Senior art student pursues unique medium as tattoo apprentice


Kamrin Baker

Quinn DeRuiter tattoos her boyfriend Sean Powell at Omega Point Tattoo. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

One quick Google search will tell you that getting a tattoo feels like a cat scratching a sunburn—painful, but doable enough that it keeps people coming back to the chair. Kind of like a really spicy plate of food, it’s so beautiful and memorable that the heat makes it worth the sweat.

The no pain, no gain model seems to work just fine for studio art major Quinn DeRuiter.

While DeRuiter loves a good sketchbook, iPad or screen print, as she progressed through her undergraduate degree, she found ink and skin to be her bread and butter.

“I really started thinking more about becoming a tattoo artist around my junior year when I was trying to imagine what the hell I was going to do with an art degree,” DeRuiter said. “I was seeing more and more amazing tattoos on social media, and I slowly started imagining myself as a tattoo artist. The more I thought about it the better it seemed. I could do what I loved – art – and only continue to get better at it.”

Hoping to find a job in a secretarial role in a tattoo studio, DeRuiter stumbled upon Omega Point Tattoo, a stylish joint up a spiral staircase on 84th and L streets. She met and interviewed with the owners and artists, and not two weeks later, she started as an apprentice.

At Omega Point, DeRuiter has observed and practiced with experienced mentors (on both human flesh and a ripe orange) to learn the craft. This entails specifics like line work and design, as well as understanding how to pack ink, put it into the skin and work with a client’s pain tolerance.

“As someone who had been taking college level art courses for a while before I started my apprenticeship, it’s a bit disjointing to start from square one again,” DeRuiter said. “The mark making is completely different than any other medium and, on some level, requires more concentration. You can’t mess up, after all.”

Between the critical task of successfully executing the client’s vision and developing pleasing work, DeRuiter has to consider a bit of customer service, as well, making sure her clients are comfortable and happy.

“Tattooing a person is incredibly difficult,” DeRuiter said. “On top of making sure your lines are perfectly straight or curved with no wobbles, staying at the right depth in the skin is incredibly difficult at first. It’s like trying to draw on water. Overall, although the craft has been challenging to learn, it’s incredibly rewarding to see myself progress little by little.”

Nhi Phan, DeRuiter’s mentor at Omega Point, observes her improvement and imparts wisdom.

“Over the past few months working with Quinn, I’ve seen her grown and hone her craft in numerous ways,” Phan said. “I see how her eye sees things differently, working on and improving curves and line work—to transferring her artistic skills over to body art. I’ve also had the pleasure to see the confidence to make permanent artwork on skin, because it’s nerve-wracking, and it should be a little bit at first.”

While DeRuiter measures her headway with the help of her mentors and friendly clients, she has given herself some ink, too.

Aside from her many tattoos (including, but not limited to a full-torso snake, a bushel of peonies, the words “femme fatale,” a justice figure and Medusa portrait crafted while abroad in Europe), DeRuiter has her own barbed wire heart and a wreath of branches on her ankle and knee, respectively.

DeRuiter will be finishing up her studio art degree with a concentration in 2D drawing with a final gallery showcase of her work later this spring. Although she will be closing a major chapter in her life, there is no doubt that her art has been made permanent.

“The meanings people can prescribe to tattoos can certainly empower,” DeRuiter said. “Whether it’s a simple design to remind yourself you survived suicidal thoughts or a memorial, tattoos are an amazing way people show meaning. Even a simple floral design can mean a lot to make yourself feel more beautiful or a way to adorn your skin with something you like. It can even be as simple as making you feel f—ing cool. You can always carry your favorite art with you.”