Ink on skin, a moment in time forever frozen. For most people who choose to get tattoos, these marks mean so much more than just a way to look cute or show off an interest or personality trait. Especially in the LGBTQ community, tattoos can be used to cover up scars, both mental and physical. They can be a way to help express a new gender identity, or permanently show an allegiance with the community.
Because of the monumental importance of these marks on skin, it makes sense that queer folks would want to seek out tattoo artists who are also queer, who have made a big impact on the community, who are affirming and allied with the folks in Denver working for queer change.
Here are a few of the tattoo artists who are killing it and also showing support and inclusivity.
Rene Cordero – Kitchen’s Ink
Speciality: neotraditional, color
Lauded around town as a staple of the queer community and one of the most well-known tattooers of local LGBTQ folks, Cordero loves featuring queer themes in his pieces, but he doesn’t limit himself to it.
“Sometimes I draw stuff like characters who are cross-dressed, two people of the same gender kissing, but not all the time,” he told OUT FRTatONT. “I’m very inclusive, and I try not to market myself to a certain type of individual; whoever wants to work with me is welcomed.”
His style is whimsical, and when he sketches, he thinks about how his baby nephew would respond to the pieces he is creating. If they are not colorful and exciting enough to hold the attention of a child, he moves on.
Most of all, even though Cordero loves tattooing fam, he makes it a point to treat everyone equally.
“I put the same love into everything; I feel as though if I start favoring people and pieces, I will do better on certain pieces instead of best on everything.”
Ryan Urie – Wolf Den
Speciality: abstract and watercolor
As far as she knows, Ryan Urie is the only queer woman who owns a tattoo parlor in Denver. In addition to doing watercolor-style artwork on queers and allies alike, she also runs Wolf Den, a studio where five other artists tattoo.
“I think it’s been awesome, selfishly. I don’t know any other queer artist owners, let alone I think there might be one or two women, so it’s been really cool to be a beacon for that,” she explained. “It’s kind of nice that I get to call the shots in that environment. Ever since I’ve owned my own studio, there have been more trans people that come in. We work on making their scars look beautiful.”
Many trans folks who opt for surgery love their new bodies, but not the scars that serve as reminders of the trauma that dysphoria brings. Urie wants to make it clear that trans folks are welcome in her shop. She will do everything in her power to make them comfortable and help them either cover their scars or turn them into new works of art.
Rebecca – Ritual
Speciality: blackwork, dotwork, geometric, nature
After years of cutting her teeth in the Deep South as a female tattoo artist, Rebecca knows what it’s like to face discrimination.
“When I actually got an apprenticeship, the guy was like ‘I will teach you how to tattoo if you sleep with me,’ or I would get to a client meeting and someone would be naked in their hotel waiting for me,” she remembered. “[There’s] even clients or people liking the idea of you because you are a female tattooer, thinking you’re a suicide girl or easy.”
Now that Rebecca is an established tattooer with a lot of respect here in Denver, she strives to treat everyone equally, and most importantly, treat every tattoo as sacred and personal.
“That gets into my spiritual philosophy about tattooing,” she explained. “The physical and emotional transformation, being able to perform some kind of internal alchemy or transmutation, ideally you’re getting something that you like, seeing yourself in a more positive light. That’s why I’m always so grateful to my clients; because they feel safe enough and trust me enough to create something that significant along their journey and be a part of their journey. You’re permanently marking somebody, so it’s a big deal.”
Tanner Minock – Tribe
Speciality: black and greywork, floral and geometry
Minock loves what he does, and honors the process of adding forever artwork to the people who walk through the shop’s doors. When it comes to the queer folks coming to Minock for tattoos, he is especially respectful.
“A lot of times, the clients that come into my shop are looking specifically for a safe space, somewhere that they feel comfortable, which is why I really enjoy the shop I work at,” he said. “My boss and all the employees are really accepting and open; it’s somewhere safe that everyone can go to.”
He focuses on the importance of tattoos as symbolism for his clients as well as a way to express their aesthetics. And he realizes that respecting pronouns and individual expression is equally as important.
“I definitely think if the tattoo artist isn’t very familiar with the community, it’s important to educate about pronouns and terminology that you should and shouldn’t use, and I think the atmosphere in tattoo shops in general is something people can get uncomfortable with. Set a welcoming, open vibe and atmosphere in your shop; then people are more likely to tell friends and family they had a safe experience and recommend it to someone else.”
Juniper Rio Wolf – Sincerely
Speciality: American Traditional
Wolf loves everything about tattooing, from the permanence of doing pieces on folks that they’ve been saving up for to the fast fun of flash pieces. But she hasn’t had an easy time in the Mile High City.
“I really love my community, and I have really good friends who are supportive, but I’ve also had a really hard time in the tattoo community just finding a place,” she admitted. “I’ve worked at probably 12, 13 different tattoo shops in Denver, and there is a lot of machismo and really just thoughtless attitudes in tattooing that are very prevalent still for some reason, so that has been really tough, but I’ve met a lot of really good people, and I’m happy to be working where I’m working.”
When it comes to doing a work of art on another human body, for Wolf, it’s all about respect.
“I personally always try and be really respectful of everyone getting a tattoo. I know having someone hurting you, for one thing, and having to touch you in order to do the tattoo, is a lot of trust that you have to have for someone, so I really appreciate that and try and have the highest regard for my clientes. I am the type of person who will ask people’s pronouns usually before I go into a tattoo appointment or things of that nature just to try and make it all as easy as possible for people, because I know coming into a tattoo shop isn’t always the easiest experience, especially as queer folks. It can be really intimidating.”
Photos courtesy of OUT FRONT photo shoot, artists or artists’ social media