Grey Fitzgerald, 26, had just graduated from law school and completed her bar exam. She had one month in between finishing school and starting at her first major law firm where she began to think about her career in law and if it was what she was truly passionate about. At this time, Fitzgerald began to pursue the one thing she always loved: tattooing.
She knew that being a tattoo artist was a career she always wanted, but that doing so was difficult. Because of this, Fitzgerald put law school first. In March of 2022, she reflected on what she truly wanted to do in life.
“The pandemic really forced me to reflect on my path, and that’s when I started becoming disillusioned by my lawyer ambitions,” Fitzgerald said.
Now, she works independently out of a private studio, Ritual Aesthetics, located in Wicker Park. She practices hand poke tattooing, meaning she tattoos without a machine, and specializes in fine line and dotwork tattoos, primarily in black and gray ink.
“The main form of art I did prior to tattooing was pointillism – realism pieces using pen and paper – so hand poking felt the most intuitive for me,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d like to eventually incorporate some machine tattooing in the future, but I am currently focused on pushing the bounds of what hand poked tattoos can be.”
Fitzgerald says there have been several obstacles in entering the tattoo industry, one being the lack of inclusion of women and people of color. According to Zippia, as of 2022 only 25% of tattoo artists are women and 41% are people of color.
Additionally, making the switch from corporate law to tattooing was not a smooth transition.
“I am completely self-taught and had no formal training. I also didn’t have any connections within the tattooing community,” Fitzgerald said. “I was going into this profession completely blind, so the transition was incredibly emotionally taxing.”
Despite these obstacles, Fitzgerald says that business has been surprisingly good.
“I’m still shocked at how much support I’ve received just through things like word-of-mouth and Instagram.” Fitzgerald said.
As a small business, Fitzgerald says that she “focuses on the human aspect of the craft,” seeing her work as more of an art form than a business.
“My number one priority is making sure every client feels safe and comfortable with communicating their needs and preferences,” Fitzgerald said.
Client Emma Harris, 20, chose to get her first tattoos done by Fitzgerald: a “444” on one arm and the Virgo constellation on the other.
“It felt very approachable, not scary or artist centered like other [artists] might be,” Harris said. “Just felt like getting a tattoo from a friend.”
Located in Wicker Park, Fitzgerald is based in a neighborhood full of various small businesses.
Luke Scaletta, the community engagement coordinator at the Wicker Park-Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes the importance of small businesses like Fitzgerald’s.
“Chicago is so wonderful because each neighborhood is so distinct in its own way, and I think that small businesses are a very major backbone to that uniqueness,” Scaletta said.
Fitzgerald is entering a crowded field of tattoo businesses, with an estimated 20 other businesses in the Wicker Park area alone. However, Scaletta points out that despite the high numbers, no two businesses are the same.
“It goes without saying that everyone’s different. Everyone’s got a different mission and different mentality behind the work that they do,” Scaletta said. “Just because it looks on paper like there are five coffee shops within a two-block radius doesn’t mean that they’re the same whatsoever.”
Despite her success, Fitzgerald says that operating a business remains stressful.
“Although I’ve gotten to a place where I can sustain myself with this job, self-employment is always scary,” Fitzgerald said. “Life is uncertain and unpredictable, and I never know how my next month will look.”