Tattooist Melanie Steinway has a strong connection to nature which is evident in her work.
With a background in wood-burning, her skills in ‘marking’ nature inspired her to begin marking humans instead. Her love for tattooing was born.
She’s only been creating tattoos for three years and in that time her style has developed into something raw, evocative and truly unique.
BR: Do you want to introduce yourself to our readers?
MS: My name is Melanie Steinway and I am a 26-year-old visual artist, musician and mountain child. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where I spent a lot of my young years in the mountains and wilderness, having mystical run-ins with herds of deer and getting lost exploring the pine forests.
I’ve been fascinated by animals since I was little and grew up with a wide variety of pets.
My artwork has always focused on the natural world and I’ve been drawing from a very young age. I left Colorado to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 2012 with a BFA in Illustration.
During my time in school I explored a variety of mediums, including print-making, wood-burning, and animation, all the while my work continued to focus on animals and nature.
After school I lived briefly in New York City before returning to Colorado. For several years I focused on wood-burning as my primary medium, creating fine art pieces as well as burning on musical instruments.
I think wood-burning became the gateway to tattooing because they’re both very permanent processes, and my acclimation to the wood-burning tool made transitioning to a tattoo machine easier.
I started tattooing in 2014 in Denver at Urban Element Tattoo, where I still work now.
BR: What are your inspirations when creating and designing tattoos?
MS: My inspiration behind my tattoos follows in line with the rest of my artwork that focuses on plants and animals. To me there’s an elusive purity in the natural world that seems to grow farther and farther away as we wipe out species and fragile environments.
I like to remind people of the fragile beauty we’re slowly eliminating from the earth. We need to take responsibility as the dominant species to preserve and respect the rest of life, and we can learn so much from observing species that are not our own. Animals remind me to be patient, or determined, or empathetic.
I recently started volunteering at an organisation that uses birds of prey that have been injured and are unable to survive in the wild to help educate people about these beautiful creatures.
As a musician, I find the inherent movement in music also very inspiring in my work. I think my interest in music has gradually pushed my work away from being heavily representational towards a more symbolic, stylised, geometric direction.
The first abstract tattoo I did was on a good friend who is a cellist, and I feel that his tattoo relates heavily to his instrument, almost as if it was an extension of the bow and the sound it creates.
I’m fascinated with the synesthetic visualisation of music and have started creating more abstract fine-art works following the recent break of my dominant wrist, which forced me to make artwork in a way I never had before.
BR: Why do you love creating work on the skin?
MS: Tattooing is endlessly humbling in its level of intimacy and trust. I work every day with strangers who are trusting me with their skin and accepting my artwork onto their bodies. This ink talisman becomes eternal to an individual, and is simultaneously fleeting, because the piece also passes away with the person.
I love hearing people stories and inspirations behind their tattoos, and I oftentimes simply feel like a visual translator, giving a story or concept a body and a soul. So many clients have beautiful stories to tell and wonderful messages that they want to carry with them.
Visual art in the past often felt like an isolating experience, shutting myself in a room for hours on end with paper or paint or wood, to come out the other end with something beautiful but independent. Tattooing has become a ritualistic and sacred exchange between two individuals, and I love my profession for that.
BR: What are some of your plans for the future?
MS: I would love to do more travelling as a tattoo artist in the future. I’ve currently only tattooed in North Carolina outside of Colorado, but everywhere you go there are things to learn from other tattooers and wonderful people to meet. I’ve always loved traveling and being a tattoo artist is the perfect opportunity to see new places and bring my craft with me.
I would also like to further explore the abstract side of my work, which is a more recent development. I think there is a quiet beauty and liberation to the non-representation of my abstract pieces. It’s not trying to be anything, it simply is what it is.
The painted style of my abstract work also brings me back to my fine art background, and I oftentimes will paint directly on the client to plan the piece out. It’s been a really enjoyable process for me and I look forward to doing more work in that direction or integrating it with my natural world influences.
Explore more about the artist on her website.
Words: Melanie Steinway
Intro: Beccy Rimmer
Photos: Melanie Steinway
Categories: Tattoo Artists and Art