Interview by The TAX Collection
What led to the inception of 'Somewhere NYC?' - Is this something that you had been planning on doing for a while, or did something specific spur its creation?
Mars: Opening "Somewhere" was definitely a crime of opportunity (or maybe fate?). I had spent the last two years working in a tiny, one-station studio in the back of an art gallery in Bushwick, and although I loved it, it was starting to feel a little cramped. I traveled a lot during that time and kept getting progressively more inspired by all the amazing queer studios that were opening in other cities. I met so many wonderful people who were so deeply committed to offering a safer space to get tattooed in. I wanted to create an equally open space to be able to invite them back to!
Right after finishing a stint at Minuit Dix in Montreal and Outcast Club in Toronto, I found out that my previous studio mate was leaving New York. Astrid was coming back to New York at exactly the same time and needed a place to work. It felt like a sign!
Astrid: I returned home to California for ten months in 2017 to work in my first shop. As a former home tattooer, I felt obligated to put in the time at a street shop to feel less alienated from the community. Despite my profoundly positive experience (for which I'm forever grateful), I still left feeling discontent with the old school dynamic of a shop owner "running" space — a space consisting of artists who essentially managed their operations independently. I knew I would have to be my own boss. When I moved back, Mars contacted me, and here we are.
I know you have certain feelings towards traditional tattoo shops, what is something different you feel your shop provides?
Astrid: I'm very collective minded when it comes to workspaces. We wanted a transparent, cooperative partnership where we share primary responsibilities but are more or less autonomous. Our primary mission is to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible. So many young clients of mine have recounted experiences where they felt scared, pressured, and intimidated in a tattoo shop. Artists bullied them into designs they didn't want or belittled their ideas. It's wild to me that any artist would think that's appropriate and I'm glad to see the machismo aspect of the industry drying up.
Mars: I generally have a strong preference towards private studios (as opposed to more traditional walk-in shops) both for working and being tattooed. I started my career tattooing friends in my bedroom, most of whom were queer and didn't feel comfortable being tattooed in traditional shop environments, which was a feeling I shared. At the time, I think it was much harder to find private spaces or be able to get a sense of which shops would be welcoming. I've heard so many horror stories from friends and clients about being harassed, assaulted, or just not respected by tattooers (all behaviors that have been a big part of mainstream tattoo culture for a long time). That was not an environment I had any interest in replicating.
Has social media (Instagram specifically) helped shape your business?
Astrid: Social media IS my business. Artists used to be entirely dependent on shops to bring in clientele, and that's where the gatekeeping began. The internet turned the tables completely. People seek out individuals now, not shops. The shops depend on artists. It's been beautiful to see people who were, or would have been turned away from traditional spaces become successful in their own right, in their own style. That's why the changes in social media, mainly punitive algorithms, and shadowbanning, are more than frustrating - they're dangerous. People choose the content they want to see, and trying to restructure those choices makes no sense.
Mars: I wouldn't have a business at all if it weren't for social media. I wasn't trying to be a tattoo artist or do this professionally at all when I started; I was just tattooing some friends and posting the results on Instagram. If it weren't for people finding and responding positively to my work there, I have no idea what I would be doing with my life right now.
Any upcoming guests we should be checking out?
Astrid: All of them! It's been so amazing to work with friends and with talented strangers who become friends. We are still very new and like to ask our guests what we can improve on. It's essential to get feedback and keep growing.
Mars: Oh my god yeah, everyone! The main motivation for me leaving my previous studio was to finally have space to share with other artists; it's been such a pleasure so far, and I can't wait to continue expanding our little tattoo family.
If someone reading this wants to book a tattoo appointment, what's the best way for them to go about this?
Astrid: Email us! We are not a walk-in shop, which is important because it both allows us to be selective and keeps random strangers from walking in and potentially souring the vibe. My books are almost always open. Just remember that answering emails takes time, so please be patient.
Mars: Everyone working at Somewhere manages their own schedule and has slightly different ways of doing things. If you're interested in making an appointment with any of our guest artists, I'd recommend just checking out their Instagram to see how they prefer to take appointments. I open my books on the 1st of every month and receive all inquiries through a booking form, which will always be posted in my bio during that time, cause trying to figure out how to schedule my life more than a month out is way too much for me to handle!
How many tattoos do you each have? Do you ever tattoo yourselves?
Astrid: Many of my friends sacrificed their bodies so I could learn, so of course I tattooed myself as well. It would have been unfair to not practice on my own skin first. There are tattoos I did on myself, for better or for worse (mostly for worse), and I have tattoos from fellow artist friends. I decided recently that I only want friends to put art on my body. I always thought the design itself would be most important, but it turns out that the person who did the art is more important to me now. I get to carry them around with me forever. People are surprised that I don't have that many. My grandma doesn't want me to get any more, even though she likes the ones I put on other people.
Mars: I've definitely tattooed myself because it is a really important step in the learning process when you're still figuring things out, but I absolutely hate it! There are so many amazing artists out there. I'd much rather dedicate the body space to work I really respect than cover myself in my own doodles. I get so tired of seeing my work all the time, and there's so much to learn from trading and connecting with other tattooers.
I'm honestly not sure exactly how many I have at this point; I sometimes try to count them like sheep when I'm going to sleep, but usually, I fall asleep somewhere around 50.
Starting a business in NYC is not for the faint of heart - have there been any challenges along the way?
Astrid: We found out that our windows did not keep the rain on the outside and that our heater is selective about when it is or isn't going to turn on. Ridiculous building issues are a classic Brooklyn thing. However, I've had much more trouble dealing with apartments than when I opened our business. To be fair, Mars did most of the work. I recommend a Capricorn + Taurus business partnership whenever possible, whether you believe in the zodiac or not.
Mars: I can't even count the amount of meltdowns I had in the first couple of months, but I can't imagine going into this project with anyone better suited than Astrid. We've known each other for 6-7 years (where and when we actually met is one of the only things we disagree on), well before either of us were tattooing, and I think we do well balancing each other out and keeping each other sane. It's honestly an earth sign dream team.
What was your worst client/tattoo experience?
Astrid: Almost everyone I've ever worked with has been wonderful. I think I only experience difficulty with clients who are particularly controlling or demanding, usually people who don't understand the limitations of tattooing. This behavior usually comes from a place of anxiety, and I can empathize with that. The only way to combat these situations is to trust your artist. They are making decisions based beyond aesthetics. They have to think about how the design will work on your actual body and if it will age well. It's not just about how it looks on paper.
Mars: I think I've been really lucky with all of my clients! Since for the most part everyone finds me through Instagram, I think generally my clients are pretty self-selective; I don't really have anyone come in that I don't really vibe with.
Unfortunately that doesn't always extend to their friends/boyfriends (usually boyfriends). I think probably the worst thing you can bring to a tattoo appointment is another person who's going to be questioning your decisions the whole time. I'll always give my professional opinion based on how I think the piece will age, fit with other pieces you have, etc, but ultimately the only opinion that really matters is your own. I hear a lot of, "That spot is gonna hurt too much, get it lower/higher/smaller/less visible," from people not getting the tattoo, and it really bums me out because it's not their body. Don't let anyone else make you doubt yourself or get in the way of you getting the piece you're really excited about!
Astrid: Yes, please leave the boyfriend at home. And leave behind the friend that doesn't want to be there or the friend that wants to talk to you like your artist isn't there. I don't only have an investment in the tattoo, but an investment in getting to know you. It's still a privilege to put art on someone’s body and I appreciate having the opportunity to bond with clients.
If someone wants a tattoo and is not in NYC, will either of you be traveling and doing guest residencies? If so, where?
Astrid: Definitely! I made a permanent travel "highlight" so people can check in on it as I add destinations. My biggest issue is that I am terrified of flying, so I haven't been traveling as much as I could. And I'm sorry about that. I wish strangers were more down to hold my hand during taking off.
Mars: I travel pretty frequently, but also unfortunately not as often as I'd like. I have a lot of guilt around the frequency I'm able to get to other cities, but the truth is I have a family, including two dogs here, that I hate to leave. It's really hard to balance time at home, time working, and the time actually spent on vacation. Realistically, when I'm on tour somewhere, my only days off are travel days. That being said, I always post about cities I'm going to as soon as I know I'm going, and there will definitely be many more in the future!
What advice would you give someone getting their first tattoo?
Astrid: These days, my advice would be to get a little tattoo first. Something simple and small, just so you can understand how the process works and what it feels like. Fear is challenging. Fear will hold you hostage and force you to get an awesome tattoo that is too small in a place where you didn't want it. Choose an artist whose work you love and make sure you see the kind of work you want reflected in their portfolio. The number one rule is that if you don't like the design, or you feel uncomfortable with the artist, don't get the tattoo. Yes, you will lose your deposit, but you don't owe it to anyone to go through with a situation where you don't feel seen, respected, or safe.
Mars: I think the most important thing is to trust your artist, and a big first step towards that is doing your research in finding someone whose work you value. I'm honestly so jealous of anyone getting their first tattoo now, in a post-Instagram world. When I got my first tattoo, I had no understanding that artists could have different styles or specialties, or that you could even be specific about the type of person or space you wanted to work with. Now it's so easy to find someone who does exactly what you're looking for, and at the same time get a little bit of an idea of who they are as a person before going in.
I think if you go into it trusting your artist, and being open to their interpretation, you'll end up with a really rad tattoo that you're both super stoked on! But that trust also extends to knowing you can assert your needs at any time. They know what's going to be best in terms of what's realistically possible, what's going to heal well, etc., but you know your body. Like any other situation, make sure whomever you are with can respect your boundaries. If you need a break, you can take a break! If you need to adjust how you're sitting for comfort, talk to your artist, and figure out how to do that. Don't be embarrassed to ask questions at any point in the process, because you're both relying on each other to communicate and make something awesome.