Today we feature Paige Buza, a 2019 graduate from Pennsville, NJ (Salem County) who earned her degree in Studio Art. Here, Paige tells us about her journey to becoming a tattoo artist, how her passion for art stemmed, and how Rowan prepared her for her profession. Browse Paige’s work on Instagram or visit her at Tat215ive in Philadelphia.
When did your passion for art begin?
I was always drawing when I was younger, around middle school. Then when I hit high school, I started taking it more seriously and started taking art classes. Then when I thought about going to college, I didn’t know what I would go for. So I went for one year in business, decided to go for art, and started pursuing that.
What was the art degree that you pursued?
I started college at Salem Community College first. I went there for graphic design for two years and then, when I went to Rowan, I got my bachelor’s degree in Art.
Why did you transfer to Rowan University?
Since Salem was only a two-year school, I got my associate degree there, and then I knew I wanted to get my bachelor’s degree, so I decided to go to Rowan for that.
Can you talk a little bit about the art program at Rowan?
At Rowan, I like the professors I have had. Because it is a smaller school and more hands-on, you get to be close to the teachers, and I have enjoyed all of my professors’ teaching styles. They were very open, and even when we graduated, they were all there and still in our corner. In addition, professors were always helpful to help you finding a job and professional support.
How did you get involved with tattoo artistry?
This profession just fell into my lap, honestly. I had always liked tattoos. When I was in school, I was also constantly getting tattoos. I only thought about pursuing it as a career after I graduated. After I graduated, I looked for graphic design jobs.
As previously mentioned, I went to school for graphic design, so I saw jobs I was qualified for; however, I was not interested in them. So because of this, I veered away from it, started working at Amazon for a year, and tried to figure everything out. Then my stepdad at the time was getting tattooed by my mentor Mike, and then he was like, ‘Yeah, he’s looking for an apprentice.’
I decided to try that position because I was unhappy at Amazon and fell in love with it.
Do you do other artistic hobbies in your free time? Do you draw or paint?
I always draw and paint; I want to keep that as a hobby because it was always something I did to escape from the world. So, therefore, I still like oil paint, even in my bedroom. Whenever I am free, I like to paint, draw, and do anything art-related.
Where do you get your passion from?
It’s more like meditation for me. I like not thinking about anything else because I’m just focusing on doing that. It is very peaceful for me.
Where does your creative drive come from?
From life itself, anything that I see can inspire me. When I see different things, I think, “Oh wow, that would be like a beautiful painting.” I also like the option that you can mix a bunch of different things into one, and it creates a whole other thing; that’s what’s remarkable to me.
Can you talk about the apprenticeship you had?
Tattooing is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn, and I’m two and a half years into tattooing real skin. It is still a challenge every day. But when I started apprenticing, I actually started tattooing on pigskin, like a pig ear. In this apprenticeship, you practice line work and minimal, traditional style; there are a lot of simple lines.
My mentor is a fantastic tattoo artist. I would watch him work, and then he would help me with all the different techniques and what I needed to learn. After tattooing synthetic skin, I started tattooing friends. My mentor would watch me, critique me after every tattoo, look at the pictures and the client, and provide feedback for next time.
Can you talk about the client relationships that you have and the process of designing a tattoo to the finished product?
The best clientele relationship is when a client gives a general idea of something they want. So I’ll go back to my iPad and look up different imagery, and that’s where my design aspect comes into play. My graphic design background has helped me a lot by being able to design imagery for specific areas of the body.
Also, I’m fortunate that most of my clients trust me. When I come up with the designs the night before or the day of, I’ll discuss them with the client and ensure they like them. They put all their trust in me as their artist.
What’s the feeling like whenever a project is finished and they can see a big piece for the first time completed? What’s that feeling like to you?
It’s the best feeling. When someone is excited about a piece, and I finally finish it, especially if it is a piece that is special to a client or that they have been waiting a while to get, it is very special to see the finished product. You can tell that they love themselves more at that moment.
How do you combat fear or nervousness when tattooing on clients?
Everybody’s different, but I’m better at it now because I have built up my confidence. When I first started tattooing, I was very nervous because mistakes on the skin are permanent. In the beginning, music helped calm me down, so I would play piano music in the background to focus. But now, I have built up confidence in myself and my work, so I am good at managing my nerves.
How do you feel Rowan has prepared you to to go on this journey?
I have thought about this a lot. There are a lot of things that have helped me. First, talking to people helped because I’m more of an introvert. I remember my senior year, we had to stand up and do presentations, and I was never a fan of standing up in front of people and talking. So it pushed me to do that and get better at it. This skill helps me now with clients and being able to make connections with those through my work.
On a design aspect, Rowan helped me understand how things look good when placed together and on different body parts. Flow is a big concept that I learned from graphic design at Rowan.
Do you have a favorite tattoo that you’ve done?
I have a lot that I like. But additionally, I like tattoos for different reasons. So I don’t know if it’d be like one in particular that necessarily stands out compared to others.
I like tattoos with a special meaning, like people’s signatures incorporated somehow. But a lot of the tattoo I’ve done is a cool design that has meaning once explained.
Which are most enjoyable thing about being a tattoo artist?
I love the freedom of it. I also love my clients whose work takes a while; when I have a client all day, I am just sitting and tattooing all day which is very peaceful to me.
What is the biggest impact that you want to have in your profession?
For me, the most significant impact is focused on myself and allowing myself to feel accomplished with my work. There are many artists that I look up to and that produce fantastic work, but it takes years to build a reputation like that and to get there. My biggest hope is to enjoy what I am doing and feel accomplished and proud of the work that I am doing.
Is there an industry standard for design programs that tattoo artists use?
I use Procreate a lot on the iPad, which is convenient. But then also Photoshop; this is nice because I learned a lot about Photoshop in school.
Some tattoo artists strictly use a computer with Photoshop because we also do our own stencils on there. Of course, you can also use your iPad for Procreate, but they both work well.
What would be a word of advice you would give somebody that is who’s a graphic design artist and unsure about if it’s right for them?
If you are going to school for graphic design, you definitely have to have a passion for fine art too. Graphic design helped me with designing and understanding look and flow. But when it comes to tattooing, drawing, and having a sense of creating something like that definitely enables you to be more successful in the industry.
Finally, like any industry, you have to work hard and genuinely want it because the work you produce stays on people for the rest of your life and has an impact.
Can you describe your career and how much it means to you?
It definitely means the world to me. There are both good and bad days. On a good day, there’s nothing that I would want to do other than this profession. I love building close-knit relationships with my clients and developing cool pieces for them.
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Story by: Natalie DePersia, senior public relations major
Photos by: Ashley Craven, sports communication and media major