If you like tattoos, love animals and feel aimless on your career path
I had a great opportunity to speak with a talented tattoo artist whose studio located on Haji Lane. Jen, shares with me her struggling journey to achieving a fulfilled career.
When Jen was young, her family adopted PopStar from SPCA, this little kitten ignited Jen’s love for animals, and was a part in shaping many decisions in Jen’s life, including the choice to take up Veterinary course during her tertiary studies.
She describe the course was tough, if one can relate to the study of human as complicated, what’s more on the study of animals, since there are more breed and species of animal compared to humans.
Like many, the day she graduated, she was immensely excited about the days ahead of her, fulfilling her life to work with animals everyday. Little did she know, that this dream wasn’t about to come through.
Jen resigned, within a year of practising as a veterinarian technician. She was clear, clearer than ever that she still love animals, still wants to play with them, every day, but she couldn’t take seeing everything at the vet. No doubts, she has helped many animals recover from their symptoms and regain liveliness. She also enjoyed exchanging views with pet lovers, sharing cute photos of each others pets, some customers even became friends whom she would meet during off days.
But on the flip side, day to day, she meets with animals who are sick, she sees pet owners negligences and ill treating their pets. Such accumulated pain at work led her to reconsider her choice of career. Her decision became concrete when this Kiki step into her centre for the second time.
Kiki, is a 6 years old Shih Tzu, the moment the owner stepped in,, she robbed all positive vibe off the clinic, with over powering pungent smell from Kiki’s badly infected ear. All attention was immediately diverted to Kiki, which appears tired, thin, haggard, and her brown untidy fur only says that she haven’t been groomed since a thousand year ago.
Such patient was uncommon, Kiki, has to be put on general anesthesia to remove an eye, and clearing maggots of it’s rotting ear. Jen says such infection is is a results of prolong neglected ear infection.
She composed herself together and professionally advised the nonchalant owner, to regularly monitor Kiki’s condition as the fresh wound from the eye removal will put Kiki vulnerable to new infections. True enough, within the month, Jen’s night mare happened, Kiki came back, and the infection had spread to the other eye, Jen was devastated, there were two solutions offered, to remove the remaining eye, or put Kiki down for good. Owner chose the easy way out.
That very day, when Jen got home, an emotion thunderstorm rain on her, she skipped meals and close herself up in her room, leaving Popstar wining profusely at the door. Her experience with Kiki was the last straw of her daily accumulated pain, she broke down and started to resent animals. What seems to be her entire life took a turn, her many years of effort preparing and working to be a good vet daunted on her. She felt bitter about going to work, suffering from night mares of Kiki, and sleep deprivation. Finally she decided to end her misery, resigning as a veterinarian technician, from her love towards animals, from her goals which once drove her life.
I cannot imagine the reality that Jen was goingg through, nothing like this ever happened to me, but when i sit down quietly to put myself in her shoes, relating to my love for animals, and think about the effort she put in to complete her studies, I felt it, i felt her pain. It reminded me of my broken relationship, when someone whom i was deeply in love with had to migrate to a Australia. Though we were young, but the heart break felt so real when her family interveened and forcefully ended our relationship., we didn’t had much options but to conformed. It was a disaster for me for me, I was lost then, as lost as Jen.
Jen was lost, totally lost, emotionally strucked and physically heavy. She lays around at home and reluctantly drag her heavy heart where ever she went.
She recalls, she was very grateful for her entire family, supporting and giving her the encouragement to stand up again. They cheered her up and reminded her of her second passion, Arts. During her school days, Jen loves to draw, when ever she gets a chance, she will draw, like those that can be seen on her textbooks in primary school, graph papers during maths class and was also pointed out by her form teacher that there were drawings of cats on her mid year exam papers in secondary school.
Unlike many local parents who can be heard telling their children to get a job and work hard, Jen’s parents placed more emphasis on happiness and well-being. Understanding her love for arts, they encouraged her to start all over and begin her journey with Lasalle College of the Arts.
Jen was very thankful that her family picked her up, and was excited to begin her new life as a student in Lasalle. She arranged her unhappy emotions at the back of her head and started a fresh.
She made new friends in the fields of arts and quickly became a promising student in class, Jen picked up the techniques of drawing rapidly, she especially enjoyed drawing with pencils, colouring them and bringing her ideas to live. Jen found her footing in arts, she knew this was where she wanted to excel in, Drawing became bread and butter for her, seeing her imagination coming to life gave her the drive to pursuit further.
Nine months through, she dropped out, she decided to stop as a student with Lasalle. In school she was led to belief that she can’t draw what she wanted, she has to draw things that are socially acceptable. This stood in her way to transform her imagination to live, and it turned her off. Defying her family’s encouragement to carry on for a few more months, she decided to drop out, she wanted to follow where her heart will lead her, she learnt that in the past, she had chose a path which was socially acceptable, a path that could secure her a good income, but proven to be emotionally draining for her, even facing a catastrophe in her life. She decided to challenge societal norms and to follow her heart closely, believing that in the end it would all make sense, even when it seems cloudy and uncertain right now.
She left school, and took a break from thinking about career, indulging in arcade console games like Street Fighter. As her other school mates excel with career progression, forming families, and travelling to different parts of the world. She felt even stressed and lost. She was broken once, and being lost again just demoralised her totally. She felt that she let her family down and didn’t have the cheek to face them, her words at home became lesser and lesser and found herself deliberately staying away from deep conversation with family members.
Jen spent more than 8 hours a day there, she explained that she found life back in the game’s characters. Being able to control the characters and easily giving them their life back when they meet a stronger opponent appealed a lot to her. In this months of bumming around, Street Fighter gaming was her full time role. She made new friends and learnt to have an open heart to wards life. She still fails to see what was in front of her, and was uncertain who she will become. The only comfort she found in herself was that she firmly belief that she will be doing something she love, and only that as a career. She hanged out more with new friend she met at the arcade, one of whom was Joey.
Joey is a tattoo artist, he brought her to Joseph who is a veteran in the tattoo line, this was when she sees a world of possibility in front of her. She knew for sure as a tattoo artist she can draw anything she like, with no boundaries, and freedom to express her imagination. Seeing her passion in drawing and her techniques, Joseph took her in as an apprentice, giving her space in Visual Orgasm Studio to learn from an expert. Jen jumpped on the space wagon. She once heard this saying, if the objective is getting to space, no matter which seat on the space wagon is secondary. Jen knows this is an opportunity to a career of her passion, she made the decision to be a passionate tattoo artist, one who is honoured by her clients.
“My life as a tattoo apprentice is a roller coaster ride, typically i spend 6 to 8 hours a day tracing and drawing, tracing and drawing and more of it. I do anything from serving tea, sweeping mopping the studio to toilet washing. It was my job, i own them. I took it so personal, i realise I was excited when the super market had a sale on anti bacteria toilet wipes. I was also responsible to setup work station and cleaning up for every tattoo session. Soon enough i was confident to tattoo on skin, my own of course. I ever heard National Service friends complaining about how they have to inject themselves during training as a medic. I joked that I am not an NS man but i experience 100 times more. The learning process of going from paper to skin was a steep one for me, the nervousness and anxiety of laying the needle down for the very first time under the white table lamp was deep imprinted in me. I told myself, no matter how hard this will be, I will do whatever it takes.
After 13 months of practise and getting used to burnt weekends, I was finally deemed fit by Joseph to start tattooing for customers. A piece which marks a break through, a full back Chinese calligraphy shading of a mountainous river bank with a floating boat. It started at a small piece at the waist of this client, after completion, he continued to come back with request to extend that piece, until it fills up his entire back. It wasn’t merely a piece of full back Chinese Calligraphy, it was a piece of encouragement, a confident booster, It was an achievement.
One of my client turned friend is artist Julie Tan, she likes the style of art which i developed over the years. Hand drawn illustrations, a combination of feminine lines, dots shades and colour. I allowed my love for animals to flow back through me and falling in love with drawing of animals, happy, healthy and playful ones.”
I found out that Jen has an interesting way of running her tattoo business, she regularly schedule time for drawing, allowing her imagination to be born. This completed designs will be coloured and uploaded to Instagram for adoption. This is good news for people who intend to get a tattoo, but had no clue on what design they should get. Also it does ensure that this design is for sure to be unique. Jen feels that taking design from the internet is meaningless, because that design is a personal story, something which represents a meaning to someone, and if it can be found online, chances are, it will be duplicated, and that is not what client wants.
I was honoured to be invited by Jen to sit in with her on one of her tattoo sessions. A design which was adopted by Cayen, a trainer of medical equipments, who fell in love with a Terrarium Kity design which Jen uploaded. Jen says that this design represents a playful kitten playing in a terrarium. Such playful and active drawings helps her to divert her energy from the dark side of her love for animals during her days at the veterinary clinic.
Cayen adopted this design because she knew, in reality, a terrarium is hard to maintain, and only in her imagination can cats play in terrarium as they desire. She can’t make that happen in reality, but in tattoo it was possible.
In closing, I am grateful that Jen gave me an opportunity to be in a tattoo session without going through the pain of the needles, on top of that having a chance to share her life journey. I felt that in a society like Singapore, there are very few who are this fortunate to be able to combine both loves. Jen achieved it, she defy against societal norms, to follow her heart to pursuit what she likes to do.
Analysing deeper, it wasn’t an easy task to say simply follow my heart, it takes courage, believing strongly in a idea and having strong faith that one will not settle for less. On top of that a firm decision to go through hardship of being an apprentice, doing things like washing the toilet or serving tea.
I especially like that Jen sets aside time for drawing, she continues to hound her skills in drawing techniques, and expressing her imagination and combining her love for both animals and arts. I am glad that someone like Jen pulled through to stay inline with what she love, her story is an inspiration to me. If you like to see Jen’s work or if her story inspired you in anyway feel free to give a shout out to her through her Instagram(add link).
Visual Orgasm Tattoo n Piercing
2 Haji Lane