Making their mark: From nursing to living abroad, artists take winding roads to careers at Carmel tattoo gallery

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By Marissa Johnson

Today, tattoos are often considered works of art. But even a decade ago, that wasn’t always the case.

“In Indiana, I’d only known people with biker tattoos. I hadn’t really considered it an art form,” said Grace Enstrom. “I still remember someone in art class saying, ‘I’m going to be a tattoo artist when I grow up,’ and not getting it.”

Grace Enstrom works on a design. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

But now, Enstrom works at Forever Gallery Tattoo as one of only a few female tattoo artists in Carmel.

Like Enstrom, Kayla Taylor never considered tattooing as a career.

“I was so focused on what others told me would be a good job,” Taylor said. “But the longer I’m here, it seems like it was bound to happen.”

Her background as a registered nurse for nine years served her well in the transition to becoming a full-time tattoo artist for the past two years, also at Forever Gallery.

“I’ve worked postpartum for six years and now I’m there once or twice a month,” Taylor said. “The balance is different, but it’s very good.”

Enstrom has worked as a tattoo artist for seven years in a variety of local shops, but it was across the pond that she got bitten by the “tattoo bug.” Originally planning to be an art teacher, Enstrom spent eight weeks student teaching in Ireland, returning shortly after graduating from Indiana University to live there for five years.

“I saw so many people there with full sleeves (of tattoos), beautiful works of art, things I just hadn’t seen before,” Enstrom said.

While working as a mural artist, she was inspired to look into a tattooing apprenticeship, which she found could be cheaper or even free in Indiana.

However, starting out as a female tattoo artist came with a price.

“I’ve been in about seven different shops,” Enstrom said. “And the first several were nightmares. I was definitely the only female in any shop for a long time.”

Kayla Taylor works on a tattoo. (Photos by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

She dealt with sketchy shop owners, harassment and uncomfortable client situations for years but finally found a good home base in Broad Ripple. Then came her desire to learn more about colorwork and advanced theory elsewhere. Forever Gallery offered Enstrom a temporary spot while she waited for open shop space, but she loved her position in Carmel so much that it became permanent in October 2021.

Finding a home at Forever Gallery Tattoo, located in the Carmel City Center and co-owned by Michael Hockman and Matt Carrel, has made a big difference for both artists.

“I really enjoy connecting with patients, but right now it’s hard to be in healthcare,” Taylor said.

Carrel was a family friend who had encouraged Taylor to get into tattooing, so after the shop’s opening in 2020, she took the leap and started an apprenticeship.

“Now, I’m home at better hours and can spend more time with my family,” Taylor said. “When I do have to work at home, it’s something I can incorporate into family time, like drawing with my daughter.”

For Enstrom, finding a clean and well-designed shop that doesn’t treat her like a receptionist or maid (an attitude she said she often encountered at male-dominated shops) has made Forever Gallery an incredible place to work.

“My parents came into the shop and said, ‘Wow, this is beautiful, we’re so proud of you,’ and that feels really good,” said Enstrom.

Now, Carmel women looking to be tattooed can always find a friendly female face at Forever Gallery.

“I like being a safe space for women,” Enstrom said.

Learn more at 4evergallery.com.

Tattoos by Grace Enstrom. (Photos courtesy of Grace Enstrom)

Tattoos by Grace Enstrom. (Photos courtesy of Grace Enstrom)

Tattoos by Kayla Taylor. (Photos courtesy of Kayla Taylor)

Tattoos by Kayla Taylor. (Photos courtesy of Kayla Taylor)

Becoming a tattoo artist

If you’re looking to become a tattoo artist, Kayla Taylor has some simple advice: “Just do it! Don’t feed into the ‘what ifs’ because if you want it, it can happen.”

Grace Enstrom has recommendations of her own.

“For someone trying to get into the industry, go and get tattooed by good artists as much as you can,” she said. “If you find a place you really love, go hang out there and offer to do assistance work — that’s the easiest way to get in.”

Although the job isn’t always easy, Taylor and Enstrom are passionate about their work.

“One of my favorite things is when somebody comes to me and says, ‘I hate this thing about my body and I want something beautiful there instead,’” Enstrom said. “Especially for people with anxiety, depression or body dysmorphia, tattooing can be really therapeutic.”

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