My legal name is Teressa Jean, but I have been going by TeeJay pretty consistently since Junior High School.
I consider myself an artist – my primary source of income has been tattooing since the early nineties but I spend as much free time as I can drawing and painting (I take lots of photographs also, but don’t consider myself good at that).
I’ve spent the last few years working on a book on medical reconstructive tattooing of the Nipple/Areola Complex.
Hobbies beyond that include camping, gardening and riding my motorcycle. Free time is a bit of a scarcity so there never seems to be quite enough time spent with family or recreational activities.
What am I passionate about? Creation. I love to make things. I’m a bit of a knowledge junkie and I love to find out how things work. I enjoy learning about other people’s passions and getting to see glimpses into the worlds of others by listening to them describe their loves and passions. Fortunately at work I have plenty of time to do that.
Beyond that I am a bit of a home body and would be a hopeless Cat Lady if left to my own devices.
2. Can you tell us more about your book endeavor?
I have been making medical reconstruction tattoos of the nipple/areola complex since the early 90s. In ’99 I started working out of Strong Hospital doing this type of work. I am currently seeing patients Dr. Vega’s office and through the Plastic Surgery Group of Rochester. More info on this can be found at http://www.whitetigertattoo.com/medical.html and an example of this tattooing done on a non-medical volunteer can be seen here http://justteejay.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/step-by-step-3d-nipple-tattoo-areola-repigmentation/.
The book itself is at kind of a stand-still at the moment. While I am anxious to be able to disseminate this information to as many practitioners as possible, I am unfortunately not a very organized writer and have gotten completely overwhelmed with the project.
3. Looking at those photos took my breath away. Your work in this realm is so intimate and compassionate. What opened this door to you? How does it feel to give this gift to women, and to share in their experiences?
These are beautiful triumphant women who have made it through to the other side of an ordeal. They are victorious. They are survivors. The work that we do together is a celebration of their completion of that journey. Coming through it wiser and with different perspectives on what is important in life.
I help them get past the scars. To literally take their eyes off of the scars and feel more whole again.
How does it feel to participate in that on a regular basis? Amazing. They gift me with so much laughter and hope and light. I get thanked for the work that I do with breast cancer survivors and I feel like a bit of a fraud because I get so very much more from them than I feel I could ever repay.
What opened this door? How did I wind up here? Fate? The Universe? God? Something beyond me. I don’t question the whys too much. I just try to enjoy the ride.
4. Our patriarchal society has certain view about how women should behave. Many of us are strongly encouraged (from childhood and beyond) to follow feminine guidelines. Being a business owner of tattoo shop(s) and a motorcycle-rider, you may be described as “bold”. How do people respond to you? Have you encountered sexism? How does it feel when you don’t fit into cultural norms?
My Mother did a really good job of schooling me on how to be a proper lady. She taught me proper table manners and how to sit up straight and which fork to use and how to walk in high heels. She wanted me to be able to feel comfortable in any environment that I was ever to find myself in.
I don’t think she could have imagined where I would wind up.
I guess my choices in lifestyle and career and hobbies would have made more sense and been more “normal” if I were a man. Most of it is just pursuing things that I love and being too pigheaded to realize that I might be able to do it another way.
When I was doing illustration work someone had asked me in an interview about riding the motorcycle and how I had wound up riding. (I was doing illustration work for the now defunct Harley Women Magazine). I had explained that I had an interest in motorcycles since I was a kid and talked about the process through bicycles to dirt bikes to street bikes. She asked me why I hadn’t just dated someone who had a motorcycle – there was a bit of a pause and I just burst out laughing.
I didn’t do it that way because it had NEVER occurred to me. In all honesty, I felt a little stupid. Wow. That would have been a lot easier! While I am glad how it turned out, I’m sure I would be able to watch the birds and daydream better if I was on the back of the bike. There are advantages to everything.
Bold. hmmm. I don’t see me that way.
I suppose if we could spend some time in other people’s heads seeing how other perceive us it would be both a blessing and a curse. I see myself as a shy introvert and am constantly baffled as how I wound up in an industry with so much human interaction.
People love me or hate me or don’t notice me. Same as everyone else. We are all judged. We are all loved. We are all attacked. Of course I think I would be happier if everyone loved me all of the time – but if they did I would just be suspicious as to why.
I don’t know how much sexism I’ve experienced. I am often asked what it is like to be a woman in the tattoo industry when it is such a male dominant field. Unfortunately I don’t have any perspective. I’ve always been female, so I don’t have any basis of comparison. Yes, there are things about the industry that are difficult, but I don’t know if they are more or less difficult due to my gender. I know when I first started tattooing I got some clients because I was female – they thought it was a novelty or thought that I would hurt them less… or sometimes a guy would bring his girlfriend in and wouldn’t want a male artist to “touch” her so I would wind up with the client. So while there may have been disadvantages, there were also advantages at times.
How has this affected me? Hard to say. All of our life experiences and choices shape who we are.
Sometimes I feel included and a part of – and sometimes I feel different and outside the norm. I would imagine that is probably true of everyone – even people who have tried very hard to fit perfectly into societal norms.
A brilliant young lady in my life said to me this morning that she thinks she is surrounded by a protective bubble of beautiful and strange people. That the people she associates with are of like mind and accepting of her and her quirks and passions. I think I have done the same thing. It would (of course) be counterproductive to surround myself with people who are critical and hostile.
5. How do you break out of the mindset when you are not feeling inspired to create? (question submitted by Chris Clemens)
Being creative for a living AND for the majority of my hobbies can definitely be draining. It’s something that is difficult to broach with most people as it can be hard to understand how our job can be difficult too.
Someone told me one time that everyone “Slays Dragons”. That no matter what it is that you do for a living there are times when it is incredibly difficult – whether you cut down trees, wield a jackhammer or push papers for a living.
I LOVE tattooing and I love to make stuff. It is what drives me it, it is what I DO. It is who I am.
That being said, there are definitely days when it is hard. There are days when the concept is limiting or my brain is just “all set” with thinking about anything.
The biggest thing is to not pack my schedule so tightly that I don’t have any breathing room. I need to time to be able to walk away and let it the concepts percolate.
I spend as much time as I can being inspired by other artists. I keep the television off. I pick up a pen and just doodle until my brain clears out. I go to Figure Drawing every Monday (that I possibly can). I make sure to remember that it should all be fun and if it isn’t fun, I’m doing it wrong. I follow amazing artists on Instagram. I go for a bike ride. I go for a run. I talk with another artist and see if they can help kick start my creativity. I play Solitaire on my iPad. I put all of the work stuff away and push paint around on canvas. Whatever I need to do to bring myself back to center and get back to the task at hand.
In the worst case scenario I call the client and postpone their appointment. It doesn’t happen often and I don’t like to do it, but I would rather apologize for not tattooing someone than for making a sub-par tattoo on them.
6. Please tell us about a book, poem, piece of music, or artwork that has influenced you.
Oooh. These are always hard for me. It’s like picking a “favorite”. I am inspired constantly. By the way a shadow falls across someone’s nose, by something I think I heard, by a million little things every day. It’s hard to think of specific pieces that really stand out.
I love the way Maxfield Parrish lights his foregrounds like it is sunrise but makes his backgrounds blue and twilight like. I love the way Alphonse Mucha bends models hands to his ideal type of hand and the little swirlies he frames things with. I love the way some artists like Michael Parkes seem to have entire worlds that exist in their mind and their paintings look like postcards from their world. I love the way the masters explored form and muscle structure. I love the way Frazetta’s paintings look like a movement frozen forever in time without looking stiff or forced (I also love that he used so much freaking green in skin tones). I could ramble on like this for hours about each of the items on the list and I have serious doubts that it would be interesting to read so I won’t.
7. Please tell us about a person who has inspired you.
I’m instead going to retell a story. It’s a story about my mom and about a kid named Tony. I bring it up often when people talk to me about how talented I am. So I guess you could say in the story that I am inspired by my mom or Tony if you would like.
When I was little (really little) my mom used to read me stories (I think this is a pretty common childhood thing) the difference is that my mom used to read me Greek mythology a lot. So there weren’t pictures on every page like their were in most kids books. So as a result, I was especially interested when we got to a page with a picture on it. It had to be looked at and studied before we could move on. So right at that point in my life I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who makes the pictures (found out later that they were called “Illustrators” – it became a magical word to me) So whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up – I told them an artist. They told me that was great. I drew my little pictures and mom oohed and aahed over them and I was content with my vision of my future.
Some time passed and I found out that I wasn’t as good as some of the other kids at drawing. This concerned me some. Then one day a boy in my class (I have come to call him Tony, but at this point so much time has passed that I might have made his name up somewhere along the line) was drawing pictures. We were all gathered around him amazed. For fourth grade (or whatever it was) he was amazing! Everyone was telling him how good he was at it and how great he was. He told us that drawing was stupid and it was just something that he did sometimes – no big deal. (As an adult I have a whole different perspective on this response… but at the time…) I was devastated! How could he say those things? How could he have been given such an amazing gift and say it was stupid? How could he be that talented and not even care?!?
I was really worked up.
So worked up that when my mom got home from work that night I was still really upset.
I relayed the entire story to her expecting her to tell me that Tony was an idiot and a stupid boy – something to make me feel better at the time. Instead my mom gave me probably the best advice of my life.
She told me that Tony had obviously been born much more talented than me at art….<what?> but that it didn’t matter. <now I knew that she had really not been listening>
She told me that if Tony didn’t care – he wouldn’t practice and he wouldn’t progress. He would always draw just like he did in the fourth grade. <but, but … he draws GREAT!!!!! I continued to insist…>
But, (and here is where it got helpful) I could get to be way better than Tony. If I was passionate about what I did, continued to work as hard at it as I possibly could and practiced every single day – I would get to be light years better than Tony.
She gave me hope. She gave me a way to hang on to my dream.
Since then I have also learned that it is important to always remain teachable as well. (Well, OK, there are a lot of other things I have learned since fourth grade.)
But most importantly she taught me that hard work can accomplish the impossible and that I have to believe in myself no matter what.
I continue to tell this story to people when they tell me how talented and blessed I am because I want people to know that they can accomplish their dreams as well, even if they aren’t as good as Tony.
As a side note I will tell you that Steve Carpenter who owns the studio that I take classes at (Conveniently called the Steve Carpenter Studio) has been a tremendous role model for me the last couple of years. In addition to making absolutely breathtaking artwork, Steve is honest in an amazing way. He shares his fears about his work. He still takes classes and pushes himself to learn. And most admirably to me he is still having so very much fun with it all. There is a childlike giddiness to him sometimes when he is in the studio. It’s a great thing to watch and I want to be just like him when I grow up.
8. Tell us about something weird, funny or interesting that has happened to you.
When I was very small I would go over to my Grandparents house. As we all do, I grew up with very specific memories, smells, things and foods that reminded me of Grandma and Grandpa. One of these things was the mink mouse.When my Uncle was small he decided that my Grandma deserved a mink coat. He told my Grandpa that he had to take him to the mink coat store and he was going to use ALL of his savings to buy Grandma a mink coat. Of course ALL of his savings was a jar full of change. For whatever reason my Grandpa took my Uncle to the Fur Store. Where my Uncle was mortified that he did not have enough for the coat. He asked what he did have enough for. It turns out that he had ALMOST enough money to buy this little mink mouse. Grandpa chipped in the rest. Grandma was gifted with the mouse and the story was passed down and the mink mouse was treasured.
When my Grandmother got older and I realized that my time with her was limited I wanted to get a tattoo for her before it was a memorial tattoo. Obviously the mink mouse needed to be part of that tattoo (there are other elements for both her and my Grandpa, but that is another story).After I had the tattoo made I had mixed feelings about showing it to her. I wanted her to know how much she meant to me, and explain the meaning of the individual elements – but I also knew that while she was super supportive of me and of my artwork, she had always been a little iffy on the whole tattoo thing.For the next few months I would often think of showing her and then come up with an excuse why I shouldn’t that day.The day came when out of the blue she said to me that someday I should go through and explain what the story was with all of these tattoos and what they all meant to me. A golden opportunity that I could not pass up; I launched into my story of the tattoo and what everything meant. She listened intently and when I was finished I waited. She just looked at me for a little while. Clearly processing all of this.
Now in the months preceding this moment I thought that I had played out every possible response to this unveiling. I missed one.She looked me straight in the eye and asked…. “Where is the tattoo for your mom?”What?Again, “Where is the tattoo for your mom?” (Bear in mind here this is my Father’s Mother we are dealing with.) I don’t understand. “Do you have a tattoo for your mom?”No. No, Grandma I do not have a tattoo for my mom.Why?What?!?“Why do you not have a tattoo for your mom?” Now I can’t very well say to this woman that I don’t think my mom is dying anytime soon so I tell her the other half of the reason which is that I haven’t thought of a really good symbol to represent mom yet.She is very obviously disappointed in me. She makes that face. That Grandma face and asks me “Don’t you think she is a good Mom?” Why yes, of course I do, Grandma.“Well then. I think you need to get on that.”I was definitely not prepared for that one. For the record I still haven’t gotten a tattoo for my mom. I’ve asked her what she thinks would be a fitting tattoo. She can’t decide either – although since she has retired she has taken up quilting so it might be a quilting tattoo if I can sort that out.I just never know how people are going to react to my tattoos – not even my family apparently.