Strange Magic: Emma Rose


Tattoo Art: Emma Rose

Art Collage: Gabe LaVine


It was a late Wednesday afternoon and there I was, sitting on a chair in Tonawanda’s Twisted Tiki Tattoo Shop, waiting nervously for my first tattoo. My tattoo artist was Emma Rose, who I met through friends of mine from the music community, who had been tattooed by her before. I’m glad she was the artist I had chosen because her cool demeanor and calming voice helped my nerves and anxiety. There was also a sense of tranquility in Emma’s little corner of the shop with the burning incense, crystals and ethereal drawings of flowers adorning the wall. Since I was going to be in the chair for the next two hours, I seized the opportunity to ask about her life and career as a tattoo artist.


Emma started by telling me about her start as an artist and how at the age of 14, she made the clear decision to be a tattoo artist. Growing up, she was surrounded by her father and uncle’s tattoos and took an interest in the artwork and the art of tattooing. She told me that she never took a real art class and that she was home schooled her whole life. “I dropped out of my home school high school when I was 16 to pursue this.” Emma explained. Her father immediately got her a job at Twisted Tiki, where she answered phones, cleaned up after other artists, ran errands, and booked appointments. She’s now been there for close to 6 years and has been a professional tattoo artist for 3. The first tattoo she had ever done was a chili pepper on her dad’s leg; “I was fucking terrified, I cried so hard before I did it.”


I loved Emma’s outlook on the tattoo artist community because as a young artist, she finds inspiration all around her with the people she works with and artists she knows personally. When asked who she looks up to in the community, Emma paused and said, “There are not a lot of artists I don’t look up to because I feel like everybody has their own unique style and their own unique way of portraying things and I absolutely love that.” Other artists she mentioned included Kelly Doty and twin brothers, Ryan and Matthew Murray, who all hail from Salem, Massachusetts.


Whenever I talk with artists, I always mention Miyazaki’s film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. The specific scene that I discussed has the young witch and her friend Ursala, a young painter who lives in the woods, comparing stories about being a witch and an artist. Ursala mentions that there are days where she can’t paint because nothing is inspiring. As I was explaining this to Emma, she nodded in agreement, “It’s hard to draw tattoos for clients that don’t intrigue me the way that they should. I always try to turn it around and make it into something that I am interested in, but at the end of the day, it’s not about what I like, it is about pleasing the person that’s getting a tattoo.” There are times that she won’t want to create her own art that doesn’t involve client’s tattoos. Other times she has spurts of creativity and will sit at home, painting for hours and hours and not even think about tattoos.


After two hours sitting and listening to a full history of a young artist’s endeavors, my very first tattoo was finished. I was in awe of the final product and in awe of the magic she created in the time I was there. Based on my experience and many other’s, Emma Rose is the artist you would want in the other chair creating your first or next tattoo.