March 11, 2014

Rebel in Ink: Tattoo Artist Stephanie Brown at Chicago CreativeMornings #27

Photo by Nate Burgos. View More.

CreativeMornings’ global theme for February was “Rebel.” At the Chicago chapter, Painter and Tattoo Artist Stephanie Brown literally illustrated this theme using ink, skin, steady eyes and a steady hand—focused on fulfilling a personal artistic vision.

This is a gutsy statement for two reasons: it takes guts to do the kind of work you easily see yourself doing, and it takes guts to see a creative gap and take a creative dive to fill it, yourself. A common characteristic applied to creative people is not being afraid—at least not scaring too easily. In her keynote presentation at South by Southwest (SXSW), 2013, CreativeMornings inventor Tina Roth Eisenberg shared ten life-affirming actions that she practices. The tenth was: “If any opportunity scares you, take it.”

Brown’s “scary opportunity” was tattooing. There’s the fear of making a mistake. There’s the fear of having a client who may not like the finished result. For any creative person, these are common fears, but with tattooing, the results are permanent. Scary. Brown addressed these fears by trying and trying again to practice tattooing: on fruit, her friends, her own skin (above photo), then on people who are beyond her friends—these people are her customers. This progression of tattooing is filled with fear.

Her evolution as a tattoo artist included working at a tattoo shop and reaching out for guidance and mentorship. This process especially involved learning the language of the tattooist’s toolkit, handling the instruments of tattooing, and steering toward gaining a sensibility—a personal style—that such a toolkit affords. Brown taught herself to manage her fear, and to not let it get in the way of pursuing her craft of tattooing. She placed fear in a lockbox with pinholes to breathe.

Another top characteristic that could be applied to rebellious creative people, is to not stray from personal ambition. Brown was adamant about her tattoo remaining coherent, not only from concept to execution, but also from one tattoo to another as a storied body of work. Like any artist—musical, culinary, or visual—rejecting to compromise is the mark of a rebel.


Cultivate a level of fearlessness in creative pursuits. Treat each creative accomplishment as a building block attached to a timeline of work, unfolding in personal relevance, and, as Brown put it, “seeing where the tattoos land.”

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Quotations typeset in Essay designed by Jose A. Garrido, Spain, for Avondale Type Co., Chicago.

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Brown’s merging of painting and tattooing, plus her fascination with nature, reminds me of my Makers series interview with Teagan White, who is merging design and illustration, with nature as a source of inspiration.

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James Dean, Actor: “I think the prime reason for existence, for living in this world, is discovery.” He starred in the classic film “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955).

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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