Loved ones and high school teachers told Leslie Young that pursuing art was unrealistic and financially straining. Nearly 100 tattoo clients later, Young has made her passion for the permanent art into a lucrative career.
A rising fourth-year financial actuarial mathematics student, Young repeatedly pierces her clients’ skin with minuscule needles to produce smooth, simplistic designs as a tattoo artist at Evermore Tattoo Company. Since starting at the Culver City tattoo parlor in April, Young has used her position as an artist to showcase original designs inspired by her Taiwanese-American upbringing and build personal connections through permanent art.
“There’s something so real about putting your art on someone’s body,” Young said. “You make conversation and meet people – that’s what’s so human about it.”
Young said the tattoo process begins with a client reaching out to her via email or social media. From there Young will consult with the customer and discuss appointment times, tattoo size and design. More often than not, customers reach out requesting a tattoo of one of her original illustrations, which Young displays on her Instagram page, she said.
Some of Young’s tattoo flashes take inspiration from the foods she grew up eating and making with her family, like the bamboo leaf-wrapped sticky rice dish Zongzi, decorated with red ribbons and detailed yarn. Other original designs also include red Chinese car charms and numerous animals, like monkeys and fish, from traditional Chinese folklore.
“I always see American designs around but I feel like there’s no connection with my background or anything – they’re just beautiful designs. I just draw things that I can spin a story out of,” Young said. “All of my pieces have some sort of story behind them.”
Some of the appealing aspects to Young’s illustrative style include its characteristics inspired by art from various Asian cultures like from Japan, said Johnny Prezas, a fellow Evermore tattoo artist. Some of Young’s designs have flowing strokes and detailed swirls of fire or air that Prezas said reminds him of anime styles.
Prezas said Young’s simple tattoo aesthetic is one of the drawing factors for clients. However, her original designs are not the only aspects of Young’s work that leave clients satisfied, he said. Her ability to connect with them makes their tattooing experiences even more pleasant, he said.
“Right off the bat, (Young) greets (customers) warmly and makes them feel comfortable,” Prezas said. “She makes you feel confident in getting a tattoo from her, which can make the difference.”
Christine Lee, a UCLA alumna, said she saw Young’s designs on the UCLA Free & For Sale Facebook page. From there, Lee ventured to the tattoo artist’s Instagram page and set an appointment for her first ever tattoo. Lee contacted Young with her idea for her design and the two discussed its location and illustration details. After working with Lee for more than a month, Young completed a design of three peonies on Lee’s left hip and upper thigh.
“I wanted to get peonies because those are my mother’s favorite flowers and I love how (Young) did it,” Lee said. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
The pink and green floral tattoo was the product of multiple five-hour sessions of outlining, coloring and shading, Lee said. Despite the lengthy sessions, she said Young found ways to connect and entertain her, which helped to distract from the pain. The two shared conversations about topics including their similar Taiwanese backgrounds, favorite TV shows and their UCLA experiences. Lee said they also discussed their similar academic pursuits as statistics and math students.
“It made me feel like I was back on campus talking to another UCLA student, which took my mind off of things,” Lee said. “For my first tattoo, this was the best experience I could have with the tattoo artist.”
Young said creating an intimate relationship between tattoo artist and client is one of the rewarding aspects of her job. However, she said she always takes precautions before setting down the tattoo permanently.
“I think about someone’s future a lot,” Young said. “I think about how my work can potentially affect the way clients go about their professional lives.”
If customers request designs on visible areas like the neck, face or hands, Young said she confirms with clients before setting ink to skin. Most clients, she said, are confident in their choice and tend to choose locations and designs that are meaningful to them. Young said she likes knowing that her art will thrive and have meaning in her clients’ lives.
“This art form has stemmed from so many cultures from all around the world … former civilizations were like ‘Yeah, let’s put art on our bodies and celebrate our experiences, no matter how painful it is,’” Young said. “You live with your tattoos and you die with them – it’s all very connected to humanity and humans’ relationship to art.”