With long brown hair softly grazing her lower back, a blue floral floor-length dress made modest by a sweater underneath, Melissa Seagull’s appearance doesn’t seem any different than the typical Sunday coffee shop patron. It isn’t until she reaches to pay for her cup of coffee and her sleeve moves ever so slightly up her forearm, that the casual observer gets a unique glimpse into her life.
“Yes, tattooing is, or I guess was, counterculture, but we don't have to be that stereotype if we don't want to be. I believe there is nothing wrong with standing out from the crowd, but I know that is a hard life to live. My mentors taught me the art of blending. I was taught how to decorate myself according to the situation, while still being able to express my style,” says Seagull as she demurely sips her morning coffee.
Of course, blending wasn’t always a part of Seagull’s life. As an aspiring artist growing up in rural Monticello, Minnesota, Seagull always felt a little different. While her peers expressed interest in football games and cheerleading, Seagull was spellbound by the world of indelible ink.
“I used to work at a pet store that was right next to a tattoo shop and I would go over there all the time to stare through the windows. Eventually, they let me come in and I started building a relationship with the artists. I saw that, contrary to what the world was telling me, art could be a job and that changed everything for me,” says Seagull who began her tattoo apprenticeship at just 15-years-old.
“When I got my apprenticeship in my mid-teens, I didn't realize just how lucky I was. In so many ways, I hit the jackpot,” Seagull says. “My teachers expected a lot from me, but they also saw that I was a very sweet, naive, young girl. They taught me how to be tough. They showed me what it meant to be strong, but fair. They showed me how to stand up for myself.”
As Seagull continues to make her way in the predominately male profession of tattooing, she continues to quietly stand her ground while perfecting her artistry.
“I remember [my mentor], John, used to tell me that the tiniest, most simple tattoos can teach you the most about tattooing. He called them ‘little treasures’ and told me never to take them for granted,” Seagull says. “You really never know how much symbolism something small can have for a client. Getting a tattoo can be incredibly healing.”
Of course, sometimes a small tattoo isn’t enough to convey a major change in one’s life.
Sometimes, you just have to go big.
“The first tattoo I ever got, well, it was this,” Seagull laughs as she pulls down her purple turtleneck sweater to reveal a large brightly colored phoenix sprawling across her petite chest.
Most times, we don’t recognize the moments and people that will shape our lives. Seagull was one of the lucky ones and she has the ink to prove it.
*Originally published by the Anchorage Press