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46th Anniversary Edition
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Featured Article

Meg McNiel: Traditional Badass

With her bright colors, bold lines and timeless designs, tattoo artist Meg McNiel puts on a master class in old-school ink slinging. We step into her parlor to find out her secret.

Meg McNiel has been cranking out some of the most badass vintage American traditional tattoos for so long now that she’d actually forgotten for several years how she originally discovered the art form. She knew that she’d inked a little moon on herself about 30 years ago and then found a job working as a helper in a tattoo shop a few years later when she was 16, but she couldn’t remember how she’d even had the idea to tattoo herself in the first place. After all, it’s not like she would’ve even seen a ton of tattoos growing up in the outskirts of a small town outside of Seattle in the ’80s.

“I was more interested in the act of tattooing and the process of doing the tattoos than anything,” McNiel recalls. “I don’t remember seeing people with tattoos, and if I did, it didn’t really strike me like ‘Oh that’s rad!’ I actually rented [the 1981 documentary] The Decline of Western Civilization from the library, and I remember watching them do hand-poked tattoos on each other. Then I went home and did a little hand-poked tattoo on my ankle. It’s still there and still rocking.”

meg ncniel
Where eagles dare: A heady example of McNiel’s handiwork.

At the time, she didn’t expect that the documentary about Los Angeles’ punk-rock scene would set her down a career path that would become her life’s journey. But by the time she learned the ins and outs of the industry as a teenager (including how to make needles, which is still a badge of honor about “how things used to be” for many), there was little doubt about the path that her life would take.

“I just wanted my stuff to stand on its own and be badass traditional, and I feel like it took a while to get that.”

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