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HonestBird Tattoo and Nest Art Collective take the discomfort out of tattooing

//Nest Art Collective owner Lora Bird sits in her private tattoo booth at the Wheat Ridge tattoo and art shop on Aug. 13. Photos by Ali Mai | alimai@msmayhem.com

Owner of HonestBird Tattoo and the founder of Nest Artist Collective, Lora Bird is aware that tattooing is inherently painful, but she hopes that the poke of the tattoo machine is the only discomfort her clients feel. She works to gear tattoo culture toward not just inclusivity, but trauma awareness in every facet of her practice. By accounting for the vulnerable nature of tattooing, Nest offers completely private spaces so clients can focus on why they came—the art.

Bird explains tattooing as an oral tradition, and with most artists being trained through loosely regulated apprenticeships. She sees American tattooing as “a long tradition of it being passed down from shitty white man to shitty white man.” From shop culture, to how apprenticeships are run, to simple client dealings, she says there’s an overall vibe that feels both toxic and exclusionary. Now, she’s changing the way the game is played.

“It doesn’t need to be that way and we need some power—female, queer, POC—all these creators are around us all the time and they just don’t have a platform,” Bird said.

The Nest Art Collective, a salon-style collective featuring tattooists and artist retailers, aims to be a safe space without toxicity while empowering marginalized communities. Bird estimates that 90% of her clients are women or queer people, while fellow tattooist and Nest artist Isabel Bump describes the collective as all either women or people identifying as LGBTQ+.

“It helps to create a different space from a lot of male-owned or male-centric tattoo shops,” Bump said of the community that Nest has fostered and caters to. “It’s a lot more comforting and supportive of people’s pain levels and emotional needs.”

As part of her teaching background, Bird underwent trauma-informed training that she thinks has helped her become both a better tattooist and boss. Elicia Strazzeri is a client with a lot of experience being under the needle and recognizes the good work Bird is doing, both as an artist and as a creator of a safe space.

“The biggest difference between [Bird] and other artists is the experience that she provides to her clients,” Strazzeri said. “She thinks about it from the client’s perspective.”

Strazzeri has noticed that as a client of other tattoo parlors, she felt rushed. On the day of her appointment with Bird, she recognized that time had been allotted to avoid added pressure, and it was clear Bird thinks ahead about each client’s experience. Bird helped Strazzeri find solutions to make her tattoo exactly what she had envisioned, sent her home with a thoughtful care kit and curated a comfortable vibe throughout the entire process.

“[Bird] and I connected and had some conversations about things we’ve been through and about healing,” Strazzeri said. “She’s a very open and caring person and it comes across in her work.”

For Bird, part of being trauma-informed is being aware that every single person that you meet in your life has a certain sort of trauma. She herself has felt pressured by other tattoo artists and years later has wound up regretting the tattoos done by pushy artists. She strives to act differently, being considerate of both consent and privacy and being careful about the language she uses.

“I try to be as gentle as possible,” Bird said, regarding her process. “If you need to take a break because you’re overstimulated, if you need a water break, if you’re in pain, if you’re on your period and your hormone levels are high, then we are not going ahead with an already painful and vulnerable situation.”

Bird extends that respect and consideration to her fellow tattooists and artists who rent space at Nest. She sees much of the culture of tattooing revolving around tradition and loyalty, which she feels needs to end. While bigger and more well-known shops will take upwards of 50% from their artists, Bird caps her fees at a simple booth rent and takes no additional profit margin.

For “Nestees,” the nickname for members of the Nest Art Collective, there is certainly reciprocity. Bump reached out to Bird in April and was quickly offered a spot at Nest. She had moved to Colorado not knowing many women tattoo artists and was seeking out connections with others in the industry.

“The fact that I got the opportunity to work at Nest where everyone’s focus is along this kind of supportive line is kind of phenomenal, and I feel really lucky,” Bump said.

For Bump, one of the best parts of being a tattoo artist is helping her clients with their self-confidence, to give them something that they love and makes them feel more like who they are. As a safe space amongst the more intimidating male-owned shops, Nest allows her to do that. Bump shares Bird’s priorities of safety and comfort when it comes to running a tattoo shop.

More than being just women-owned, Nest has trans and nonbinary artists and is doing its part to expand the tattoo industry to more people. Because of its old-school ways, many tattoo shops are not as open to marginalized communities.

“We are much more accepting,” Bump said. “We just want everyone to feel safe here by creating a space for people who feel like their identity is looked down upon in some way by other shops.”

Through HonestBird and Nest, Bird is making her vision of a warm space come to life. By thinking far beyond the basic consent form, she and her fellow tattooists promise that clients don’t feel shoved out of the nest but encouraged to fly.

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