Tattoo legends maintain a special brand of friendship
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) — Judy Parker and Sharon Brouse have known each other for a very long time, about 30 years according to Parker. The two travel together and refer to each other as “my sister from another mister.” Together they seem like old souls who aren’t really too far away from each other, whether they are miles apart or standing next to each other.
Parker and Brouse are not only connected through their friendship. They also have one very important thing in common: they together have paved the way for women in the tattoo industry.
The two legends were at this year’s fifth annual Inkfest 2018 Tattoo and Arts Convention in Rock Springs. Brouse said this particular convention is the one where she and Parker “really have fun.”
“I just like it here,” Brouse said. “It’s my people, you know, my tribe.”
Parker and Brouse have collectively been tattooing for about 70 years — 30 years for Brouse and 40 for Parker, who deadpanned, “And I’m only 29. It’s the weirdest thing.”
Parker, who has a number of monikers such as Judy “Jackhammer” Parker or “The General,” got her start in the tattoo business when she was living in Juneau, Alaska. One night between 2-4 a.m. she was walking around in the cold when she passed by the only place that was open at that hour — a tattoo parlor. A woman was getting a phoenix tattooed on her chest and the man doing the work waved Parker in out of the cold.
“He asked to see my portfolio,” Parker remembers. “I was young and didn’t know about these things. I didn’t know I was applying for a job. He stuck a needle in my hand, and that’s how I got started.”
Brouse lived in California when her interest began, peaked by the Navy and military tattoos she saw in abundance there. She started the learning process with a needle and thread and the simple tattoo called a “Pachuco Cross.”
“Then I became a mother and had to have a straight job,” she said. “I encouraged my husband to tattoo, and when my child turned 10 was when I moved back into tattooing.”
Brouse did not want to learn the art from her husband and instead learned from Pete Stevens in Washington. She said it was watching both Stevens and her husband “that helped create me.”
Both women talk about the many tattoo artists who have paved the way for today’s generation of artists. They say they are blessed to know them and include in their long list of friends and colleagues tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle.
Parker and Brouse remember the early days as tough. Parker said most tattoo artists were men and they did not always make it easy for a woman working in the business.
“It was tough,” she said. “Sometimes a guy would grab at me. I remember making my own needles and equipment. The new kids in this business don’t know what we struggled through.”
Both women now travel extensively, from tattoo convention and workshops to other venues such as Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. They have also travelled overseas. Brouse said she was particularly excited to visit the Philippines.
“This little tattoo machine has taken us throughout the world,” she said and laughed.
“I’m a traveled woman. I’ve tattooed all over the world,” Parker added. “Life is short. You have to get about when you can.”
Parker’s studio is in San Diego, California. This seems appropriate for the tattoo artist whose work is largely inspired by the sea. Parker is most well-known for her depictions of sea life and scenery.
Brouse said she likes realism. However, her most important work can be found in an odd place — her knee. On and around her right knee is an impressive grouping of tattooed names. Found here are the famous and not-so-famous, all the people that in some way have made their impression on Brouse during her career.
Brouse describes Parker’s artwork as “the most pilfered” in the industry. She said she will see a tattoo or a sketch and know that it came from Parker. Many people will call Parker up and request a sketch and Parker will whip it out in no time.
“She’s faster than a copy machine,” Brouse said of Parker’s artistic ability.
Brouse is not the only person to speak highly about Parker’s artistic prowess. World-renown tattoo artist Jack Rudy once said Parker would be the only person to survive if ever tattooing disappeared, “due to her graphic arts skills.”
Information from: Rock Springs (Wyo.) Rocket-Miner, http://www.rocketminer.com