On a snowy afternoon in late February, tattoo artist Hilary Jane has just logged into our Zoom interview. Wrapped in a fuzzy white sweater, with her hair in a sky scraping bun, Jane settled in to tell me the story of her life and career.
Jane is an individualistic artist who has been working in the tattoo industry for 15 years and in the process has found a place for herself in a traditionally male dominated field. We spoke about her career and about how her work is not only a form of self-reflection, but also a medium through which she can heal from personal struggles and trauma.
In front of a colourful geometric Zoom background designed by the artist herself, she explained to me that she became interested in art at a very young age. Her passion for drawing, which would come to define her adolescent and adult life, was first noticed by teachers at a daycare she attended. These teachers were the first to encourage her to pursue her creative instincts.
“I remember being in daycare, and a lot of my teachers would actually keep my drawings for like, the next 10 years after I left. These were figurative drawings of people's faces and, [my teachers] were really impressed,” Jane recalled. “So that's what started the support from my parents to realize, okay, well this child is gifted, so let's just push her in that direction.”
As she entered high school Jane became interested in the art of tattooing and, at only 15, she landed her first position at a local tattoo shop. It was from there that Jane’s career as an artist would begin.
“I walked into a tattoo shop to see if I could kind of make a living out of tattooing and market myself in a way,” Jane explained. “I was already looking into maybe selling some artwork at that age. Then the guy that was there offered me a mentorship because he wanted to take me under his wing.”
Jane’s first tattoo work was done in what she described as black and grey realism. She quickly moved on however, to briefly experiment with a more traditional Americana style. Today, Jane’s tattooing draws from both the natural world and psychedelic imagery characteristic of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Jane attributes the era-specific themes in her work to influences from her childhood growing up in rural Quebec.
“I think a lot of what we're drawn to as adults comes from what we were exposed to as children. I find it kind of goes full circle,” Jane said. “I would say [that aesthetic came] mostly from [my aunt] because she had a really cool sense of style like mid-century or 60s. That really influenced me [specifically] the colour palettes and [how] everything is kind of like bold and round.”
More than an aesthetic, however, the artist expressed with great conviction that throughout the course of her career she has come to view tattooing as an opportunity to explore themes of pain and trauma within her own life. Specifically, Jane explained that the act of creating art serves as a ritual that helps her control difficult emotions.
“I'm very much into manifestation and using my art for ritualistic kind of subconscious purposes,” Jane described. “The women I draw are very stoic and very grounded and powerful. While my interior self was completely chaotic, and unstable. Tattooing them always pushes me in the direction of where I'm going.”
The focus on the female form is undoubtedly the defining feature of Jane’s artwork. Nearly all of her tattoos are of female busts who more often than not have long dark hair reminiscent of Jane’s own. This link between art as a symbol of resilience and as a mode of connection to the female body is also reflected in Jane’s clientele, the majority of whom are women.
“I feel like I've been able to connect with people as an empowered woman who's dealt with so much adversity in my life such as severe mental illness and burnouts and chronic fatigue and [still] my head is above the water,” Jane explained. “Most of my customers are women - like 87% or something, and they'll look at my work or get tattooed, and say: “every time I look at your piece it empowers me.”
After 15 years in the tattoo industry Jane said that she feels pleased to have found a niche for herself in a competitive field by combining her love for art and spirituality.
“It took a very long time to get here and It's definitely a lot of work,” Jane concluded. “But it's a good place to be and I'm really blessed. I can work from home and then have people over and burn some incense and put some spa music on and it's just wonderful. I love it.”