Updated: Nov 12
I had the great pleasure of being introduced to Judy Parker at the Tattoos & Blues convention in Santa Rosa, California 2014. She was tattooing there at the convention that weekend, and it was explained to me by a close friend and mentor that she was one of the most experienced artists of her time, and special for her work, ethics, and character. I remember when he introduced us, she was wearing a light-blue t-shirt with sea turtles on it, as she looked up from the tattoo she was doing with a sweet smile, her long hair pulled back in a half pony-tail. She was perfectly, powerfully feminine(one of a few women tattooing at one of the oldest conventions in the U.S.) in a loud, rambunctious room full of testosterone and ego, she was gracious, calm, cool, and collected. It is always a great pleasure to experience such talent, humbleness, and kindness. Tattooing now for over 42 years, Judy was born in San Diego, California, Her mother was her greatest role model growing up, "She was strong willed, confident, independent, smart, and kind." Something interesting that I learned is that we both lived in Alaska in 1978. Judy recalls how she learned tattooing that year in Juneau Alaska. "I was looking for work most of the day, and sleeping, as I stayed up all night. No luck. They clean the grills at the Brown Bear Cafe at 2 am to 4 am. Not much open at that time, so I wandered over to where I saw a purple, neon tattoo sign down the street. I looked out the big window from the street, a long haired bearded man was tattooing a woman with a bird on her chest. They looked up at me and he signaled me to come in. I was awkward and had never seen anything like that. He finished for the night and we chatted. He asked what I was doing there in the night, and I told him of my job search, and that the Cafe closed for a couple hours, and how I'd been attracted by the sign. I had my portfolio in hand and I guess he assumed I was looking for work with his teeny shop. By the end of the conversation, he looked at my portfolio, mostly t-shirt and card designs and ads. Then he abruptly hired me. He handed me his machine, and said to meet him in the bar after work. I did three tattoos without having a clue, one was on my right hand trying to remove a needle from a tube(removing tube from machine." She recalls the next day,
"He knew I didn't know what I was doing, and gave me a crash course that lasted maybe 2 weeks. lol" When asked who influenced her the most in tattooing, it's easy for her... "The customers influenced me the most, and the guy I learned from. He said not to mention his name. A couple years later I started noticing there were other artists (very very naive ).
I met Tauni and Noni. Tauni was pals with Noni in Hawaii, and Tauni has passed, but noni still runs skin deep with Anna Funk and we are still friends since I was 17. I didn't get any training there, but I moved back home to California to go to school. There I worked for Doc Web, a great hearted carny for sure, learned a bunch there. Always stayed to myself mostly. I became aware of others through magazines, the art in the shops, and others in San Diego tattoo shops influenced me. Tiger Jimmy, Ace and Masters, the Orsini family, mostly Mr. Orsini, made me more leery of carnival type tattooers that were a bit shady- but Mrs. Orsini was a sweet lady."
Q-How did you start tattooing in Sturgis? "I started tattooing in Sturgis on an invitation from a friend running a shop there each year. After he quit, he gave me the option to run that shop and I still go up every year."
Q- How many tattoos have you done in one day at Sturgis, and what was your favorite part of being there?
"I don't know how many tattoos I've done in a day there. Some were big, some small, but I made many friends and had some great experiences." Judy believes the most valuable lesson she learned as an artist was... "To accept a tip, to keep it as clean as it can be, to do my best, and double check spelling lol."
Q How did you cope with being a woman in a male dominated field? "I coped with being a woman in this field by being young, lol, not so easy now. Always friendly, honest, and doing the best art I knew how. Men tended to push women around. I found myself operating my first shop in the bad part of town. Robbed 7 times, easy target. I'm still in that part of town, but known as "crazy lady with shotgun" lol." Q-How do you feel about tattooing now VS when you started? "Tattooing is totally different now. Few had tattoos compared to all the people now, and it was a strictly guarded art. NO ONE gave secrets of needle making or supply getting, on risk of getting fingers broken. Shoot, we used to build machines from the ground up. I even wound coils on a winding pencil sharpener. You shared nothing... or else." Q-Where do you see the future of tattooing going? "Tattooing already is high tech. Almost no one uses the coil machine anymore. No one really needs the tattoo art, known as flash. As anyone now-days uses the i-pad, images are much more than the library of books we kept as reference. Press of a button and the design is printed instantly. I remember using tracing paper on the window's light to obtain an image I couldn't draw." Q-What were your biggest challenges during the pandemic? "They closed us down during the pandemic, with a threat of a $10,000 fine. I got pretty depressed and my business never recovered. Two tattoo shops moved in on either side too. They wouldn't have done that had I been a man." Q-How do you think your art has evolved over the years? "Through conventions, once doing 2 a month for at least ten years, I was able to meet other artists and learn from many by just watching. I have many many favorites. I attended the "Marked for Life" show in Florida, almost all female tattooers. For 17 years I did that show, and am great-full. NTA was another amazing show where we could hobnob with artists from around the globe. I've been very, very fortunate." Q-What artists do you look up to the most? "Jack Rudy, Suzanne Fauzer, Filip Lou, Kari Barba, Jacci Gresham, Shanghai Kate, Paul Booth, Bill Salmon to name a few, Lyle Tuttle became a friend, so I was one of the very most privileged artists of my time. Philadelphia Eddie, Stan, Mario, so many fabulous artists like Duane Anderson, Moses, Hawk Kay Davis....too many to name. I look up to all and many more, from then and now."
Q-What is your favorite thing about tattooing? "My favorite thing about tattooing is that it's so very personal, when someone wants your art on their body to carry with them through life, it's a special bond." Q-What are your favorite styles and techniques of tattooing? "I prefer to tattoo like I draw. I love critters, fantasy and the sea, I think I'm pretty good at expressions. Mostly I'm a line artist." Q-What artist would you love to meet or get tattooed by one day? "There's so many artists I'd love to have been tattooed by, Jack Rudy , Freddy Negrete, Paul Booth, Two Birds Tattoo or Julie Moon, Liz Grusome or Juni(Salmon), but sadly, but my skin has reached its expiration date sadly, and is the worst to tattoo on, and as you get older your tolerance goes down too, so I think that part's too late for me."
Q-I asked Judy to share a favorite memory, "So many great times were had, in many places. We had a pool party at the convention in Florida. I hid in the bushes with my camouflage rain-gear, and super soaker 5000. We had such fun as we were all young. We were throwing each other in and playing like kids but Eddie(Philadelphia) was there in his beautiful sports coat. NO ONE splashed a drop of water near him, as he was like royalty." Judy now has been working on some Very specialized pieces, "I've been painting all my tattoo heros on 5x7 wood ovals lately, $200 each. Never trained to paint but I do my best with the ghost of bob ross and all I've gladly been able to watch." Purchase a painting from one of the world's most experienced tattooists, and/or schedule a tattoo appointment, contact Judy Parker at 619-733-1463 email@example.com