Myra Oh, now a resident of Jacksonville, was born in Oakland, California and lived in the Bay Area into her early 20s. At the age of 14, Myra enrolled in courses at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. There she attended classes including figure drawing, fashion design, printmaking, and painting. During Myra’s senior year of high school she attended the Oxbow School, a private single semester arts school located in Napa, California. Myra enrolled in college after high school, with a focus on printmaking, but dropped out before graduating.
During her formative years Myra found herself involved in the punk rock and hardcore community. It was in this community where Myra first discovered her interest in tattoos as an art form. Her interest in tattooing as a profession developed when she was 16 years old. Myra attended tattoo conventions and formed friendships with the artists working at Secret Sidewalk, a shop located in Tracy, California that specialized in black and grey “Chicano style” tattoos. It was at this shop that Myra received her first tattoo when she reached the age of 18.
Myra moved to Jacksonville in May 2007. She began her apprenticeship in July of that same year. Myra’s apprenticeship lasted approximately a year and a half before she started working full-time as a professional tattoo artist. Myra originally worked at Autograf Tattoo with Thomas Asher, where she spent the first four years of her career. Myra now tattoos at Diadem Tattoo in Orange Park alongside Eric Blair, also formerly of Autograf Tattoo.
Myra’s early work was heavily influenced by the founding fathers of traditional American tattooing. It utilized a limited, yet highly effective, color pallet with a strong foundation of black shading. Even in her early work Myra had a knack for laying down crisp sharp lines. Over the years Myra has built upon what she learned through studying the work of tattoo greats and has now ventured in to new territory where she relies more heavily on her own creativity and imagination. One of the most notable characteristics of Myra’s tattoos is the boldness of her line work, which she complements with smooth black and gray shading.
Flowers and tombstones are reoccurring themes in Myra’s work. Myra has a large and always growing client base thanks to online platforms, such as Instagram, where she can post her work for others to view. Myra’s schedule is booked out a month in advance as individuals from around the United States travel to Jacksonville to receive a tattoo from Myra.
10 Questions with Myra Oh
Historically there has been a glass ceiling for women working in the tattoo industry. Within the past decade, however, there has been a noticeable change regarding how female tattoo artists and their work are perceived. What does it personally mean to you to be a working female tattoo artist and part of the driving force behind that change?
It’s not something I think about when I go into work every day or something I thought about when I decided to pursue this career. I had a strong interest in tattooing. It was something I wanted to do, so I did it. I never thought about glass ceilings or that I might be part of a change. I fell in love with the work and focused on that.
You have over 34,000 followers on Instagram. How have you built that following and what role does social media play in your career? What impact has it made in how you interact with both your clients and peers within your industry?
Instagram has helped me build a clientele all over the world. It has opened up travel opportunities for me through connecting me with other artists. I see the work of my peers on a daily basis and find inspiration through their work. I also put my work out there, hopefully inspire others. I use social media as a regularly updated portfolio of my work, and also to notify my clients of any events or projects I am working on.
I don’t really have an explanation of how I built a following, I just posted work I enjoyed doing and people started paying attention.
In the relatively short time you’ve been tattooing you have done a remarkable job of honing your skills as a tattoo artist and the style in which you tattoo. Can you elaborate on how you developed both your skill set and your style?
Early in my career I focused on mimicking and drawing from the work of some of the first great artists in Traditional American tattooing who came long before any of us,Bert Grimm, Ben Corday, Owen Jensen, Sailor Jerry, Amund Dietzel, to name a few. I studied their work closely and would reference back to it often when designing tattoos.
In the last few years however, I have stopped referencing those design so often and have started drawing from my own imagination. I believe this is how I have come to develop my own style, the influence and foundation of Traditional Tattooing, which I gained from spending so much time studying those designs, combined with the way I personally interpret and create images.
How do you mentally prepare yourself when you begin a new project? Do you have any patterns, routines, or rituals?
I set up the supplies in my work space in the same exact layout every time I’m preparing to do a tattoo. I think it’s just my way of making sure I remember all my supplies and keep things in order. I’ve been doing this long enough to know where I like things to sit on my work station. When I’m done with the tattoo, I do every step of the clean up process in the same order, every time.
What tools or apps do you use to help keep your schedule and professional life organized?
I post an appointment form on my website in the beginning of each month to do all my scheduling for the following month. I respond to the forms through email. I prefer email over phone calls because then I have everything in writing and don’t risk forgetting what someone has said. I don’t use any apps for scheduling or organization. I actually keep all my appointments written down in a plain old paper monthly planner.
You sometimes travel for your profession, working at tattoo conventions or guest spots at shops in other cities and states. What impact has travel had on your appreciation of art and culture?
I love visiting artist markets and collecting handmade goods and art from the places I visit. Whether it be local pottery from Austin or the cutest handmade felt succulents from Tokyo, I always find an interesting piece that inspires me. Such pieces also serve as a souvenir of my trip. It’s nice to support people from different cultures that share a common passion for creating.
What have you learned about yourself through your career in the arts?
One thing I’ve learned after all these years is that I will always love producing art, but I will never be completely satisfied with the art I produce. And that’s fine because I think it’s necessary for growth and progression. Every time I finish a project I think about what I could have done better, what I could have done differently, and what I’ll do next time.
What projects are you working on now and are you seeking or presently involved in any collaborations?
Right now, aside from tattooing, I am working mainly on printmaking, specifically relief printing. When I started tattooing it became my main focus over everything else. Within the last year i have started making time to revisit other art mediums that I love. I have always preferred to work on my own so I don’t have plans for any collaborations.
What music do you like to listen to while sketching, painting, or tattooing?
This is my Spotify “work” playlist: Billie Holiday, Etta James, Belle and Sebastian, Duke Ellington, The Arcade Fire, Camera Obscura, Bob and Gene, Ray Charles, The Shangri-Las, The Smiths, Otis Redding, Washed Out, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Modest Mouse, and the list goes on.
What role has community played in your development as a tattoo artist?
I’m very thankful for how great the community has been to me since the beginning of my career. From when I would set up to sell my paintings years ago at Art Walk, to my most recent pop up shop at Bold Bean last June, I can always count on people showing up to support me. I’m grateful for all the people in the community who have allowed me to decorate their skin over the years as I learn and evolve in my work. It’s their trust in me and appreciation of my work that allows me to continue doing what I love.
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