interview: tattoo artist miya bailey wants you to color outside the lines (just don’t be cheap!)

October 28, 2013

A little over 10 years ago, a young Miya Bailey embarked on what would become a long and illustrious career within the tattoo industry. Miya and longtime friend Tuki Carter transformed an old abandoned building into a thriving staple of Atlanta culture. City Of Ink is not just a tattoo start. Art seeps from its pores through every possible medium and it continues to take fresh, undiscovered talents and make them household names. Last year, Miya Bailey released his film Color Outside The Lines, which shed light on the tattooing culture nationwide, to wide acclaim.
Miya talks to AFROPUNK about his recently released deleted scene from the movie, cheap tattoos and Paper Frank’s popular bunny rabbit.

Interview by Ayara Pommells, AFROPUNK Contributor

In the deleted scene of Color Outside The Lines which focused on Black Women and Tattoo Culture, they spoke in depth about a lot of the perceptions which people make about black women who are tatted up. Sexuality seemed to be the main misconception. How do you think those perceptions came about?

You know what? To be honest with you I really don’t keep up with people outside of the tattoo culture. [Laughs] So I really don’t know why they think that. I kind of stay in the tattoo culture so I really don’t understand it. I think a lot of times when people stereotype it’s the work quality.  That’s just my point of view. Anytime I personally see a woman with cheap tattoos. Like, it’s more the ratchet stuff.  When I see a woman walking around with a Louis bag or a Gucci bag or something like that and I see a cheap tattoo, it just seems like they put their priority a little backwards. All these stereotypes, I would probably challenge their intelligence a little bit. Maybe they just don’t know that there are good artists out there that can do good quality work or they just don’t care. I don’t know. I don’t know why someone would spend more money on clothes than they do on their own body. I don’t get that part. When I see a woman with beautiful work, I think it’s sexy. I don’t think its masculine. I never think of tattoos as masculine unless it’s really cheaply done. Like when you see people walking around with like, jailhouse tattoos or some really cheap looking tattoos… that’d be kind of masculine. Men really don’t care about the looks and quality as much as a woman.  That’s the only thing I can think of in regards to stereotypes. Usually it’s more of a ratchetness. [Laughs]

The tattoo culture used to be a kind of a male dominated subculture. Now it seems to be becoming more and more mainstream and I’m seeing a lot of women equally as engrossed in the culture. Is it still a male dominated industry?

On the business level, it’s a more male dominated. There’s more male tattoo artists. There’s more males owning tattoo shops than women. I think it’s a more male dominated industry. When it comes to tattooing, usually women get larger pieces and spend more money than males do. When it comes to the consumer side of it, women right now are really killing men and spending money. The majority of business is mostly women right now spending money and not men. With us. At least with us. I can’t speak for other shops. Women are getting larger pieces. Are getting more elaborate pieces than men are right now. I guess women are more in touch with the earth and the art more so when they do get a tattoo, they go all out. Women will sit longer and get bigger pieces than men because their pain tolerance is way different than ours. So the majority of the time, women get sleeves. You know? Sleeve work and full color pieces. A lot of time you get the ribs all the way down to the legs. Especially in Atlanta. The strip culture is really big so the strippers really help us a lot. They are like, our billboards. We do our best work on the dancers because we know everybody’s is gonna see it on their bodies, men and women.  There needs to be more women tattoo artists and more women shop owners. Definitely needs to be more of that. I would love to see more women shop owners, just to see how the tattoo industry changes.

Do you think they don’t (especially black women) because of some of the perceptions about them being in that environment? Do you think the stereotypes might be what is keeping them away?

I don’t know what today’s stereotypes are because I can into the tattooing industry in the early 90’s. I’ve seen the same stereotypes were in the 90’s. I’m only engulfed in the tattooing culture. City Of Ink is more high class. We are the highest class of art; you know what I’m saying? We’ve got some of the best work so we really don’t have like a negative feedback for us. With us, it’s a good thing to come to us. The tattooing industry as a whole? We’re still in the middle, especially the black community. We’re still in the middle. We’ve got a lot of good black tattoo artists that’s doing beautiful work but we are outnumbered by people who skip apprenticeships and thinking they have got enough talent to tattoo on their own which kind of stereotypes us all to a certain point. If one black person skips an apprenticeship, think he’s talented and does a tattoo and kind of puts us all in a position. That saying “one bad apples spoils the bunch type of thing. We’ve still gotta go through that. If we want to get accepted by the whole entire tattoo industry, if we care about being accepted in the tattoo industry then they are going to stereotype you, being black period. If we don’t care and just focus on the positives and just don’t worry about the stereotypes and just try and break through as many as possible for your own people. I don’t really keep up with [that]. I know what City of Ink is doing and I know that we’ve broken most of the stereotypes in tattooing already.

The full body tattoos women get with their breasts and other intimate parts of their bodies being covered with ink; does this not take away from their femininity slightly?

I’m a artist so when I look at it, I’m looking at it the same way you’d look at a Basquiat or a Picasso. The quality of the work. That’s what makes it sexy to me. It could be on her breast or on a private part, if she spent $1000 on that tattoo it’s gonna be beautiful. Regardless of what. To me it’s the quality of the work. It’s sexy when it’s done right. It’s more sexy and it’s more feminine because you know it’s done right. I don’t mind it. I just don’t want to see a woman with a bunch of cheap tattoos all over her body that’s makes people think she doesn’t take care of her coochie or something. [Laughs]  It’s pretty gross. It’s about the quality of the artwork and the subject of the artwork. If she’s got letters down there, you know… something stupid, yeah that takes away from it. But if it’s beautiful… you can’t deny beauty. You can’t deny beauty period. I always tell my artists, most people do stereotypical tattoos and you may not like it. Make sure that you do artwork that don’t look like a tattoo. Make sure it looks like some kind of art so that somebody that’s not into tattooing can see it and still appreciate the quality and the beauty of it. A lot of people [say] they can’t show tattoos in the workplace now in America. That’s not true. That’s not true at all. They don’t wanna see bad tattoos. They don’t wanna see bad, ugly tattoos. I guarantee that if you come in there with a $5000 sleeve and it’s beautiful, how do you argue beauty? There’s doctors and lawyers and they’ve got high quality work. People are not dumb. They can visually see good work versus bad work. You don’t have to be an artist to see what’s beautiful and what’s ugly.

Face tattoos have become a recent trend. Which trends have you seen come and go?

I’ve seen Celtic knot work go away. I’ve seen name tattoos go away. I’ve seen tribal tattoos go away. I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. A lot of things stay there forever.

Which kind of tattoos are timeless?

Anytime you do anything Japanese related. Anything Japanese and African related, it seems like they’ll never go away. Anything culture related, never seems to fade away. Early 90’s, I was tryna introduce a lot of African symbolisms in tattooing. It stayed around. I didn’t think it would catch on, period ‘cause everybody was into the Japanese thing.  Everybody wanted dragons [and stuff]. I was like, imagine incorporating animals into everything. Instead of using a dragon, using a zebra. Anything culture related seems like it stays.  Smaller tattoos seem to fade out. Back in the day I used to do a lot of smaller tattoos and now, I haven’t done a small tattoo in at least the last 10 years maybe. It seems like small pieces are done. Everybody wants to get sleeve art and they get big pieces now.

City Of Ink as a whole seem to create a lot of breakout ‘stars’. You have Corey Davis of Mach Five. Tuki Carter who’s touring international. Paper Frank… It seems to be after coming and growing with City Of Ink that members of your team branch out. What is it about that environment?

I think it’s love man. Honestly. I don’t wanna sound cliché but it wasn’t about money when we opened City Of Ink up. When we built City Of Ink we had like, $300. It was basically off love and pulling resources together. We pooled our minds and our talents to make sure that this was a hub for everything because we didn’t want City Of Ink to be just a tattoo shop. City Of Ink is separate from the tattoo shop. We are all creatives and so everything. Skin just happens to be one of the mediums we have to work on. Tuki was the guy connected to everybody in the tattoo industry. He tattooed a lot of rappers. He’s always in the clubs and in that scene. Corey at the time was a young college student so he had a grasp to the college scene. All the art schools in Atlanta, he got the younger artists that were unknown that we could do shows with. We wanted to do art shows but we wanted to do them consistently. That’s what really got us on the map, doing these art shows once a month and finding young talent coming out. The things about Paper Frank is was ambition. Paper Frank knew how to line himself up with artists he needed to line himself up with and people who he needed to do business with. Paper Frank was our baby boy. So me, Corey, Tuki, everybody – we just made sure that he was around the right people. Certain things that we made mistakes on when we was his age, we made sure that he didn’t make the same mistakes. When me and Tuki came up, we didn’t have any OG’s giving us advice like that. So, anything we learnt, we had to create on our own. We had to start a whole culture. City Of Ink changed the culture of Atlanta. Everybody was into this street thing. Makin’ it rain in the strip clubs. It alienated so much of Atlanta that everybody couldn’t afford to do that. So we tried to do things that anybody could afford and showed people that you can make money with zero capital and Atlanta supported us. I give full credit to Atlanta just because Atlanta supported us. DC also. DC was a favorite city that kept us out there. Because when we wanted to change Atlanta, Atlanta didn’t want to change at first. We had to go to cities like DC and Baltimore and New York just to help us out, make that money so we can change Atlanta. We had to go on the road to make money and come back to Atlanta and try and make it happen.  It was interesting. I think the stars lined up for City Of Ink.  It was an abandoned building. We took the building and took time. We took our own money and it was the right time the right place. It’s like a hub of ingenuity and creativity.

Will there be a Color Outside the Lines 2?

Um. Right now Color Outside The lines, the movie said it all. It reached on every subject we could touch except for the female thing that’s out. We edited scene, we couldn’t make it that long so we took that part out but we still released it for people to watch it. I don’t know if there’ll be another one unless there’s a major shift and change. Right now the tattooing in the urban community is stagnant. There’s not a lot of artists bringing in their own style. I think the net documentary is going to focus on more art as a whole. Maybe follow the path of Paper Frank. He’s only turning 23 next week and he’s already pushing envelopes and he studied and he understood that you’ve gotta play with different styles. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s got the people behind his back because he’s good to the people. That’s all he is. He stays humble. The more humble you be, the more cash you can make because people want to spend money with you. They wanna see you make it. They wanna see you do it. I would do one on Paper Frank and other artists. Not just Paper Frank by himself. He’d be the main focus because he’s got so much of our attention right now that if we used Paper Frank as the focus on film, and we used other young artists it would open the floodgates up to other artists too.

Where did the bunny rabbit come from?

[Laughs] The bunny rabbit came from us watching Gummo. Remember the movie Belly? The guy had the bunny outfit on. They act like they shot him? That’s the bunny rabbit. The bunny rabbit was cool, He didn’t speak much in the movie but he was the only one getting’ pu**y and the only one skateboarding and smokin’ cigarettes. He was cool. The bunny rabbit character, I think that was probably his influence on that. I used the bunny rabbit a lot in my earlier work. I think Gummo was probably the inspiration. I don’t know. I never asked Frank that. We’ve all used bunny ears in our work. Over years, I’ve used them since high school. I just stopped using them when Frank started using them because it started to make him popular.[Laughs] Now when I do bunny ears, everybody’s like “Man. You look like Paper Frank”. [Laughs]But I love that, man. I love that.

What would be your number one piece of advice to somebody considering getting inked for the first time?

My number one thing is Don’t Be Cheap! Don’t be cheap. That’s my number one advice man. Do research on the tattoo artist. Do research. If an artist is good, you can easily Google his name, do a search and get his whole career. Don’t be lazy. Type in the name and do research on this artist before you get a tattoo off him. Make sure the shop and the artist are respected. When you get somebody to do a tattoo on your body, make sure you know the history of this person. You don’t want to go to get a tattoo and then you’re sitting there and the energy is all wrong and everything’s bad. A lot of people want lettering done, but then you go to a portrait artist… Think about it. There’s a tattoo artists, a tattooer and a scratcher. If you’ve got the design already made, go to a tattooer. If you want some artwork, go to a tattoo artist. It’s weird that people come to the shop and go to the guy who does lettering to ask him to do a portrait for mama.  [Laughs] You aint seen him do no portrait before. Why would you want him to do a portrait on you? You’ve got to do your research and know that the artist can do the type of work you want him to do on you. And you can’t be cheap. Don’t be cheap.

Follow on Twitter @MiyaBailey & @CityOfInk

* Ayara Pommells is Owner of UK website and a music writer for, & as well as an entertainment writer for Kontrol Magazine. Follow @YahYahNah.