Tattoos have been around longer than any existing culture. Although, they don’t seem like a part of the Egyptian culture nowadays, according to National Geographic, Ancient Egyptians of both men and women had tattoos. A few years earlier, tattoo shops were not to be found in Egypt as often as they are now. We’re becoming more and more used to seeing people with decorated skins and designs on their bodies.
Accordingly, we talked to Mahinour, 21, owner of Celestial Ink shop, and she delved us into her journey of becoming one of very few young female tattoo artists in Egypt.
How did it all start?
I got my first tattoo when I was seventeen, and immediately fell in love with the idea, as I was passionate about drawing and sketching. Later, I got to know a tattoo artist, with whom I worked as an assistant for two months, all while studying and reading books. The book from which I learned the most was called “The Black Book of Tattooing”. The entire period of studying the art of tattooing and being an assistant took around 6 to 7 months. Now, I’ve been tattooing for a little over a year, and I’m taking it as a career. I know it is what I want to do.
Tell us about the first tattooing attempt.
The first tattoo I ever gave was to myself. Thankfully it wasn’t disastrous. Surely, there were mistakes, but nothing that couldn’t be saved. However, the first time I tattooed another person, was my best friend, then I went on and started tattooing my friends, then I started getting clients. I was tattooing them at home. One time my mom attended a session I was giving.
Tell us about your very first client.
The first paid session I gave was to a friend of a college colleague of mine. I gave him a tattoo of acting masks and got paid 400 pounds *laughs*. I remember being nervous and really doubting myself. I wasn’t sure I was good enough at the time to be giving other people tattoos, not to mention, get paid for it, but it turned out well.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an upcoming tattoo artist?
Well, there’s a set of different sorts of challenges; society, definitely, was one. My family was accepting of it, but society, in general, wasn’t; in terms of the fact that I’m a girl, working in a studio, alone. It’s somewhat not accepted, as well as it is uncommon.
Work-wise; I cannot mess up. Every piece has to turn out perfect because it stays with the person forever. I cannot make a mistake, as any mistake could ruin an entire piece. Some can be fixed, but we would rather not have to go through that.
And third, is that I’m still an undergraduate so I’m working on the side of a practical field of study as Art Education.
When I tried to rent a studio, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to pay the rent. Because I didn’t start off in an already-existing studio and didn’t build a reputation first. People had no idea who I was, and I didn’t even know if I would get clients. It was risky, it somehow worked out, however. I’m not even sure how. Then I started building an online portfolio as soon as I was finally confident enough to start tattooing clients.
How do you balance work and college?
I talk to professors and let them know I work aside from college. But I do the required amount of work required for me to pass college classes, and I never failed a class.
How do people in the streets or on a subway react to your tattoos?
Around three years ago, people were much less familiar with the concept of having tattoos, and I used to get a lot of questions and comments on them. However, over time, it got less. In almost every group of people, there’s one tattooed person. Even the older generation is getting more and more familiar with them. At least they’re seeing them more often.
What’s your favorite style of tattooing?
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I enjoy every moment. I’m happy every day. I mean, I’m drawing, and I get more confident with every piece I finish.
Have you ever messed up a tattoo?
Thankfully, I never messed up a quote and never made an irreversible mistake, but at first, surely some lines didn’t come out perfectly straight as they were supposed to be, but nothing that cannot be fixed. However, people think that’s the worst that could happen, but that’s not really the case. The needle could go deeper into the skin than it should and cause an infection and skin issues. As well as so, over-working the skin, going over and over on a certain part can cause similar problems.
Is there anything you won’t tattoo?
Armbands; to me, they’ve been overdone and hold no true meaning. They don’t add to me, either. Tattooing is not just a business, it is an art, so I pick the pieces that add to me and my portfolio.
Tell us about a memorable tattoo that you did.
I always enjoy every session, but it’s usually just regarding the client’s vibe. One time I gave a mother and daughter matching tattoos, it was very sweet.
What’s the dumbest question you get constantly?
“Do you do semi-permanent tattoos?” I get that too often. There’s literally no such a thing as a semi-permanent tattoo, not in Egypt, and not outside of Egypt either. I don’t know who came up with that, and the fact they even found –untrue- scientific explanations for it just makes me laugh.
Has a client ever gone over the line with you?
This has happened 3 times before and it’s one of the things I hate the most; having a client ask me out after the session. It’s like they’re not aware of the fact that this simply work, and it’s a professional session. It makes me uncomfortable, I make it clear that it is just business, but the fact that I’m a girl plays a role in it. Even if it was decent, it makes me wonder what if I did something that triggered it, but I know I didn’t. Sometimes it makes me think that if I was a man, it wouldn’t happen.
Even if they don’t actually act upon it, I can tell. I can feel the vibe and it’s not great to work in. That’s another reason why I’m looking to hire an assistant. They wouldn’t really be able to do so in the presence of someone else. That’s another downfall of being a girl.
What’s the healing process of a tattoo?
We cover the tattoo as soon as it’s done to prevent its exposure to air, as it is considered a wound. The wrapping is removed after 2 hours. It cannot be exposed to direct sunlight or pool or seawater for 3 weeks. The skin over it starts to peel and it has to be left to peel on its own, no pulling on the skin, or by the time it heals, the ink will be faded. It needs to be cleaned and dried right afterward on a regular basis and covered with Vaseline during showers to prevent its direct contact with water for a long period.
Is there a set of rules you follow or want your clients to follow?
For me, I don’t tattoo clients who are under 18, unless their parents are okay with it. Egypt is not very familiar with tattooing so we don’t really have a law on it, though. Second, I cannot tattoo someone who’s not 100% sure of what they want and where they want it. Sometimes they come into the shop, uncertain. I just always need a hint of what the client wants. So, I go through different styles with them, different pieces just to get a clue of what they like then build an entire sketch on it. If they’re uncertain, I ask them to go home, think about, and come again later when they are.
For my clients, it’s okay if a client brings a friend along, if they just sit and watch or hang out around, but sometimes, they stand closely to look, preventing light from reaching me, or intervene. I don’t like someone affecting my client’s opinion. However, I really dislike it when a client brings around 6-7 people, it just makes me unable to focus. And definitely, not messing around and tugging on the peeling skin after the tattoo is done.
The biggest animal lover ever, who cooks for fun, and rides around the city on a longboard. She's the one to do everything full-heartedly, from writing to organizing festivals, and is definitely the right person to drag along to a concert!