Making Their Mark From Nursing to Life Abroad, Artists Take Winding Roads to Careers at Carmel Tattoo Gallery • Current Editions

By Marissa Johnson

Today, tattoos are often considered works of art. But even ten years ago, that wasn’t always the case.

“In Indiana, I only knew people with biker tattoos. I hadn’t really thought of it as an art form,” Grace Enstrom said. “I still remember someone in art class saying, ‘I’ll be a tattoo artist when I grow up’ and not getting it.”

Grace Enstrom is working on a drawing. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

But now, Enstrom works at Forever Gallery Tattoo as one of the few female tattoo artists in Carmel.

Like Enstrom, Kayla Taylor never considered tattooing a career.

“I was so focused on what other people told me that it would be a good job,” Taylor said. “But the longer I’m here, the more it seems like it was bound to happen.”

Her experience as a registered nurse for nine years has served her well in the transition to becoming a full-time tattoo artist over the past two years, also at Forever Gallery.

“I worked postpartum for six years and now I’m there once or twice a month,” Taylor said. “The balance is different, but it’s very good.”

Enstrom worked as a tattoo artist for seven years at a variety of local shops, but it was across the pond that she was bitten by the “tattoo bug.” Originally planning to be an art teacher, Enstrom spent eight weeks teaching students in Ireland, returning shortly after graduating from Indiana University to live there for five years.

“I saw so many people there with sleeves full (of tattoos), beautiful artwork, things I just hadn’t seen before,” Enstrom said.

While working as a mural artist, she was inspired to look into a tattoo apprenticeship, which she thought might be cheaper or even free in Indiana.

However, getting started as a tattoo artist comes at a price.

“I’ve been to about seven different stores,” Enstrom said. “And the first ones were nightmares. I was definitely the only woman in any store for a long time.

Kayla Taylor is working on a tattoo. (Photos by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

She dealt with sketchy store owners, harassment and uncomfortable customer situations for years, but eventually found a good footing at Broad Ripple. Then came his desire to learn more about color work and advanced theory elsewhere. Forever Gallery offered Enstrom a temporary location while she waited for an open store space, but she loved her position in Carmel so much that it became permanent in October 2021.

Finding a home at Forever Gallery Tattoo, located in downtown Carmel and co-owned by Michael Hockman and Matt Carrel, made a big difference for both artists.

“I really enjoy communicating with patients, but right now it’s hard to be in healthcare,” Taylor said.

Carrel was a family friend who encouraged Taylor to take up tattooing, so after the shop opened in 2020, she took the plunge and started an apprenticeship.

“Now I’m home at better times and can spend more time with my family,” Taylor said. “When I have to work from home, it’s something I can incorporate into family time, like drawing with my daughter.”

For Enstrom, finding a clean, well-designed store that doesn’t treat her like a receptionist or maid (an attitude she’s often encountered in male-dominated stores) has made Forever Gallery an amazing place to work.

“My parents walked into the store and said, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful, we’re so proud of you,’ and that feels really good,” Enstrom said.

Now women in Carmel looking to get a tattoo can always find a friendly female face at Forever Gallery.

“I love being a safe space for women,” Enstrom said.

Learn more about

Grace Enstrom’s Tattoos. (Photos courtesy of Grace Enstrom)

Grace Enstrom’s Tattoos. (Photos courtesy of Grace Enstrom)

Kayla Taylor Tattoos. (Photos courtesy of Kayla Taylor)

Kayla Taylor Tattoos. (Photos courtesy of Kayla Taylor)

Become a tattoo artist

If you’re looking to become a tattoo artist, Kayla Taylor has simple advice: “Do it! Don’t feed the ‘what ifs’ because if you want to, it can happen.

Grace Enstrom has her own recommendations.

“For someone trying to get into the industry, go get tattooed by as many good artists as you can,” she said. “If you find a place you really like, go there and offer to do some support work – that’s the easiest way to get in.”

Although the job isn’t always easy, Taylor and Enstrom are passionate about their work.

“One of my favorite things is when someone comes up to me and says, ‘I hate that thing about my body and I want something beautiful instead,'” Enstrom said. “Especially for people with anxiety, depression or body dysmorphia, tattooing can be really therapeutic.”