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Pink Ink

Female tattoo artists grow industry in Tillamook County

The Tillamook Coast seems to draw artists to the area. Painters come to paint the landscape. Photographers capture the sunsets. And now, a growing category of tattoo artists are leaving permanent ink on locals and passerthroughs. In particular, this past year four female tattoo artists have established businesses in Tillamook County, another already exists with an established presence. This is their feature: Lisa Sutton (Electric Quill, Nehalem), Sara Peterson (MTNTOP Tattoo, Garibaldi), Clover O'Connor (Toth Collective, Tillamook), Megan Gill (Suite D Tattoo, Pacific City), and Maisie Siegel (J. Marie Salon, Nehalem).

Lisa Sutton, Electric Quill, Nehalem

By the age of 18, Lisa Sutton had nearly 20 tattoos.


“I got my first tattoo at 13 in someone’s basement,” she recalled. Intrigued by the artistry, she engineered her own machine out of parts she found around her home, and started using her skin as her own personal canvas.


But, life in her youth was hard.

“I had no other choice, but to take care of myself,” Sutton said. “My friends would go out to lunch and ask if I wanted anything. I’d say I didn’t want anything, but really I didn’t have $2 for a hamburger.”


She ended up dropping out of school (though did eventually earn her GED), and struggled to find employment because—she had tattoos.


“I couldn’t get jobs,” Sutton said. “I had to cover up my tattoos and wear band aides.”


With limited job prospects, a counselor recommended that Sutton enroll in a program that offered at-risk youth the opportunity for tattoo removal.


“I wouldn’t have done it, but I had to,” Sutton said. “I couldn't be who I was.”


Through the program, Sutton’s tattoos were removed. Her outward appearance became “acceptable” to employers, but she didn’t feel authentic to herself.


“That’s why it’s so important to me,” Sutton said gesturing towards her current tattoos. As an adult, she’s started over: adding pieces of art back to her skin. Full leg and arm sleeves. A neck piece. A stomach piece. It’s been a process to become who she’s always wanted to be.


And now, she’s sharing her passion for the artform.


In her decade as a professional tattoo artist, Sutton’s personal experience is often why she suggests that others “add” to tattoos instead of remove or cover them.


 “You wanted something at one time. If I ask you about it, there’s usually a crazy story about it,” Sutton said. “Let’s add to it. Tattoos are meaningful to people. It’s about what they’ve had in the past.”


Sutton began her tattoo artist career during a time when women were rare in the business.


“The industry was more volatile,” she said. “More ‘bikers’ were in it. You couldn’t just go to tattoo school. The ladies I knew who had been in shops got a small percentage from the shops. Historically, it was the shock value to have women tattooed. They were not reaping the benefits of the draw; it was all about the male artist.”


When Sutton was a kid in the 90s, she remembers that there were almost no female artists, but by the 2010s there were much more women in the industry.


“They were becoming very influential and inspirational,” Sutton said. “I don’t feel like the stigma is there [anymore]. There are a lot of female artists.”


But, it still took Sutton four years of asking and asking to finally to get a legitimate apprenticeship (as required in Colorado at the time).

Her persistence paid off: she’s now the co-owner of two tattoo shops.


“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sutton said.


Along with her husband (Jeff), Sutton owns a tattoo shop in the Denver area, and their newest location, Electric Quill in Nehalem, Oregon. The shop offers tattoo art and professional piercing.


“Something just felt right here. You see a space and just feel it,” she said. “It’s a place for us to focus on us and our art.”


Sutton describes her tattoo art style as traditional and neo-traditional.


“It’s absolutely timeless; a unique artform that’s going away,” she said. “It’s going to look the same in 70 years as it does right now.”


In addition to her experience, Sutton also has a love for the history of tattooing.


“Ancient humans in history would identify what tribe they were from with tattoos; they were a history of that person,” Sutton said. “Acquiring ink and color was not easy. It was expensive and wars were fought over it. The ancient symbolism: that’s romantic to me.”


In additional to body art, Sutton also offers permanent makeup services.


“Permanent makeup takes more training. You have to know about pigments, the size of the molecules, and what color to use,” she said. Popular requests for permanent makeup include: eyebrows, eyeliner, lips, and freckles.


Since opening Electric Quill, Sutton said the locals have embraced their family and business.


“We’re really grateful they’ve been so supportive,” she said. “It’s such a small, tight-knit community. A safe space. This is what I love to do. It doesn’t feel like work.”


Appointments for services at Electric Quill can be made online. Electric Quill is located at 35990 7th St, Nehalem.

Sara Peterson, MTNTOP Tattoo, Garibaldi

“I am good enough.”


That’s what Sara Peterson’s thigh tattoo reads.


It’s not a message for the world, but one for herself. The words are inked so they’re right-side up for her eyes. 


“I can read it when I’m sitting or when I’m sad,” Peterson said. “It’s a reminder that I AM good enough; I’m someone worth fighting for.”

It’s a statement from an overcomer.


“Growing up was really hard. [My accomplishments] now are a cool part of my testimony,” she said.


Peterson spent most of her youth in the Gresham area, lacking parental and adult support.


“I was an emotionally troubled child and got my emotions out in my art and poetry,” Peterson said. “It was a way for me to deal with my inner demons.”


She dropped out of school in fifth grade. But, better things were headed her way.


When she was about freshman-age, Peterson reconnected with her father.


“It was a godsend when he came into my life,” she said. “I was getting into a lot of trouble and wasn’t doing good.”


Peterson moved with her father to Rockaway Beach and he enrolled her at Neah-Kah-Nie High School. There, she found incredible educational support. By her sophomore year, she was caught up in her studies.


“A lot of my teachers stayed after school to catch me up,” Peterson said. “That’s what I loved about that school.”


A small relocation in Tillamook County moved Peterson into the Tillamook School District where she graduated in 2012. She was offered a local college scholarship, but Peterson said she regrettably, “threw that opportunity away.”

Married young with two kids, Peterson recalled not knowing what she really wanted to do career-wise. It wasn’t until her marriage dissolved that she decided to get licensed as a tattoo artist.

 “I never thought I’d do this.”


Peterson started with cosmetic tattoos and then, after gaining some confidence, tapped into the realm of body art.

 “I’m still taking classes online to keep up with the different styles,” she said. “I’m learning a good mix of them so, if there’s a style someone wants, I can execute it.”


In August 2023, MTNTOP Tattoo owner Darin Tone invited Peterson to be the second artist in his Garibaldi shop.


“He’s helping me a lot and gives me a lot of pointers,” she said. “He wants me to succeed because then his shop also succeeds.”


While she’s found a supportive work environment, entering what was once a male-dominated field created some apprehension.


“As a woman in the tattoo industry, I was scared that men were going to be my competition,” Peterson said. “There are different stigmas. I’ve heard from people that they won’t get tattooed by a woman. But often, women will take their time and don’t rush through. I’m pretty competitive and, as a woman in the industry, I do want to prove myself. Women need to not be fearful. Let being a woman be your motivation, don’t let it be your setback.”


Clients often seek out Peterson for her skill in miniature, script, and fine-line tattooing.


“With fine-line, you have to be perfect as soon as you touch the skin,” she said. “I’m down-to-earth and I pay attention to detail.”


But, Peterson has also found reward in challenging herself.


“I do try and push myself,” she said. “If I don’t venture out, I’m never going to learn. I love the artistic freedom of doing bigger pieces. I love when people say, ‘Go with your creative freedom.’

I get to learn something new with every piece that I do.”


Peterson also enjoys the therapeutic element of giving someone a tattoo. 


“Darin and I call it ‘shop talk:’ whatever is said here, we don’t talk about it elsewhere,” she said. “They’re telling me their life stories…I love that they would trust me enough to share that.”


When she sets down her tattoo pen, Peterson is home being as present as she can be with her three kids. And learning more about who she is.


“My boyfriend of three years asked, “What makes you, you?,’” she recalled. “I said: ‘I’m a mom.’ But, I didn’t know what made me, me.”


So, she ordered an easel, some canvas, and pastel paints.


“I’ve started getting back into it.”


Yet, even through the process of self-discovery, Peterson stands firm in the fact that: she is enough.


Appointments for Sara’s Tattoo Beauty Bar can be made through Instagram or by emailing: MTNTOP Tattoo shop is located at 402 Garibaldi Ave, Garibaldi.

Clover O'Connor, Toth Collective, Tillamook

Clover O’Connor begged her dad for her first tattoo.


“It’s a hand holding a knife. He really didn’t not want to do it but…”


She has it on her ankle.


With a parent as career tattoo artist, O’Connor doesn’t know a world without tattoos.


“I had a natural proclivity; I started drawing after I’d already seen tattooing,” she said. “My drawings are a tattoo style. I tend to be a really anxious person. Whenever I’m drawing or tattooing, especially tattooing, I’m put into a flow state where my brain doesn’t think about anything else.”


But, I actually didn’t consider it as a career option until I was in Florida and bored out of my mind.”


After a few moves around the country, O’Connor ended up back on the Oregon Coast. She’d spent her middle and high school years at Neah-Kah-Nie, graduating in 2020.


Through acquaintances, O’Connor met Tillamook local, and highly regarded tattoo artist, Mike Toth. After a look through her portfolio, she was offered a spot at Toth Collective upon completion of her tattoo schooling.


“I feel like I’ve been delt a really lucky hand,” O’Connor said. “It’s hard for somebody to get into this industry. I definitely lucked out somehow.”


O’Connor attended Hot Rod Bettie’s Tattoo School in Salem—the same place her dad is an artist.


“While I was in school I got to hang out with him,” she said. “I’m so thankful for how, even when I was in school, people would drive all the way out to be tattooed by me.”


Although O’Connor was introduced to the trade in her youth, she acknowledges that historically others had a harder time gaining exposure.


“Tattooing used to be a secret trade. The knowledge was so shielded and I feel like it’s not like that anymore,” O’Connor said. “It’s all around more accessible for people.”


She graduated in September 2023 and returned to Tillamook to work at Toth Collective.  


“I’ve had so much overwhelming support from everyone,” O’Connor said. “I’ve had a pretty easy time building clientele here because I have those preexisting relationships. People like to come to me because they know me and are comfortable with me.”


O’Connor’s style is classic, but she hasn’t written off evolving in her artform.


“I really want to be well-rounded in everything. I never want to stop learning,” she said. “I’m excited to meet people in the industry and form relationships. I want to be a respectable, great tattoo artist. I want to create a comfortable environment for people getting tattooed and give people artwork they really love on their bodies.”


In her free time, well, O’Connor thinks about tattooing.


“Tattooing never ends,” she laughed. “I tattoo all day and then I go home and I draw for my appointments the next day. It’s a never-ending cycle.”


O’Connor works by appointment only, Tuesday-Saturday. She can be reached via social media

Megan Gill, Suite D Tattoo, Pacific City

Memorial tattoos are a favorite for Megan Gill to give clients…and to receive.  


“They are something that you’re always going to have with you. It’s a bit of that person or a memory that you carry with you. I have quite a few memorial tattoos, dedicated to someone that I’ve lost over the years.”


Overall, Gill has 30 tattoos of which she received her first at the age 16.


“It’s a form of self-expression,” she said.


Going from tattoo client to artist herself started with her career as an esthetician.  


 “After weighing it over and discussing it with my husband, it just made sense for me to add in cosmetic tattooing [to my business],” she said. “It kind of goes hand-in-hand.”

Commuting from the coast, Gill began at Hot Rod Bettie’s Tattoo School in 2017.


“I was already getting tattoos there, so they said: ‘Just do it, just come to school,’” Gill recalled. “I would have it done it sooner in life if I had another lady that I could have worked with. It was not that long ago tattooing was an apprenticeship program, pretty much a guy’s world. But now, you can just go to school. Rene Muzechenko (Hot Rod Bettie’s owner) was my teacher and confidant. She paved the way for people. She definitely saw that it was a hard field for women to get into.”


While cosmetic tattooing was Gill’s original focus in school, she soon added body art tattooing.


“I’ve always been an artist; I like working with my hands,” Gill said. “I’ve worked with crochet, fiber arts, sewing, and feathers. I used to sell my art at the Lincoln City Farmers Market.”


After completing tattoo school in 2018, Gill worked at Hot Rod Bettie’s for a little over a year, went on to co-own a cosmetology tattoo shop with Muzechenko in Lincoln City, and then eventually returned to her roots.

“I grew up in south Tillamook County and graduated from Nestucca High School,” Gill said. “Chase Moodie was starting tattoo school and we decided to open ‘Suite D Tattoo’ together in the late fall of 2019. We had a soft opening and planned to have a grand opening in March 2020, but we all know how that went.”


Despite the pandemic, Gill said that the shop in Pacific City received local backing.


“People in Tillamook County are really good at supporting their community. Everybody likes to support their local businesses,” she said.


At Suite D Tattoo, Gill offers both cosmetic and body art tattooing with a special eye for floral designs.


“It’s my first go-to. It’s my jam,” she said. “But, I’m always up for something new. I like to hear peoples’ ideas and bring their vision to fruition.”


Gill views her understanding of clients’ wishes as one of her strengths as an artist.


“I’ve found that communication is key between the artist and client,” she said. “You want to find someone that you’re comfortable with and listens to you.”


To book an appointment with Gill, call or text at 541-921-1935.


Suite D Tattoo is located at 35170 Brooten Rd Suite D Pacific City.

Maisie Siegel, J. Marie Salon, Nehalem

Maisie Siegel’s latest flash sheet is an ethereal garden.


“I’m leaning more into a smaller, fine-line, abstract, pointillism style,” Siegel said. “I do a lot of floral and designs inspired by nature.”

While new to the tattoo business, Siegel isn’t new to the area. She graduated from Neah-Kah-Nie High School in 2019 and attended Oregon State University until Covid-19 altered her path. She moved back to the Oregon Coast during the shutdown and worked various jobs before landing a job with Scovel Ink: a print shop in Manzanita.  


“I worked there for a year and a half,” Siegel said. “While there, I designed and sold some sweatshirts. They were all my own designs and I printed them all myself in the shop.” 


The creative innovation slowly sparked the idea for her career choice.


“Art is something that is close to my heart and I’ve done it forever,” she said. “It comes really natural to me.”


After some exposure to the tattoo industry, Siegel began researching the pathway to become licensed. She attended Captain Jack’s Tattoo School in Portland and graduated in 2021. 


“Out of all the schools I really liked the environment and it worked with my learning style,” Siegel said. “Everyone came from different places, so there were many other artists that I got to learn from while I was there.”  


After becoming licensed, the opportunity to offer tattoo services at J.Marie Salon in Nehalem arose and Siegel decided to return to Tillamook County.


“I’m really excited to be getting more clients,” Siegel said, naming her business Tats by M. “It’s finally coming true.”


Siegel said she really enjoys custom work and stenciling freehand on the body.


“I’m very into taking my time with placement. It’s easier to see how it looks with movement,” she said. “Tattoos are something you wear like jewelry: it’s an adornment.”


As an artist, incorporating clients’ ideas with her own style is a meaningful process.


“When people trust me to run with it, go abstract, and trust the process, that’s when I work best,” Siegel said. “Tattoos are a symbol of peoples' experiences and memories. That’s why I like to do custom stuff. If you like looking at a mountain, what angle do you usually see that mountain from? It makes it a little more personal.”


Siegel also appreciates the eternal memory she is creating.


“When you get a tattoo, you remember the place and the person that gave it to you,” she said. “Even if [one day] you don’t like the image, it’s still a memory of a time and it brings you back.”


Siegel is currently accepting bookings Friday-Monday. Appointments can be made online, by reaching out via social media channels, or emailing:


“I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to make your dreams come true,” Siegel said. “I really like seeing the smile on someone’s face. It’s about what the tattoo means and being able to give that to someone.”


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