As a professional tattoo artist, visual artist and the founder and CEO of the Ladies of Ink tour, Detroit tattoo artist Lorri Thomas has inked her own path to a successful and fulfilling career, but it wasn’t until she visited a tattoo party in the City that she found her passion for tattooing. She takes the “Detroit Performs: Live From Marygrove” stage at the Marygrove Theatre with her client Tara to tattoo a transformation piece that symbolizes personal growth.
Afterward, One Detroit Arts & Culture host Satori Shakoor sits down with Thomas to learn more about the level of trust that’s needed to work with clients on a tattoo, why it’s referred to as ink therapy, and how she connects with her clients deeply to create a uniquely personal product. Plus, Thomas talks about the Ladies of Ink Tour, the first all-Black female tattoo artist tour working to raise awareness and representation of minorities in the tattooing industry.
Satori Shakoor: Welcome, everybody. I’m sitting here with Lorri Thomas, who is a professional tattoo artist. Among other things, what else is it that you do?
Lorri Thomas, Tattoo Artist: I am a visual artist. Been practicing fine arts majority of my life. And I also am the CEO and founder of the Ladies of Ink Tour.
Satori Shakoor: Where did your passion for being a tattoo artist come from?
Lorri Thomas: I actually got into it because I attended a tattoo party in Detroit. And the tattoo artist there. He wasn’t really too much of a great artist, but he actually knew how to follow lines when it came to tattooing. So I started drawing the tattoo I was going to get and tattoos for a friend of mine and more people saw what I was drawing and they wanted me to draw their tattoos.
Lorri Thomas: And that’s how I originally started, you know, wanting to was to take care of myself. And I had a daughter at the time, she was only one, so I just really needed to provide. And I felt like using my natural talent that God gave me his drawing and turned it to a different medium, was the way. But now I do it because I’m helping people.
Satori Shakoor: So Tara came to you as a client and she tells you her story?
Lorri Thomas: Yes.
Satori Shakoor: And out of her story, where did you create?
Lorri Thomas: Tara started off as a client of mine, and we have bonded since then. And now, like, she’s almost like family. So when she told me she wanted a transformation piece, she wanted a piece that represented, you know, healing and transformation. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted yet.
Lorri Thomas: And we literally I literally was thinking, thinking, thinking. And I came up with this design. She did not know what she was getting until today. And because of our conversations prior to like I said, I’ve connected with her and I kind of knew, you know, her story. So I wanted to just show a connection between the heart and the mind and the growth.
Lorri Thomas: So I included her birth flower and it’s like the leaves and vines are like wrapping around the hearts and leading up to the ends coming out the brain. It’s growing out of the brain. So that’s just how I feel, you know, that it would be a great way to show transformation.
Satori Shakoor: What does she think of it?
Lorri Thomas: She loved it. And I was nervous because this is the first time that she has never seen like what she was getting before. So I was like, please, like I prayed on it, meditated like I hope this is what, when she thinks that transformation, I hope this is something that she can look at and say yeah, okay, this is me.
Satori Shakoor: So Tara said that it wasn’t painful to her. It was therapy it was therapeutic for her. And why do you think people endure that pain? And how is it that Tara found it therapeutic?
Lorri Thomas: Well, we call ink therapy as well, because everybody’s not just getting a tattoo just because it looks nice. Some people, there’s very deep meanings behind these tattoos. Like I have tattooed people who have experienced home invasions and have wounds from that. And I’ve had to cover, you know, these wounds up so that they can have a better perspective.
Lorri Thomas: So it kind of helps others. Cancer, you know, patients I work with a lot of those people who just been through death, grief. You know, I actually do a lot of memorial tattoos and stuff. So this kind of helps people with closure sometimes. It just helps people go, you know, kind of go through it and process things. And so it’s therapy for a lot of people. It’s almost a spiritual thing.
Satori Shakoor: And I also heard Tara say at one point that she trusted you. Yes. So how do you create that off the bat?
Lorri Thomas: I set a class through email. They usually book a consultation and that’s when we can meet and talk face to face and that’s when they can tell me their story. The reason behind the tattoo and energy is everything. And as long as you’re willing to listen, people are going to trust you.
Lorri Thomas: They’ve seen my work for the majority, so they already know that I’m skillful and I’m capable of doing a great tattoo, but I just want to kind of connect with them. So I’m not just putting anything on their body. I’m actually truly giving them something that they are going to walk away with loving and it’s actually going to change their lives.
Satori Shakoor: So you do a custom design for?
Lorri Thomas: Yes, sometimes people will have like reference pictures and stuff and I always tell them like, I won’t do another artist’s work, I can create something similar, but it’s always good to have an idea of what they want.
Satori Shakoor: Is there anything else you want to tell the audience, your website, how they get in contact with you?
Lorri Thomas: My website is www.ladyilltattoos.com. I also have ladiesofink.com. That’s ladies of ink dot com. And we are a tour of all black women and we are from all around the United States and Canada. When I first started the tour five years ago, it was just seven of us and we have grown to 27.
Lorri Thomas: And I’m just excited because our industry is underrepresented when it comes to black women, when it comes to black artists, period. So I’m glad that I’m able to inspire others and I mean inspire. I get emails from people from India, Africa, just because they see what we’re doing and it’s making them want to become tattoo artists.
Satori Shakoor: I completely understand, and maybe even get a tattoo now, what I would feel as your client feeling transformed, but what do you feel in your experience giving them that gift?
Lorri Thomas: It just feels good to know that somebody trusts you that much. Because it’s deep. You’re literally living with this for the rest of your life. And for somebody to say, I trust you with this and to be so transparent, to tell me their deepest stories and why they’re getting it like that’s just everything.
Lorri Thomas: So yeah, it makes me feel wonderful. And that’s exactly why I keep going. And that’s exactly why I feel like God keeps blessing me. I feel like I’m really this is the purpose is my purpose to help people.
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