Near the corner of Pape and Danforth Avenue, there’s a door that leads to a unique tattoo shop that’s almost hidden above a small jewellery store. The stairs from the street are steep and narrow, so naturally I felt anxious. With every step followed a squeak. What lies above is barely visible from the bottom of the stairs, so I had no idea what to expect.
However, once I reached the main floor, the tension faded away. The place is small, but warm and welcoming. Painted in a bright orange colour, the walls are scattered with intricate drawings, prints and paintings—it’s almost like you’re in an art gallery.
Definitive Studios, the business at the top, is the name of this tattoo shop. In business since 2008, the parlour breaks boundaries in the tattoo world with an all-female approach. Though the artists, in their humility, rarely like to admit that they are bringing about any change.
A women-owned and operated tattoo shop is not surprising—and why should it be? As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who sports a tattoo himself) would say, “It’s 2015.”
While they may share a gender, the artists of Definitive Studios are unique in other ways. A dreamer seeking to move into a bigger town, a ranting and defeated artist on social media, a Fine Arts graduate and a body piercing enthusiast—these are the four women who came together, one by one, to form today’s Definitive Studios.
When Monika Mitchell quit her role as a co-owner of a tattoo shop in Port Elgin, she had two goals in mind: to relocate to Toronto and to open a tattoo business here. She moved to the Danforth area and opened the tiny tattoo studio at the age of 31, back in 2008.
She started filling her shop with art—at first, purely for aesthetics, but later on, people saw them as more of an inspiration for what they wanted on their bodies. She also wanted a shop filled with artists who reflected her personality: hard-working, friendly, and, most importantly, approachable.
“I want the people I work with to be open, to be able to get along with everyone. [When] you’re getting [tattooed], it’s intimate, and it’s important to have a close and good connection with your artist,” Mitchell says as she lunched on her Cup Noodles and stared out the windows.
Mitchell never thought she would own and operate an all-women’s business. She started her career as a piercer, but her interests in tattooing motivated her. She became naturally curious and started practicing, and next thing she knows she’s fully engrossed in it.
“It’s just something that happened,” she says. While they don’t face any challenges today, one of Mitchell’s previous clients caught her off guard a few years ago by asking, “Where are all the men who tattoo?”
At first, it was a bit different for [female tattoo artists], but when Kat Von D came out tattooing, people started to open their eyes more, Mitchell noted.
Now people, “don’t really care, they just want a good artist,” Mitchell explained.
Georgia Kristofferson, a pink-haired artist who smiles between every word, was immersed in observation.
Kristofferson, 35, founded the studio after she found herself; she was confused about her goals, dropped out of college and started traveling abroad. After returning to her hometown, Toronto, Kristofferson practiced her art on paper and canvas. Like many artists, she struggled to find a job that paid for her creativity. She took to social media to express her frustration about a world where art is ignored, not taken seriously, and is rarely an employable asset.
Kristofferson’s online frustration was noticed. A mutual friend reached out to Kristofferson on Facebook and introduced her to Mitchell, who almost immediately “took her under her wing” as an apprentice, Kristofferson says. “If you can do what you do on paper on skin, you’ve got the job,” Kristofferson recalls Mitchell saying.
Kristofferson, like all the artists in the studio, started as a piercing apprentice before moving on to tattooing full-time. “I learned a lot by just peering over [Mitchell’s] shoulders,” she said.
The studio’s full-time piercer now, Rosie Mezani joined the place like the other recruits—by chance. Mezani has been heavily pierced since her teenage years. At the age of 18, in 2009, she walked into the shop to get a piercing, but left with a piercing and a piercing job.
When Mezani isn’t at Definitive Studios, she’s studying at York University, she says, “working for that clinical psychology degree.” She sat at a corner table, her books and a Word document open as she munched on a fruit brownie.
Another one of the studio’s artists, Stephanie Smash, is a 25-year-old Fine Arts graduate from the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U). She says she is grateful to have found a job in a field she loves. Before Definitive Studios, she was freelancing as an artist, with no previous experience with tattoos. After Mitchell contacted her through a mutual friend, Smash joined Definitive Studios in 2010 as a tattooing apprentice and later became a tattoo artist.
One of Smash’s clients, Terry Vobanis, has been coming to the studio since 2012, each time with a new Greek-inspired tattoo to have inked onto him.
“I can’t be there [Greece], so that’s why I keep it with me,” Vobanis said when asked on why he chooses to have Greek inspired tattoos on him.
During his visit, he recalled a skydiving trip and talked about his new fiancée while Smash inks him with Greek architecture. “Stephanie is one of my ‘wifey’s’,” Vobanis said, remarking on his admiration for the artist and her work.
The only real problem the studio has faced to date is people coming in right before closing time and demanding impromptu tattoos. Other than that, everything flows as well as the artists do.
The artists adore the vibe of the place and the connections they get to make with their clients because of their professions. They don’t adhere to the typical rule that a professional relationship is the norm—they want you to feel cozy and included.
If you want to learn more about the artists at Definitive Studios and their apprenticeship program, check out our article “Positive Tatt-titudes” in our Spring 2016 issue!
Hello there human! Firstly, thanks so much for reading my work. I’m Sadiah Rahman, a student and freelance journalist-photographer. Feel free to stalk me @sadiah_rahman or on my website: www.sadiahrahman.com.