There are very few tattoo artists working today more recognizable than Megan Woznicki. Though most know her better by professional name: Megan Massacre.
It’s a marvel to see her at work, giving depth and texture to tattoos that blend different styles into one that is unmistakably hers. She’s just as quick with a kind smile and a friendly word if you do have the chance to meet her as well, which I was fortunate enough to experience-firsthand at the second annual Van Isle Tattoo Expo when she agreed to an impromptu interview.
She offered frank and insightful observations on her own development as a tattoo artist, on her various other projects, and on the past and current state of the tattoo industry.
Above: We were fortunate enough to sit down with Megan Massacre at the second annual Van Isle Tattoo Expo.
Massacre’s colorful photo-realistic work is impressive.
You have a highly versatile skill set, from tattooing, modelling, and acting, to being involved in a variety of business ventures. Please explain how you find the time and energy to do so much without burning out.
I guess the real answer to that is that I do burn out, and quite a bit. You know I think the key is that really love what you do. Like I love tattooing, I love doing television, I love making clothing, I love modelling. When you really love the things that you do you don’t care that you’re tired, that you don’t have the time—you make the time. You just really have to enjoy it, it has to be rewarding in some sense.
Massacre’s style is a combination of everything she has learned, incorporating everything from Colour Realism to Traditional.
You have been tattooing since 2004, nearly 15 years as of this interview. Please describe how your style has evolved over this period.
My style has evolved a lot since the beginning. It has to do a lot with it takes time to learn to be a good tattoo artist, you learn more skills as you get older. But also the trends that are happening in the world and within tattooing definitely effect it. When I started tattooing New School was the new cool style, so that’s what I wanted to tattoo because I wanted to be like the new cool kids, y’know. So that’s where I started, which I feel like is an odd place to start because most people would learn traditional style artwork. From New School I started working in a shop in Philadelphia with this guy Paul Acker. He’s a pretty well-known Colour Realism portrait artist and working with him made me really want to learn Colour Realism, so that’s what I started learning next. And that started to become the new popular thing. And then I moved to New York when I started doing the “NY Ink” TV show. When that happened I started working around a lot of traditional tattoo artists, which before then I hadn’t really. So then I started learning more about Traditional tattooing, which is very reverse as to how most people are [most people started with Traditional].
Then I started simplifying my style and also combining different styles together because I really liked doing the Colour Realism but I really liked Traditional and New School and all these other styles so I started doing combo tattoos where—you can kind of see it today, but maybe about five or six years ago. . . Even more, like eight years ago I was going a lot of colour portraits with very traditional themes, like a lot of animals. Dogs and cats dressed up in people clothes, and the people clothes will be very Traditional in style or more New School in style and the portraits themselves will be Realistic.
Today I do the same exact thing; I do a lot of combo-style tattoos. It’s definitely a little heavier on Realism, only because I think more serious style tattoos are what’s in style right now. Like people don’t really want as many goofy, silly, or cartoony-type styles. That’s just kind of the trend right now. So mostly people are asking me for Realism, and then I talk them into doing little Traditional aspects to help sort of create the optical illusion that the realistic part is really jumping out of the skin—having something two dimensional next to something three dimensional really does that. And just to have fun with it.
That’s sort of where I’m at. The one running theme throughout my whole career has been colour tattooing. I definitely tattoo black & grey and know how to, but I have preferred colour my entire career.
Her careful use of colour and shadow results in tattoos that pop to life.
It’s important for any artist to keep in practice. Please describe how you challenge yourself as an artist.
Well I guess I would say I’m always trying to learn new styles. As a new style sort of comes to surface I’m like “oh I want to try that!” And I’m not really afraid to try anything. So I think doing that is really what keeps your chops up and keeps you evolving because you know as time goes on and technology improves, more people that are educated in art are getting into tattooing. People are getting better and faster and developing these really crazy elaborate styles with just a few years of tattooing. So to be an older tattooer and to keep up with everybody you have to be open to change, willing to try new things, not be too scared of it. Just constantly be experimenting and doing things that help you get inspired to come up with new and creative ideas, because after a while it’s hard to come up with new ideas.
A finished tattoo from the second day, brought to life by minute details.
Do you work with any other mediums other than tattoos?
Artistically, rarely do I work with other mediums because obviously as we were talking about earlier I do so much stuff. Like I’m a tattoo artist first and foremost, but I own my own tattoo studio, which is also my own clothing store and clothing line, so I have a lot of people to manage, I have a business to run, I have clothing to design, I do some modelling, I do some TV stuff so . . . As it comes down to art, rarely.
I did design a colouring book a couple years ago, I hand-drew that whole thing. That was just drawing—ink and paper. I have painted in the past. I went to art school when I was younger. I was just recently talking about it that I would really love to start painting again and painting more and more as I get older. Because on that kind of canvas you get to do whatever you want. There really is no outside influence so it’s a little bit more independent. I would like to lean towards painting more as I get older.
Colour Realism meets New School.
I remember reading in an interview you did a few years ago with Maxim where you talked about how the one thing someone getting a tattoo for the first time should know is: “don’t move.” Which I guess isn’t really a concern when you’re using a canvas.
Yeah, it’s true. Working on a regular old canvas that’s not a person is a lot easier. But it’s a lot more boring! There are perks to tattooing people; you get to make friends and have a lot of interesting conversations and meet new people.
Megan Massacre is an example of kindness and professionalism in the tattoo industry today.
The name Megan Massacre became your professional moniker kind of by accident; an ironic nickname from your local Hardcore scene that was picked up by a magazine. Please explain how you feel that has impacted your career.
I think it makes it really easy for people to remember me, which is hugely beneficial. Nobody ever remembered my other last name when I was tattooing—which was “Woznicki,” my real last name; it’s Polish, it’s very complicated to say, so you know it’s not catchy. So I would say yeah, it just makes me memorable.
And I think people seem to like it! I think people like it more than I do. Once it stuck, my first thought was “what am I gonna do when I’m a grandmother one day and people are calling me Megan Massacre!” I’m like, “eh, I’ll just be a cool granny.”
A Hardcore Granny.
Exactly. We’ll see how it goes I guess.
Despite having been told to quit modeling for the sake of her tattoo career, Massacre persisted so that she could stay true to herself.
When you were starting out as an artist and a model did you ever find it difficult to be taken seriously by your peers?
Absolutely. I mean, women tattooers have always been a minority, right? Like it started off with just men and then slowly women started tattooing. Even to this day there’s so many amazing women tattooers now and it’s definitely not the same as it used to be but there’s still more men than women. When I started tattooing I started modelling maybe three years later, so this was ten plus years ago. The tattoo scene was a little bit different. Women weren’t taken as seriously yet, so the fact that I did both of those things was a really easy excuse for men who weren’t Feminists or who weren’t sensitive or who were threatened by women to be like “people only want to get tattooed by you because you’re a model,” and it’s like “I started tattooing first actually, people wanted to get tattooed by me before that.”
And a lot of people told me to stop. A lot of really well-respected tattoo artists told me that I should stop modelling and I didn’t. Not because I didn’t think that they were right—they were right to a certain degree. There were people that didn’t take me seriously because of my modelling, but the truth is that I didn’t want it to make me not be the person that I wanted to be. I wanted to express myself and do whatever I wanted to do regardless if other people didn’t understand or see it from the same perspective.
“First, to do no harm.”
In the time you have been in the tattoo scene, how has it changed?
It’s changed a lot, man! It’s changed a lot and in a lot of different ways. As we were just talking about earlier with the way women are viewed in the tattoo scene. When I first started we were definitely a minority. Fifteen years later we’re definitely still not as many as there are men but there are a lot of really amazing women tattooers that are taken a lot more seriously and I think that that’s pretty cool. Women are treated a lot differently within the tattoo industry.
But not even about women, in general the industry as a whole has gotten a lot more professional. It’s become more of an actual business as opposed to a crazy party. Which is kind of what it was when I started tattooing. I worked with a lot of biker type people and tattoo shops had different purposes than they do today. Today they’re just about making art. Before they used to be a lot more about making money or associations with different kinds of things that were rather unsavory. So it’s cool to see it get a lot more professional. It’s created a lot of opportunities for artists in a lot of different ways and made it capable for people who are to branch into other things.
Things such as television, such as clothing, and books. For the industry itself to be treated as more of an art form has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people. It’s made a lot more people want to get involved, so it’s grown massively. The amount of tattoo artists there are now in comparison to fifteen years ago is astronomical. When I was learning how to tattoo people [some] thought I was insane. Nobody told me it was a good idea, nobody told me it was cool, when I got lots of tattoos everybody told me I was a freak, kids I went to high school with didn’t want to talk to me anymore.
Now the same person of the same age can do it—they want to do it even younger! Little kids come up to me and they’re like “I want to be a tattoo artist when I grow up.” That would have never happened when I first started learning how to tattoo. It just wasn’t a thing. It’s a completely different job now. And it’s fucking rad, it’s awesome, it’s more for everybody.
Convention photos by Tony Carter, © Scene360 All other artwork © Megan Massacre