For most of last year, it seemed like time had stopped. With physical sales — the bread and butter of the tattoo industry — halted and many artists found themselves searching for alternate ways to stay afloat, with no clear sign of the end in sight.
Tattoo artist, Rickie Sonjia, was one of them — she had to reschedule all physical client appointments to a time that would never seem to come. Fresh out of her 3-year apprenticeship with Naked Skin Tattoo, uncertainty was looking her square in the face.
In a post dated 4 April 2020, just a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the beginning of the Circuit Breaker, Rickie admitted, “I won’t be earning anything during this period, but I will be working on designs that will be available when business resumes.”
Nonetheless, the sudden change in pace ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the artist used the time to build her brand, Rickiestattoo.co, and develop prints and stickers for it. After the launch of Phase 1 in July, she was even able to open her very own physical studio in the heart of Alexandria.
Since there were also no clients to work on, Rickie turned to using her own skin as a canvas to keep her skills sharp.
During HCNTU’s visit to her new store, Rickie said “The Circuit Breaker period allowed me to prepare for the move, and set up my own studio. It was during this period that the previous tenant moved out, and I was able to take over the empty space.”
The unit may have been empty when she first moved in but has since become a reflection and extension of Rickie’s brand. Step inside the glass doors and you’re immediately greeted by various bursts of colours and shapes, making the beige accent wall look like the inside of a confetti machine.
As the studio overlooks the Alexandria road, its large windows let in heaps of natural sunlight — perfect for distracting yourself while getting a tattoo done. Meanwhile, a Frida Kahlo quote looks over Rickie’s main desk as she works.
Having been artistically inclined since she was a child, she always knew that she would be making art for the rest of her life, she was just unaware of which medium it would be.
“Initially I was going to do graphic design full time, but after freelancing and completing my polytechnic internship, I realised it was not what I want to do for my whole life. I actually wanted to quit polytechnic to learn to tattoo but my parents told me to finish my diploma first so that’s what I did.” she said.
Having completed her diploma, she was now free to pursue what she really wanted to do — being a tattooing artist.
“I did an apprenticeship to learn the technique as well as designing for tattoos because it is different from normal illustrations. It also enables me to do work in my own style, and meet clients,” the artist, who specialises in fine lines and subtle colour, added.
Though she is now settled in her job and moved into her new place, the work has not stopped.
On average, she works 6 days a week, staggering her time between meeting clients, preparing designs and other work that she needs to get done. If she’s not bent over her iPad drawing for her clients, she’s either keeping her 15.9k followers happy on her personal Instagram, or updating her studio’s account. There, she is now training a new apprentice, Sandhya.
Traditionally, the tattoo industry has been largely male-dominated.
But Rickie says that the tide is changing.
“I think there are a lot more women in the industry now and a lot more women who want tattoos that will find female artists.”
She added, “There’s also a lot of styles that are more feminine and delicate, so it’s definitely changed!.”