Ink, medicine and solidarity. Welcome to Montreal's new tattoo studio
Two tattoo artists became their own bosses to carve out a safe space in a white- and male-dominated industry
It's a crisp and quiet day in Montreal's central Plateau neighbourhood, but inside the newest spot in town to get fresh ink, metal tunes are cranked, tattoo guns are buzzing and spirits are in full bloom.
A month after opening their doors, Hawthorn Studio co-owners Lindsay Philomene and Terry Dactel are booking appointments three months in advance.
"The ultimate goal for me was to have my own thing — something that is Black-and-Indigenous owned," says Philomene, who is Black. Like others reconsidering their life path during the last 20 months, Philomene used the pandemic as a pause — and a push — to make a bold change.
Dactel, who is from Wendat Nation, was ready to take the helm. "Although there are a lot of shops that I tattooed in that made others feel safe, I felt like I could go a step above that," she says. "I deserve a safe space ... and so do all my clients."
Philomene, also known to many as Phylo, and Dactel want Hawthorn to be a space that's welcoming to everybody — especially their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour), queer and women clients.
More than skin deep
On this day, their first client is Raquel Paredes. There's a calm expression on Paredes's face as she lays on a collapsible table, a needle repeatedly jabbing her forearm. She's getting a design Philomene created and posted on Instagram — a bird soaring between two stars.
This is Paredes's first time in the new shop — she says she loves the decor — but not her first time trusting Philomene.
"She's super gentle," says Paredes. "She knows how to work with Black and POC skin. We tend to scar or blowout if the ink goes too deep."
A blowout is when the ink hits the fat layer of skin, causing an undesired blurring effect.
Philomene says some ink colours may show up more vibrantly on people with lighter skin tones than people with darker tones.
She recommends a colour skin test for clients who want to find out how colours might appear on their skin. The test involves a small row of dots of different primary colours on a less visible part of the body — like an ankle. Once healed, the results give clients a better idea of which colours they may want to use or avoid.
Being their own boss
Before opening Hawthorn Studio, both Philomene and Dactel bounced from tattoo shop to tattoo shop in Montreal for nearly a decade. They say their experiences ran the gamut from working in what they call "bro culture," — environments, where men felt comfortable making comments about their clients' bodies — to their glory days at an all-women and trans-run studio.
When they met, they bonded as together they unpacked their experiences with discrimination in a largely white- and male-dominated industry.
"Terry was so similar," says Philomene. "Being talked down to all the time, treated unfairly and facing a lot of racism."
One summer day, Philomene knocked on Dactel's door with a big question.
"Hey, you're having a tough time," she recalls saying. "I was thinking, would you like to open a studio with me?"
The proposition was perfect timing for Dactel.
"I had just left another tattoo shop [after] being threatened with violence," Dactel says. She says the threat came after she had called out a colleague's racism. She quit the next day.
"I just don't want to deal with butt heads anymore," Dactel says.
A few weeks after they joined forces, they found a place to rent — and Hawthorn Studio was born.
Tattooing as medicine
Drawings of skulls, porcelain cherubs and enlarged tarot cards hang on the walls at Hawthorn.
In Dactel's corner, a framed piece of some of her tattoo designs stands out. The detailed linework drawings of moccasins, feathers and a broken arrow surround a heart-shaped braid of sweetgrass. In the middle of the heart is the word Yonnonhwe' — which means "I love you" in Wendat.
The majority of Dactel's clients are Indigenous. Some make the 260-kilometre trek from her community of Wendake, located just outside of Quebec City. Other clients come to visit her from nearby communities like Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake.
"A lot of people want to come see me to get Indigenous-style tattooing," says Dactel. "They just trust someone else who is Indigenous."
WATCH | Client explains the first two tattoos Dactel did for her:
As far as Dactel knows, she's the only Indigenous tattooist in the area who works with a machine. But not for long. She currently has two apprentices under her wing — one from Wendake and one from Kahnawake.
"I don't want them to have to go through all the kind of nastiness that this industry comes with," she says. "Tattooing for me is medicine. It's something that's good for your spirit," she stresses.
Dactel says many of her BIPOC clients have felt comfortable enough to tell her about the bad experiences they've had at other studios.
"I know what it's like to feel socially uncomfortable in a tattoo space, and I've heard how ... uncomfortable people have felt," she says.
Dactel says creating art for her community gives her purpose. "It means the world to me," she says.
'A sacred place'
Quietly tidying her area later in the day, Philomene softly chuckles as Dactel cracks dad jokes every few minutes. While the duo's personalities and esthetic styles are somewhat opposites, they share a vision.
"We just want to bring as much healing, as much comfort as we can into the tattoo space. The tattoo studio is a sacred place," says Philomene.
"We want to show to other women and other people of colour that you can be in this space, you can be in tattooing and you can have your own thing — and you can make it happen."
WATCH | Philomene (Phylo) and Dactel talk about their new business on Our Montreal:
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from Our Montreal