Meet Jenna Bouma, a preeminent pioneer in the modern revival of handpoked tattoos who travels the world sharing her singular style that includes bold and most often times, feminine, imagery. Hailing from our hometown of Edmonton, we couldn't be more excited to learn more about her art, what inspires her, why she prefers handpoking vs. electrical tattooing, and how she tries to integrate sustainability into her work and everyday life.
Who is Jenna Bouma?
That is a tough question for me to wrap my head around, so I suppose the most straight forward way of answering that question is to say that I'm a 28 years old and from Canada. Im a tattooer who works non electrically, and has done so for the last 10 years in various cities.
When did you first know that you wanted to become at tattoo artist? How has your tattooing style changed since you started?
I wasnt sure I wanted to be a tattooer until I actually did my first and felt absolutely enamored by the process and satisfaction. Then I knew. I was 18 and tattooed my friends Colin and Chad with matching straightedge tattoos, followed by a Minor Threat sheep on my friend Mallory's foot. I was always artistic since childhood, but shifting the medium into unknown territory was extremely thrilling, especially since there had to be consent and a mutual understanding of what myself and my friends were going through. Whatever I marked on them would stay throughout their lifetime, and that fact alone broke the barrier of what any other art form could give me in terms of fulfillment. It became a humbling and exploratory time while also falling into the stick n poke stereotype of being punk and dirty. I tried to distance myself from that as I became more serious about what I was creating- but that's another story. As for style- Its always maintained a level of simplicity because of the method. I never wanted to do anything hyper realistic or super colorful- just simple and strong. Ive always drawn and tattooed figures of women in various poses, animals, plants, and other inanimate objects, however they used to be very very bold. Ive since scaled back and added a little bit more substance to the pieces.
What is your first tattoo, last tattoo, and favorite tattoo? (On yourself!)
First tattoo was on my back. It's a woodengraving by Barthelemy Aneau that I have since lasered off to make way for a back piece. My last tattoo was a Kitsune mask made by Ichibay at Three Tides in Tokyo, and my favorite tattoo is probably the dagger heart I have from Johnny Dollar on my forearm.
What or who influences your work?
Japanese Ukiyo-e for one. The craftsmanship involved in the whole process of creating the final print is inspiring. The imagery as well. Ive always been influenced by vintage advertisements- cigarettes, alcohol, clothing. I also feel excited to create when I'm around people or friends who do just that- create relentlessly, with a passion to stay busy and artistic. Obviously there are a number of tattooers, alive and dead who also play a big role as well, but I don't need to name names.
Can you describe your personal style?
For what I wear- Simple and functional. Good quality. Usually black with some color.
How has your attitude towards fashion changed as you’ve aged?
It's grown up. As a kid I was a tomboy, and as a young adult I wore jeans and band t-shirts. I still like that combo, but living in New York and traveling piqued my curiosity in brands like Acne, Winfred free and APC. Ive been traveling for the last 7 months, which means Ive also been living out a suitcase for the last 7 months. I only own the things Ill wear all of the time, which means I don't indulge in fashion very often at all. The positive from this is that I need things that last and that make me feel good.
How are you sustainable in your day to day life?
Big question. As a tattooer this is something that weighs on my mind, because we all go through loads of nitrile and latex gloves, paper towels, and other things. I'm still figuring out how to be more sustainable in my work realm, but in my personal life its simple things- I travel with a bamboo straw, I bring a bag with me usually wherever I go, I try not to order take away to avoid plastic and unnecessary trash, and I try to avoid buying products covered in plastic. These are small steps- but they're something. There's a woman in New York named Stevie who really has inspired me to seek more sustainable alternatives. Check her out.
Can you name some other tattoo artists you admire?
Sure can. Bunshin Horitoshi, Ichibay, Tamara Santibanez, Rose Whittaker, Guy le Tatooer, Victor J Webster and various others.
Best or worst advice ever given?
Best- You're your own worst critic.
Any podcasts or songs you are you currently listening to?
Was actually listening to the Podcast "Books Closed" that Andrew Stortz put out. The last episode was with Steve Byrne and it was great. Go listen.
Favorite show to binge on Netflix at the moment?
Nothing at the moment, but usually when I'm not traveling I love The Office and House of Cards, granted- I can no longer look at Kevin Spacey the same.
What’s your favorite city to travel to?
I love Tokyo, I love Florence, I love New York, I love Vancouver, I love Hong Kong.
Where are you currently, and where are you going next?
I am currently in Malmö Sweden, heading to Oslo on Monday.
Why do you choose to hand poke tattoos rather than typical electric tattooing?
It's quite a close and personal experience for both parties, and I do enjoy that aspect. It's a touch slower, it's nearly void of sound, and the manual aspect of creating something without the aid of electricity introduces an air of calm. I would like to think that people enter a different state of sensory realization, where the tolerance of pain is quietly studied and experienced in an inquisitive manner, while the sensation of a strangers touch is willfully accepted as the comforting side of the two. I love that there's a primitive quality to this form of tattooing because It's how people began tattooing, and even though its modern times, it still feels special and right for me to continue tattooing this way.
What is one of the most common misconceptions about non electric tattooing that you often hear?
There are three main ones- how painful it'll be, how long it'll take, and how long it'll last. The answers- it usually doesn't hurt much, it usually doesn't take long unless you want a lot of black, and it'll last for as long as you live.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I'm renewing my visa with the intent of working in the US again part time, while still traveling a great deal. Ill be in Europe for another 2 months and then back to North America. Seeya then!