Sitting Down With a Tattoo Enthusiast, the Lovely Tara Lee

Tara Lee is a 28-year-old mama and tattoo enthusiast in Niagara Falls, Ontario. She’s been working on her body art for over ten years.

Thanks for talking with us! Do you often get to visit the Falls?

When the world’s normal, I get down there. Now that I’m a mom, I try to take my daughter. But having grown up here, running your bath water is just as exciting as the Falls.

When did you first get interested in tattoos?
I was an emo kid my whole life. I remember being 10 and thinking, “I’m gonna be covered in tattoos.” I got my first one on my side at 16, and it was huge. I think I always knew, listening to Fallout Boy when I was 10, that I would have lots.
Sitting Down with Tattoo Enthusiast, Tara Lee
You would’ve still been in high school, right?

Yeah, still in high school when I got the lining done. I moved out when I was 16, worked three jobs in grade 12, lived on my own, grew up young.

When I got it done, I decided “go big or go home.” I think doing that one first—not knowing how a tattoo felt or what to expect for healing—was actually smart because getting your ribs done is terrible. I won’t do the other side. I’m glad I got it out of the way when I was young and stupid.

I wouldn’t have done that area had I known what a tattoo actually felt like. I went in blindly and realized, “oh god, this is rattling my ribcage.”

Anything over a joint or a bone is excruciating. But the pain is part of it. To get through it, sometimes I think about shitty things that have happened to me or how other people have it so much worse than I do. And I’m reminded that it’s just a tattoo; I’m gonna survive.

Getting a tattoo can be time-consuming. How often do you get a new one?

With my first one, I got the lining, then shading, then coloring. It took three sittings, three hours each. And then I got my dream catcher on my thigh, then a ton more.

Then I had my daughter, so you know where all the money went. I waited about three years, and this year, I resolved to get tattooed every month. Then COVID happened.

As more things opened up, I told my artist, “Just book me every two weeks.” I’ve got three booked for next month, and one more the month after that. I’m trying to catch up for all those months I missed.

Do you know what you’ll be getting?

I’m three sessions in on my stomach. It’s six roses along my underwear line and a big tiger. Just got the shading a few days ago, and I’ll go back next month to have it colored.

It’ll be a white tiger, so baby blues, whites, a pink nose. Lots of people do the orange tiger, and I want to be different, you know? And it has four eyes! It looks like an optical illusion. I really like it.
Do you stick with one art style or switch it up?

Mainly I have a traditional style. No realism or anything like that. I want everything to match. When I first started getting tattoos, that’s what I went with. I enjoy other styles, just not for myself.

It sounds like you’re really happy with your artist.
I’ve known him for 10 years. He worked at a shop I was going to (someone else did my first two tattoos). The first time he tattooed me, he had a really light hand. It went super smoothly and healed really well. So I just kept going back. His name is Ryan Campisano. He’s at the Noble Crow shop here in Niagara Falls.
Do you have a favorite piece?
Right now, it’s my tiger stomach piece. But I also really like my new leg ones that say INHALE and EXHALE. I’ve had lots of favorites, and then I get a new one, and I’m obsessed with it for a bit.
Do you have plans for the other appointments once your stomach is finished?

Not really. I just book it, and I know where I want stuff next. I know I don’t ever want a chest tattoo. I want my legs covered, want to finish my sleeves, obviously. I’m gonna get something else next month between working on my stomach. I don’t know what, yet, but I’m getting it on my leg!

Do you have any tattoos dedicated to family or friends?

My great-grandfather made a dream catcher for me when I was young, and it’s tattooed on my left leg. He’s passed on, and I considered adding dates to it. But it already means something to me, so I decided against it.

How would someone know they’re ready to commit to a large piece?

If you’re second-guessing it at all, I’d say don’t get it. I’ve never second-guessed anything I’ve wanted and gotten.

With big pieces, as soon as the lining’s done, you can work on it at your own pace. You don’t have to do big areas. Just do what you can. It’s not a race.

Woman with Tattoos

You have a couple of piercings too. How does that healing process differ compared to tattoos?

Piercings have such different healing times. A tongue will take way longer than an earlobe. Tattoos are similar. If you get it on part of your body that bends, that won’t heal as well. But with tattoos, it’s generally the same healing process.

Piercings are harder to heal because you really have to care for them. If you don’t moisturize your tattoo, it’ll still heal okay.

I have both nostrils pierced and my septum (but I never wear it down). Got my ears stretched to an inch-and-a-quarter, my philtrum, and my dermal. It’s just my face. No piercings anywhere else!

If you’d like to see more of Tara Lee’s tattoo journey, follow her on Instagram @Tarelee.