Amanda Graves seems to do the impossible—she makes tattoos that shimmer and shine. Graves uses her mastery of pointillism and color theory to create a glitter effect that pops off the skin in a way we never imagined a tattoo could. We spoke with Graves about her adoration for pop culture, how she came up with her signature technique and more.
What first sparked your interest in art?
Simply put, old cartoons. “Rugrats,” “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Spongebob,” you name it. All those cartoons, bright colors, fun animations. I just wanted to draw them all over the place.
What made you want to become a tattoo artist?
I was definitely the girl who would draw all over herself in school. Tattoos fascinated me, and I pretty much bothered my mom every year until I could get one. It was always a dream to be involved in the industry one day.
How did you start tattooing? Did you have an apprenticeship?
Well, to be honest, no. I started in my kitchen. My daughter was months old, and all the apprenticeship inquiries I made were denied. My schedule wouldn’t work, and no one was interested. My neighbor had a tattoo kit and I cracked that bad boy open and went to town. After about nine months, I started to reapply to shops that would teach me, and I lucked out. My first two years of being in a professional setting was a relearning process, so I would say that turned into a sort of apprenticeship.
How did you come to find your current style?
The first few years of tattooing I dabbled in mostly everything. I wanted to practice as many techniques and styles as possible. The one consistent thing that made me happy was subject matter that made people say, “Aww OMG,” or “That’s wild.” When I started creating my glitter effect, it did all of that and more. I remember looking at my daughter’s makeup for competitive cheer and saying, “Holy shit, what if I tried to make parts of my next design look like actual realistic glitter?” One day I tried it out using pointillism and my knowledge of color theory, and it birthed something I’m super proud of.
Let’s talk more about that glitter effect.
Being involved in competitive cheer for my whole life, and now my daughter’s, glitter makeup is super prevalent in the “look.” I decided to try and use extremely small needle groupings to create depth, and then choose colors that will play off each other and contrast to blend the dots together.
How hard is it to convince people that the glitter effect will hold up once it’s healed?
Honestly, I don’t try to convince anymore. Tattoos fade, alter and expand. There’s no way around that. My technique uses dots just like any other stipple style. The difference is that I do not whip lightly, I punch each dot in individually. I leave room for those dots to expand without blending together when it heals. I try to think about longevity with every application. The white eventually will most likely need touching up, but that is no different than any other tattoo with white. When glitter sparkles, there’s plenty of other colors playing off each other that add to the effect. The white is not the only factor!
What are some characters you’ll never get sick of drawing? Are there any that you’re totally over by now?
I think anything rap/hip-hop related I could do any day of the week. That’s an industry I am really involved in staying up to date in. I love the culture. I think certain popular Disney characters, like Stitch, may be hard to keep doing, but I will do any of them whenever!
On your Instagram story today you mentioned how you’ll take multiple bookings for the same character, but that each would be unique. Can you tell us about your process for doing this?
With each design for one character I could mock it up an infinite number of ways. I can adjust the color palette, the elements, the flow, the poses. It’s a fun challenge and I consider my client’s placement and ideas when I take on the same characters.
The tattoo industry used to be, and in many ways still is, full of a lot of macho bullshit. When you were starting, did you get blowback because of the style of your tattoos?
I am perfectly OK with ignoring all the blowback. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. Success by being genuine will always trump bullshit from people who are incapable of being open to new ideas. I take a lot of time to learn before I take action. People are scared of new things, they’re scared of new people. We just need to continue to surround ourselves with more inclusivity and support.