Ellie Maher worked her way from being a receptionist at a tattoo studio to owning her own shop. Her hard work landed her a spot on North Dakota’s 40 under 40, but it’s getting to know her clients that really makes all of the hard work worth it.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I own and operate Tailwind Tattoo with my husband Aaron. I’ve been tattooing for 20 years and married for 14. We have 2 kids, a 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter. I also love plants, working on house projects, reading, and all things existential.
How did you get involved in your work?
I worked my way up from the bottom as a receptionist making minimum wage at a tattoo studio just to get my foot in the door for tattooing. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, I had a lot of crazy experiences and sacrificed a lot, but it shaped me for who I am today. I also have an AAS degree in Business that I finished up just before entering the tattoo world. Everyone thought I was crazy for doing what I did, taking a huge pay cut to pursue tattooing instead of getting a management job right out of school, but I had a gut feeling that I needed to do it and it turned out to be correct. I’m now using my art skills as well as my business knowledge and love doing both.
Women tattoo artists now outnumber male tattoo artists in the United States. What do you think draws women to this profession?
I truly believe this is because more female tattoo artists are training female tattoo artists. It was hard to get into this industry decades ago when it was mostly male dominated. But there were a few females that made it past that barrier and then took the barrier down. However, every time I’ve trained an apprentice it was based on artistic skill and not gender. But, I think women have always been drawn to this profession, now they’re able to actually do it. Tattooing is no different than most jobs in the sense that you get out of it what you put into it.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work?
It depends on the day but I go on intuition a lot. I try to tap into my clients. I’m pretty good with reading people and the ideas usually just come after I chat with them to get a sense of what they’re looking for. I’m fortunate to have a large base of regular clients, so at this point we just know each other, it makes it easy. I know what they like and they know how I work. My inspiration comes from people and life in general.
Getting tattooed can be such a deeply personal. How do you connect with your clients and make them comfortable in your shop?
Our studio is different than most, its very private. We don’t have any other employees, there are no ringing phones, or random people walking in. We deal with our clients personally from start to finish, there is no middle man or receptionist to go through.
I feel I’m super easy to talk to and that’s what I love to do. It does get personal because I ask a lot of questions. The best part of my job is getting to know people. Tattooing has been said to get your mind to the same plane as meditation in the sense that you have to get out of your body to deal with it. I get to talk to your true self, it just happens.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard recently?
It seems like whatever question I have or what I’m currently contemplating ends up getting answered when I just listen to what others have to say about their own life. So I guess it’s not just one piece of advice, its putting the pieces together to form the whole.
How have you been taking care of yourself lately?
Staying home and hanging out with my family, my kids are pretty awesome, but every parent says that, ha! I also enjoy lots of reading, reflecting, and learning…it never stops.