We—the women, the alternative, the proud non-binary and beyond—are lucky to live in an artistic, open-minded, and flourishing city. The constant motion of city streets, flashes of colorful, painted walls, the buzzing of tattoo guns—they’re what make up the gritty, beating heart of Denver.
At its epicenter are the women artists, cranking out piece after piece and grinding every day to make life here even better. One such artist, Gina Ilczyszyn, lets her art get up and walk right out the door, into the world, to be seen and admired by all.
Ilczyszyn is a resident artist at Til Death Tattoo in RiNo, specializing in black-and-grey, and in both realistic and traditional styles. She’s always been interested in art and mixed media, and at 18 decided to pursue tattooing. It was a bold move at the time for a young woman.
“It was pre-TV,” Ilczyszyn said. “You only knew about tattoo artists that were tattooing your brothers and your dad. You had to go to Barnes and Noble to get a tattoo magazine—and it was pretty male-dominated.” The artist was lucky to experience the total world-shift of the entire tattoo industry at a time when female tattoo artists were relatively unheard of and the concept of tattoos existing as “real” art was at its infancy.
“I think we’re going through a little bit of a renaissance here,” Ilczyszyn said. “Quality is important and that’s on the rise. We’re making room for artists.”
But it wasn’t until the popularization of tattoos in the media, with shows like Ink Master, that the masses really started to consider the potentials of tattooing as an art form.. Now, those holding the needles are the artists.
“I remember when a lot of those shows were [first] coming out,” Ilczyszyn said. “It brought attention to the fine art aspect of the industry, [what] used to be a very secretive, preserved artform. It separated artists from people just doing it to make money.”
Don’t get her wrong, though—Ilczyszyn is acutely aware that tattooing is her means of living. But she’s one of the lucky ones who gets to live her dream and practice her passion every day. “I’m trying to transform someone into the best version of themselves.”
It’s her passion and the idea of helping someone transform that separates artists like Ilczyszyn from others, and is what keeps them striving to be better. Her favorite part [of tattooing] is the in-person consultations she has with her clients, whether small bits or large-scale pieces. “It’s all about being comfortable, [it’s] more than just the tattoo. You don’t just go in and get tattooed; it’s a whole experience,” Ilczyszyn said.
“We spend a lot of time together and you develop a relationship [with the client]. You talk with people, you find out what they want. I get into my zone and make that happen. [It’s] a little bit of me and a little bit of them.”
Ilczyszyn—who’s been tattooing since 2012—has grown quite the following; a result of her stunning designs and masterful execution. Her portfolio and Instagram page are curations of intricate black-and-grey tattoos, gracing the flesh of those lucky to squeeze into her books. Now, Ilczyszyn is sought after specifically for her personal design.
“I’m lucky that people are coming to me for a certain aesthetic and trusting me to give it to them,” Ilczyszyn said.
Aside from tattooing (what, you’re surprised this badass artist has some side-hustles?), you can find Ilczyszyn crafting at home, designing custom denim jackets, and painting alongside the other talented muralists of the Babe Walls and CRUSH Walls events.
“Approaching mural art is new to me; street art can be intimidating,” Ilczyszyn said. “Babe Walls has allowed me to create a little bit more. It basically gave me an opportunity to do something that I haven’t had a foot in prior.”
This year is Ilczyszyn’s first time participating in the annual CRUSH Walls mural festival and is also the inaugural year for another mural event in which she is involved: Babe Walls. She reflects on her excitement for Babe Walls, as it promotes “getting something together for the ladies and nonbinary folk who have had a tough time breaking into the scene, but are capable.” Oftentimes, the world of art and artistry is where inclusivity thrives the most—and Babe Walls is the lighter fluid to that flame.
“Even during the pandemic, we were able to raise all our money, so it was just beautiful to have the community accept us and give back to us,” Ilczyszyn said. “It was so beautiful and so inspiring to have all these women and nonbinary folk painting. We’re doing it to bring some beauty and some peace and spread a little bit of lady power around.”
Laughing that she had applied for the CRUSH before and gotten denied, Ilczyszyn says it’s okay: as a tattoo artist, she didn’t have much to show in that department.
“My profession is as a tattoo artist and I live and breathe that, but I also love to paint,” she said.
And looking forward, Ilczyszyn is getting excited about ramping up for CRUSH Walls 2020. “The art community is what brought me to Denver,” she said. “Walking around and seeing all the beautiful art everywhere, I knew it was someplace I wanted to be. Having this opportunity to be a part of something I’ve admired is just so incredible.”
All-in-all, lots of good things are happening for Gina Ilczyszyn, and in turn, she’s giving a lot of good stuff back. Catch Gina at the ongoing CRUSH Walls Festival in RiNo, or head to Til Death’s website to book a tattoo appointment. In response to being dubbed a badass woman, she offers a humble reply: “I’ve worked my whole life to be this woman, and I’m so proud of her. This is the time of empowerment and for women coming together.”