing to the art scene in New York City and beyond through her multi media visual arts.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic to a father who was a music enthusiast, Fabre says art has always been in her life.

“My father is an artist and so is everyone else in my family. I grew up watching my father paint, making sculptures, and going to his art shows.” Fabre tells FIERCE in an interview about the culture of representation in New York’s art scene. A self-described visual learner, Fabre says that she first learned about art from her father whom she watched create musical and physical art as a child until she was 16 and decided to pursue music for herself.

Of course, being a woman of color with an opinion in a highly cut throat environment proved to be far from easy. “I found myself having to prove myself 20 times harder then any man I had ever met. I was putting in the work, but always overlooked.”

Through this process, Fabre says she learned that if she was to succeed in the art world – through any medium – she would have to hustle and teach herself as many skills as she could. She found motivation in her increasing impatience with constantly being over looked and having to wait for producers and editors to help her with final cuts.

“I taught myself to produce music and record because I am not patient with the things that I want to create.” Her impatience and frustrations with the music industry are also what pushed her to take a break from music. Her timeout from creating music ultimately set her up for the work she’s currently doing as a visual artist.

It was during a particularly trying time in her life that brought Fabre back to drawing. After 12 years of disregarding her sketchpads, Fabre picked up a pencil and got to work. The transition was as seamless as riding a bike again. “I was like wait a minute I’m good at this. Its just so natural, still.” Once she began rekindling her relationship with visual arts, Fabre says her purpose and goals became clearer and less daunting. She fell back in love with creating art and wanted to pursue it as more than just a hobby.

In 2017 she finally made the transition from musical artist to visual artist and Fabre says it’s felt like the most natural transition she’d made in her life. Contrary to the small support she received as a musical artist Fabre says she gets support from everyone now, her father, sister, people via social media, and group of women that are also artist.

Today, she creates beautiful pieces in pencil, digital, paint, and photo shop tools.

Using tools like Photoshop she creates colorful, lively, and vivid photos of her family, friends, and celebrities. Her projects are often dotted with colorful backgrounds, large pieces of jewelry and crowns. Looking at one of her pieces is a lot like coming to understand what “Living Color” might look like on a personified version of a tropical island summer.

Still, just when you might have thought that her talents might be limited to music and drawing, it turns out Fabre also makes custom lapel pins.

Each are boast hints at our culture and include famous figures like Selena, Biggie, and Sade. There’s also a pin that acts as an side joke on the elusive butter cookie tin that is almost always only packed with sewing needles.

Unlike many pins on the market that tend to be enamel, Fabre’s are different – they’re homemade. She recalls that motivational sense of impatience bubbling up inside again when she was unable to create custom pins when she wanted. “So of course, here I am, impatient and wanting to create something on the spot whenever I felt like creating, I started to research the possibilities on how to make pins at home. After months and months of testing different things out, we had a winner. A pin that I could make whenever I wanted and make as many of them as I needed.”

When asked about the process and care she puts into making her pins,  Fabre quotes her father, “never reveal the secrets of the studio.”

For now we’ll just have to enjoy her pins and appreciate the mystery behind them.

It’s been a year since Fabre decided to launch her business, Fanesha Fabre Arts, but she had a vision three years ago; “I had this dream 3 years ago of doing what I am doing now. It took 3 years to manifest and it has been totally worth it.”

Her message for any Afro Latinas out there deciding on whether or not to pursue the arts she says, “learn the basics but break all the rules after; when people want to buy your work, give your work value, ask people for what you want to ask, if they can’t give you that, then your work will find it’s rightful owner on it’s own; and surround yourself with people who honor you as a person.” 

Check out more of Fanesha’s work via her Instagram at @FaneshaFabre, her Etsy store, and personal site.

Read: Latinas Brought Absolute Candela To The 2018 AMAs

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