Today we’d like to introduce you to Brandi Smart.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I guess I started thinking about tattooing at 16, going to metal and punk shows in Tampa/Clearwater area and tattoos were naturally part of the culture. Definitely didn’t think I’d come back to it, but as a profession it made sense to me, even that much later. Fast forward after college(BFA) – I found myself in a good shop called Brass Monkey in Port Richey, and not much later with Ink Fusion, a group that tattooed at comic conventions. I’ve traveled a lot, met all sorts of amazing(good and bad) people, and had some really wild opportunities as a tattooer and painter, it was exactly what I was looking for in life. The last time I moved shops is where I met Malia and Amos Rifkin.
Malia is way more seasoned than I am on the tattooing front- but when we met it turned out we’d both been dealing with the same issues as tattooers, and as women. With all the fun things this career offers-it doesn’t have a 401k, no health insurance, no retirement plan, overworked- we both were tired of giving other people our money(or worse, the possibility they pull it out from under us on a whim). We refused to (literally)break our backs with no future to show for it, so we sat down with plans to make a place of our own.
When the pandemic shut everything down, we both realized we could still thrive through our art, I continued painting and Malia screen printed and made stained glass- when we got back to tattooing we realized we could do this on our own. We had a realtor who serendipitously found this building after being turned down by so many others- an old historic service station in the heart of the Kirkwood neighborhood (Many of you know it as the “Stryant Building”).
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The many hurdles of permitting in Atlanta for small businesses, especially tattooing. was a heck of a project for us- and probably pretty crazy for us to attempt in a pandemic. I learned a ton before opening the doors of Empire- one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and most rewarding. Without that experience I wouldn’t currently volunteer as one of the Directors in the Kirkwood Business Owner’s Association, or help others by providing resources, to create a more equitable environment for all small businesses.
I consider it serendipitous that we are here because I don’t know how we would’ve done half of what we do in this place if Stryant hadn’t given us a chance with this building. Nowhere else would’ve been enough space. The neighbors of Kirkwood (and all of Atlanta) have always been patrons of the local arts community, and here they can through direct purchase via the boutique and our monthly gallery shows. The initial idea was for Malia and I to have a safe, creative space for ourselves to tattoo and work on our own art, and it became something much bigger than that so I’m just grateful-and all the challenges are just reminders.
I could gripe on all the obstacles that come with being a woman in tattooing, we all know. I can’t speak for all women tattooers either, but I can bet they’ve all dealt with some of the same issues- this place is for all of us, a safe and creative space-and we’re here for you. Stop by and visit, and we’ve still got room for more!
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
For the majority of my tattoo career, I’ve been part of Ink Fusion Empire- A group of tattooers from all over the world who tattoo at comic conventions. We’re licensed by Lucasfilm to tattoo all Star Wars related images, also Marvel. A lot of opportunities have come from that, and I’d say I’m most proud of taking every opportunity as far as I can. I’ve worked in a lot of different mediums and done a few really big projects related to very different things. I was a director for one XPT at the Center for Puppetry Arts a few years back, working with a really awesome crew of people, who believed in my idea (next to opening our space, it might’ve been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, actually). I also worked in collaboration with NASA for a promotional piece for the James Webb Space Telescope (#JWSTArt) that launched in December of last year. That holds a pretty special place for me, as I’ve always loved anything space related, I learned a lot.
Outside of tattooing I am probably known mainly for my paintings of burning buildings, and more recently my night scapes, they’ve been popular and I’m fortunate to sell my work. We have a group show at the end of the year and I’m building up my inventory, and hopefully I’ll have a really exciting collaboration to hang as well! More to come..
How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
You can reach me via email: email@example.com Via Instagram (the most updated social media I have): @smartbranditattoos
If you’re an artist who’s interested in showing your work here in a monthly solo show, contact me via email to receive the application!
More importantly, if you’re a tattoo artist and you read this-if you’re interested in working with us in a relaxed, creative and safe space- you can also contact me for more info!
- Tattoos – $200/1 hour with 1 hour min
- Website: https://thebrandismart.com/paintings/
- Instagram: @smartbranditattoos
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/smartbranditattoos/
- Twitter: @bsmartscoot
- Other: https://www.empireartsgallery.com/
Exterior building image: Exterior photo by David Parham.