Prove your humanity

Grok Magazine sits down with Mushy, a third-year student who’s currently finishing up her major in Creative Writing, as we begin to learn more about her occupation as a tattoo artist, as well as her other ambitions within the creative arts field. 

For starters, we ask Mushy about when she first decided to become a tattoo artist. “I’ve always wanted to do it, as I would often draw on my friends during maths class in high school, but I didn’t really pursue it until my first semester at Curtin University.” Having said this, she informs us that during her gap-year, she initially planned to hand her portfolio into as many studios as she could, but was immediately hired as an apprentice after her first attempt. “I was prepared to shuffle around to find a studio that would take me on, but I got hired straight away at a very reputable studio. It was pretty sweet.”

After learning about the stem of her ambitions, we question Mushy about what inspired her to come up with the pen-name “mushy”. “It kind of derives from my real name, but it also originates from the character Mushu from Mulan. My friends also called me “mush” or “mushy” during high school because of my expressive personality. I tend to cry a lot.” She laughs while reminiscing about the origin of her nickname. “I’m very open about love and emotions, so I’m always telling people about everything I feel. And so, the name “mushy” just makes a lot of sense to me.” 

Our conversation shifts onto the early response Mushy received from her family and friends after telling them that she wanted to become a tattoo artist. “Definitely with parents, it wasn’t great, especially coming from an immigrant family. I had good grades in high school and was getting a lot of scholarships. I was doing extremely well, so for me to do a complete 180 would’ve been quite shocking for them.” Although saddened about her parents’ original response, she understood the reasoning behind their concerns. “Most of my friends thought it was cool and they were happy for me. Plus, when I started to make money, my parents started to feel a bit more assured about my career choice. But I think everyone in my life knew that I was going to do something creative, even if it wasn’t exactly what they wanted for me.” 

In addition to her artistic values, Mushy briefly comments on how tattooing can still be perceived as a taboo – if not, a strong stigma within many cultures and today’s society.

“Even if the taboos are there, I think we’re in a time where attitudes are shifting. I know I don’t exactly fit into the narrow stereotypical idea of what tattooed people or artists look and act like, but through embracing my softness and non-intimidating nature, I’d like to think I can be a part of destigmatising it.”

Image Credit: Mushy

Moving on, we inquire Mushy about the learning process, as well as the qualifications that are required to become a tattoo artist. “Well, you need to know how to draw.” She laughs. “You also need to have a very good work ethic and a certain level of initiative. It’s definitely not for everybody – it’s glamorised in a sense where people often forget that there are both pros and cons. But that goes for any job, really.”

With this being said, she begins to reflect on how she originally romanticised the idea of being a tattoo artist, though it wasn’t until she had actually stepped foot in the industry, that she began to gain knowledge on what sort of tasks the occupation actually involved. 

“As an eighteen year old getting into tattooing, I didn’t have a full grasp on what it would be like until I was there. But you don’t know if you’re truly going to love a job until you try it out.” 

Due to a tattoo artist’s workload being immense, especially when client reschedules are involved, we ask Mushy about whether she finds it hard to balance her career with her studies – and if so, how she manages to achieve such a difficult task. “Yeah, it’s really difficult. Even when I first started tattooing during my gap-year to finish my apprenticeship, it was a constant juggle of time. So it’s very easy to overwork myself.” Acknowledging the obstacles which come with prioritising her work, she describes how she maintains her motivation to keep up with her profession and university assignments. “Since both areas are still in the creative realm, they can still work harmoniously with each other. I’ve definitely prioritised my work over my degree, but if anything, being a tattoo artist has helped me highlight exactly what I want to do with my degree.” 

Our exchange with Mushy gradually shifts onto her major, as we start to question her about the ambitions she has to pursue a course in creative writing. “Although tattooing is my main gig, I have a lot of freedom to be the kind of writer I want to be. I am mostly interested in creative non-fiction and poetry, so I’d like to see where it goes.” As she looks forward to having more time to write after she graduates, we ask her about the type of form she wants her works to take on. “I want to bend genres and see what I can do in terms of melting things together. I would like to incorporate my illustrative works as well, so what it’d look like for me in the future would be zines and poetry collections.” She states. “But I’m not too fussed about what forms I take, whether it be my writing or visual art, as I wouldn’t want to trap myself into being a poet my whole life. I want to choose the form based on what I want to say, and not based on what I know how to do.” 

Image Credit: Mushy

Remaining on the subject of writing, we ask Mushy if she favours any particular genres or authors. “It really depends on what I’m watching or reading, so I don’t really have a preferred genre. But ever since I started doing creative non-fiction at Curtin University, I started to enjoy it quite a bit.” With this being affirmed, she continues to elaborate on how the Experimental Writing unit had increased her love for experimental authors and poets. “I found that young experimental writers like Ocean Vuong really developed my interest in creative non-fiction.” She explains. “There are very valuable things that you can learn from the classics, but I think it’s important that places of education uplift newer voices, particularly POC and queer writers.” 

Nearing the end of our discussion, we inquire Mushy if she perceives herself to be a collaborative writer or an independent writer. “I like sharing my work if I’m proud of it. However, I’m not very good at collaborative work – beyond editing, of course. I’m pretty incapable of working closely with another writer, which is ironic since tattooing is very collaborative.” Having admitted this, she goes on to define the notable contrast between her tattooing and writing. 

“With tattooing, I’m helping other people express themselves. As for writing however, I’m free to express my own emotions. It’s kind of like my own selfish form of expression.” 

Knowing well that authors tend to process criticism in different ways, she also illustrates how she handles feedback outside of university assignments. “I guess everyone finds criticism a little difficult to deal with, so I’d like to think I take it on well. But I actively seek it whenever I can – and if I don’t feel like dealing with it, I don’t want to hear it.” 

Image Credit: Mushy

Reaching the conclusion of our interview, Grok Magazine asks Mushy about whether she has any advice for students who are thinking of pursuing a career as a tattoo artist or a creative writer. 

“Just give it a shot. Understandably, in a world that prioritises progress and set timelines, a lot of overthinking and questioning can get in the way of your dreams, so acting on a whim can work in your favour. The amount of time you spend worrying about it is also the amount of time you could’ve taken to do it. So it doesn’t hurt to try and maybe fuck-up once in a while.” 

If you’re interested in seeing Mushy’s tattoo designs and visual artwork, feel free to check out her Instagram (@mushyneedles).