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Shooting the Breeze with Heather Free

Free talks tattooing, veganism and Bob Ross

Heather Free is a tattoo artist at Time Honored Tattoo in Ball Ground. 

When and why did you choose tattooing as a career path?

It’s kind of hard for me to answer that question. Some of my earliest memories are pretending to tattoo my younger brother and cousin with an army-green magic marker. I’ve always wanted to decorate the home I live in, so to speak, with images of things that I love and make me feel good.

Do you have tattoos? What are they and why did you choose them? 

I do. Several, and many more to come. Currently I have a full leg sleeve consisting of characters from the movie Labyrinth. That was my favorite childhood movie. I have a banjo for my dad, who is a bluegrass musician; chickadees and bluebirds inspired by my grandmother; roses inspired by my mom; a cherry pie and coffee cup for my love of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. I have a little brown bat because I love bats. I have a large realistic pumpkin. Honestly, the list is quite long. This whole interview could be me telling you about all my tattoos.

The majority of tattoo artists are male. What are the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated industry?

Well, in the beginning it was a little difficult to be taken seriously by male customers and even by some male colleagues. Clearly, the man that taught me to tattoo, Chris Collett, doesn’t feel that way. There are so many incredible female tattooers out there. Our numbers have been growing over the last decade and continue to do so. It’s a really awesome feeling to see the landscape of tattooing changing in that regard.

What was the first tattoo you did on another person? What was the experience like?

The first tattoo I did on a person, other than myself, was a pair of small angel wings on a friend. I was terrified. I don’t think my heart has ever beaten harder. I think I covered up my terror pretty well though. Maybe we'd have to ask her.

What’s the hardest part about your job? The best part?

I’d say the most difficult part of my job is making my customer happy, while also making myself happy and giving them what they want within the parameters of what can be done. That and Pinterest. I love Pinterest as much as anyone, but please, please do not get your tattoo ideas from Pinterest. The best part of my job are those moments when someone gets up to look at their new tattoo and they’re so happy and excited. The joy they experience brings me great joy. Also those times I get to tattoo my artwork, in my style and get to see my vision come to fruition. When I make things that I am really proud of, things I’m excited to post, those are the best parts of my job.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I suppose my style would be considered some form of neo-traditional. I love to draw and tattoo pretty ladies that have all sorts of fantastic jewelry, or maybe an animal friend with them, or fierce looking dudes with horns. I always intend for my end result to feel magical, that wherever this person or object comes from is another realm where anything is possible. Forest nymphs, unicorns, sparkly jeweled daggers, torches made of tulips and cabochons.

You are also a vegan. Did you become a vegan for ethical or health reasons?

When I initially became a vegetarian it was nearly 100-percent ethical. That was almost 10 years ago. I went vegan because I felt that the increase in cheese and eggs in my diet was affecting the way I felt physically, and when I did I was reminded of the many ethical reasons I went vegetarian so many years ago. Your consciousness expands, your compassion expands and grows. I realized all over again that there is no reason for any living creature to suffer for my mouth. I mean, how selfish is that? I am a happier, healthier person being vegan.

What is your favorite meal?

I have two! Breakfast is my jam, no pun intended. My favorite breakfast is my chocolate peanut butter oatmeal - rolled oats, PB2, unsweetened cocoa, a couple packets of Stevia, a pinch of salt and some almond milk, toss it in the microwave and top with just a bit of maple syrup. Sometimes I eat it twice a day. My other would probably be veggie tacos. Homemade corn tortillas are the best. Fill ‘em with zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, corn and season with Mexican chili or adobo seasoning, add some avocado, lime and Valentina. Noms!

What is something most people don’t know about you?

Hmmm, I’m not sure. Maybe that I love to bake.

What are some tattoo-artist pet peeves?

Pinterest. Inkmaster is not an education in tattooing. Please don’t talk about tattoo television shows, pretty please. Complaints about prices or someone trying to haggle. It costs a lot of money to tattoo. Supplies are expensive and that doesn’t even factor in my time and knowledge. I want to give every customer the best tattoo I can but I can’t do it for free. And when you think about it, tattoos are one of the only luxuries you’ll afford yourself that you (most likely) will literally take to the grave.

Who are your heroes?

Bob Ross. I love him. I watch the Joy of Painting every night. Also, tattooers like Alexander Grimm, Gary Burns, Sophie Adamson, Michelle Maddison. So many, honestly.

What do you do for fun?

Doing nothing with my boyfriend and our pets is my favorite thing. And drawing, of course.

Why do you think tattoos have become so popular?

Television. Without a doubt. It’s changed our craft for the better and for the worse. On one hand it has brought tattoos to people who once saw them as only being worn by criminals and lowlifes and shown them their beauty. On the other hand, now everyone thinks they’re an expert. Everyone thinks they want to tattoo. I can’t stress enough to not try this at home. It takes a lot of dedication, time, effort and education to tattoo.