Unstoppable Female Tattoo Artist

Determination is a powerful force, and when someone has it they will not let anything stop them from accomplishing their goals, especially being female. I had a chance to chat with Tiffany Thornton, an extremely talented tattoo artist who owns her own shop. While successful now, it was a long journey to get to where she is today. She has faces many challenges in a typically male dominated industry, but did not let the sexism stop her. Tiffany was determined to do what she loved no matter how hard she had to work for it.

“I was always an artist as a kid, I liked to draw. I can remember I loved to draw on walls and skin and other places you weren’t really supposed to. So I loved the idea, I still love the idea of tattoos.”

From a young age Tiffany Thornton adored tattoos and everything about them. She was born and raised in a small northern towns, Elliot Lake and Massey. They were not the most artistic towns and she often felt like an outsider. She was continuously told that she needed to get a secure job that paid the bills.    

“I remember being told as a kid ‘you should become a dental hygienist, it’s great for women’. I knew that I wasn’t going to do what I didn’t like. I would sacrifice all sorts of money and things, and just live very modestly to do what I wanted and enjoyed”

Tiffany went to art school after high school but after two years she decided it was not for her. She knew that she had a passion for the art of tattooing. After taking some time off to raise her son she decided to pursue an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist. She was often laughed at and told that ‘girls don’t tattoo’ or ‘you could work the front desk’. Tiffany did not let the sexism stop her and continued to seek out an artist that would take her on as an apprentice. After countless no’s she reached out to Planet Ink, downtown Ottawa, and finally got the yes she was looking for. It was one year make it or break it for her, because of financial and personal reasons she felt like this was her one opportunity to do what she loved so much. During that one year she worked as hard as she’s ever in her life, spending long hours trying to learn the ins and outs of tattooing. Tiffany’s hard work paid off and she has now been tattooing for 12 years.      

“I’m better tattoo artist I can say that, because when you’re a woman learning in a man’s business that you have to work much harder. You have to work twice as hard to get noticed and I know I am better because of that. She’s a girl but oh she’s really good”

Even after developing a name for herself in the city as a skilled tattoo artist Tiffany faces countless occurrences of sexism. She would find herself convincing people that she would be able to do the tattoo they wanted, not because of skill level but simply because she was female. Tiffany did not let this get her discouraged and tried to focus on all the other awesome clients she had. Being a female tattoo artist sometimes has its benefits as well. Tiffany has people come to her because they are more comfortable with a female doing the work in a certain area of the body or feel she will be more sensitive. Tiffany has also has the opportunity to tattoo Muslim and indigenous women who would not be able to get a tattoo by a male. Tiffany loves what she does so much that she would never let being a female stop her from it. She encourages other women to stay strong and never give up in the face of adversity.

“I wouldn’t do what you think you shouldn’t do. Don’t try to fit into any mold and just be true to yourself no matter what. Do not try to be someone you are not just to be a little bit more likable.”

Planet Ink became home for Tiffany for 10 years. She grew as an artist but also observed the business side of a tattoo shop. As she learned more about how to run a tattoo shop she itched for more. She knew that she wanted more control and input, working for someone else was not fulfilling enough for her. That’s when Tiffany, with the support of her husband Matt Gagné,  decided to take a risk and open their own shop. In 2015 Hellbound was born. Since the opening of the shop there have been many challenges but equally as much success. Being a business owner has a ton of stress on top of being the only tattoo artist but Tiffany has a great team to support her.

‘I am super easy-going with some stuff but it’s like business is business, I want people to be treated nicely. I care about customer service. I don’t want people to feel like ‘oh I’m not cool enough to come in’ Or ‘I’m not cool enough to get tattooed.’ I hate that. I just want the customers to feel super chill it doesn’t matter if you have no tattoos or 100 tattoos. You are welcome.”

Tiffany has big plans for the shop, and is starting to think about her future. If she was not able to physically tattoo anymore she wants to make sure she is still heavily involved with the shop. She has considered taking on an apprentice but is in no rush. She knows that the circumstances would have to be right and she would need to be able to commit the time needed to be able to teach someone the trade. For now Tiffany is focused on making the shop her own, from designing the sign to developing merchandise. She loves doing realistic portraits of humans and animals. Make sure to check out her incredible work and try to book an appointment with her for a rad tattoo. They are super busy so make sure to book ahead of time!     

Aaron Cayer-Skateboard Community Builder

I had the awesome experience of hanging out with Aaron and some of his friends as they skated the streets of Ottawa. With my camera in hand, I captured some great photos while chatting with Aaron and getting to know him more.

From a young age, Aaron knew he wanted to make a difference in his community. He was fortunate to be a part of politically charged debates with his family around the dinner table, which helped shape his values and beliefs. Aaron knew that he had the ability to make an impact on the world, but the question was how. He pursued the traditional post secondary route and has a background in business and economics from both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. That helped lay the groundwork for his future endeavors but Aaron knew that he wanted to do something that he loved while helping to build a community.

“Things can be very complicated and I don’t know what I am doing but I am trying to make a difference doing what I know.”

Aaron has been skateboarding for over 20 years. He first got involved to make friends but it quickly became a passion. He enjoyed how there were no rules and regulations to skateboarding,  a self directed sport that is easily accessible with no need to book ice time, or organize a large group. One of the things that excited him most about skateboarding was meeting people of all ages, from all walks of life, as skateboarding is so inclusive.   Aaron felt that he could make a the best impact with what he was an expert at, skateboarding.

“Malcolm Gladwell said that you are not an expert until you have done something for ten thousand hours. Skateboarding is about the only thing I have done for ten thousand hours.”

Aaron felt that there was something missing in the Ottawa skateboarding scene. He believes that skateboarding is one of many tools that can be utilized while building relationships and community. He decided that skateboarders need their voices to be heard in order to strengthen the community. Loving the city that he grew up in, Aaron wanted to put Ottawa on the map for skateboarding.

“I want people to come to Ottawa to skate our parks and be impressed. Ottawa is not boring.”

Aaron took on two major endeavours with supportive partners by his side. He is the founder and co-owner of Birling Skateshop with Tom Pajdlhauser, Adam Wawrzynczak, and Kyle Robertson. They started the shop to give a place for skateboarders to call home while creating a brand that represented Ottawa. Since the opening they have partnered with Tom Pajdlhauser Adam Wawrzynczak Kyle Robertson to create a future vision for the shop.

“We have big plans for the shop but I don’t want to give too many secrets away, maybe an empty pool in the backyard.”

Aaron envisions Birling becoming more than just a store that sells merchandise. He is tired of mediocrity in businesses and believes that Birling has the potential to become a hub for a welcoming community. Aaron and his team want Birling to be something that is known outside of Ottawa.

The second major project that Aaron has undertaken is the Ottawa Skateboard Community Association (OSCA). He partnered up with Meag Isaacs and Chris Sheppard to create one organization that can be an umbrella for all of their goals. OSCA has three major pillars; For Pivots sake, Girls+ Skate 613, and Skateparks for Skateboarders.

For Pivots Sake is a program to give recycled boards to youth in low income communities and engage them through skateboarding. Aaron knows first hand the value of giving a kid a board, he has seen the impact the sport has made on peoples’ lives. Skateboarding can be used as a way to engage youth that are alienated or at risk of becoming engaged in troublesome behaviour.

Girls+ Skate 613 is a collective that engages individuals of all ages, identities and abilities to become empowered through skateboarding. They provide a welcoming, inclusive space for marginalized groups in what is often a male-dominated scene.

Skateparks for Skateboarders is a communication tool to lobby the city of Ottawa to build parks that are efficiently and effectively designed. Aaron uses OSCA to work with the builders to help inform them of what the people of the skateboard community want in their skateparks.   

Since the recent opening of Birling and the formation of OSCA several years ago, Aaron has been recognized in the community for all of the awesome work he has done and continues to do. Aaron received the United Way’s GenNext award, and he’s not stopping there! Aaron has a lot of big plans for the future and wants to put Ottawa on the map as a welcoming community for skateboarders. And though dynamic, he can’t do it alone!  He and his partners are always on the search for volunteers and donors to help grow and amplify their programs. If you have a passion for skateboarding or just want to make a difference in a person’s life, check out their website and learn more.There are so many different opportunities for people to get involved in the skateboarding community of Ottawa.  Try stopping by Birling on Somerset near Bay St. to have a coffee and say “Hi!”  to some very friendly faces.

Sean Norton Founder of JuiceHead

There is no recipe to life; no simple straightforward way to succeed, and what is success anyways? To different people the word success has a different definition.  Are you successful if you earn a high salary in an interesting and stimulating career, or are you successful if you stay at home and raise your family? Can you do both and be successful? I for sure do not have the answer and really the answer is different for everyone. As I talk with more and more people I am coming to understand that the path to fulfillment and happiness is not straightforward; really there is no path – you have to create your own way. 

That is what the founder and owner of JuiceHead™ is doing. Sean Norton’s path into cold- pressed juice was not straightforward by any means. Along his journey to find happiness he found himself in a juice bar in Costa Rica, but let’s back up a bit. Before Sean decided to start an organic, cold-pressed juice company, he had a job for life in a high salary career with security and benefits. Sean was a Research Scientist with the Federal government. “I had many friends at work, and the work itself was intellectually stimulating, but I was desperate for a change,” said Sean as he described his motivation to leave the government. 

In the same year he was planning to leave, Sean also described how a senior manager became deathly ill and a former manager was diagnosed with Cancer. Another colleague had a heart attack while at the office the following year. He survived, but a fourth colleague was not so fortunate. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and has since passed. In addition to illness, Sean saw too many people “trudge to work each day” during his years in government, “anxious for the day’s end or counting the years until retirement.”

 Knowing that life is too short and every moment is precious, Sean chose to make a drastic change. He decided to pick up and move to Costa Rica with his 11-year- old daughter and 9- year-old son. He wanted some time for self-reflection, to live more simply, and to have a new, incredible life experience with his family. Sean describes his two years in Costa Rica fondly, sharing many stories of the simpler life he was living. “My only concern each day was whether my car would start or leave us stranded in the jungle.” Everyone drove crappy cars, and money and social status were not a concern to the people who lived there. 

Sean enjoyed every minute of his time in Costa Rica, but he knew he had to return to work. He couldn’t afford to retire, and in any case, after two years, was ready for a new adventure. Returning to a cubicle job was not Sean’s preferred option, so he started thinking about how he could contribute to his community while still earning a living. Wanting to build a secure future for his family while each day living a fulfilling and happy life, Sean started brainstorming business ventures. His mind exploded with ideas, but he knew that he needed to focus his energy on something attainable. He latched onto cold-pressed juice as an idea with huge potential. Remembering how much he liked the juice bar in Costa Rica, Sean started JuiceHead™, an online juice bar in Ottawa that delivers right to your door. 

For the past year, Sean has been working to get his new business up and running, facing all of the challenges and obstacles that a new, small, business encounters. “Every day is a challenge. There’s so much to learn and always a problem or obstacle to overcome. I’ve never felt so much excitement and anxiety at the same time,” explained Sean.  Sean is motivated to succeed with JuiceHead because he loves how healthy the juice is and he can see the company’s potential. He has learned that most people don’t consume enough vegetables and fruit. Cold-pressed juice is a super-convenient way to get what you need on- on a daily basis and stay healthy while your on-the- go. He also enjoys the challenge of creating a premium product line. When the days are challenging, Sean tries to remember the feeling of not loving what you do, and what it means to live a fulfilling and happy life. 

Check out the JuiceHead website (juicehead.ca) for more information and ways to get your hands of some of this delicious juice! He is launching soon and has a great promo on an 18- pack for home delivery.

Also thank you to Carley Schleck the owner of Urban Element for letting us use her wonderful kitchen space for the photoshoot. They provide cooking classes, corporate team building and private events, catering for weddings, as well as culinary consulting. To learn more check out their website theurbanelement.ca

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