Hours could easily fly by in a conversation with Michael Mahon. Undoubtedly one of the most charismatic individuals we’ve encountered, Mahon has a passion, tenacity, and energy too dynamic for words. The international tattoo artist met with us for a sunny afternoon in Los Feliz where we had the privilege of hearing about her incredible journey.
BLNCD: Where are you from originally?
MM: I’m from Northern Ireland.
BLNCD: How did you end up here?
MM: From Ireland, it’s a long story. I lived in Scotland for ten years, then I moved to Spain. I was in Spain for six years, opened two businesses there. Then fell in love with my partner on Instagram two years ago. She lives here, so it was either she was going to move to Spain, or I was going to move here. It made more sense for me to come here because of her profession.
BLNCD: When did you first become interested in tattoos?
MM: When I lived in Scotland, I was really poor. I worked in a factory. I did 14-hour night shifts. I was a welder, and my co-workers had been there for the past 20 years and I was becoming like them. That’s just not what I wanted. My friends at the time were like, you’re really good at drawing, because I used to draw portraits on the side. I was a pencil realism artists on the side to make extra money. And they were like, listen, if you get the kit, tattoo us. And I did and I got the kit from China and I fucked up my friends. Then I got better equipment. I just started training myself, self-taught everything. And I just started to excel from there. Fell in love with it. Fell in love with the art of it, how I could make people happy. And that’s what really drove me to get out of that fucking job. I’ve been working my balls off ever since. One day I went into the factory, and I just walked back out after the morning meeting. I’m like, fuck this. And by the weekend I got hired in a tattoo shop.I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just walked in and I was like, listen, I’m already an artist at another shop in Edinburgh. Here’s my portfolio that was really from my house and from my spare room. And they were like, this is great. I mean come in and we’ll watch you tattoo. So they had me tattoo the back of a guy’s head and I got the job. And it wasn’t until six months later when I was managing the shop that they realized that I had never even worked in a shop before.
BLNCD: Sometimes you do what you got to do to survive, right?
MM: All those motherfuckers who told me that I was never going to get out of that factory would walk past my shop every day in their every fucking uniform after their 14 hour fucking shifts and I’d be like [waves].
BLNCD: That’s great. It’s funny because there is something that feels similar about welding and tattooing. In both cases you have this dangerous thing in your hands.
MM: Yeah, and it’s a male orientated job. I was the best female welder there. They wanted to send me to fucking Japan to teach the Japanese how to braze copper to brass, and all the other women hated me in the factory because of it. But I was like, I’m going to be the best at whatever I’m going to do. In terms of what I was getting paid, my first day tattooing, I made as much money as I did in maybe two weeks of a factory job.
BLNCD: That’s so refreshing. At the end of the day, if you’re the type of person that wants to achieve excellence, no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to fight to achieve excellence.
MM: Yeah and I’m still doing it. The only way is up.
BLNCD: When did you know that you wanted to open your own shop? Was there a moment where you saw a shop that was poorly run or were you like, you know what? I could do that.
MM: Yeah. Because I worked in a couple of different shops, even ones where I was just an artist. And working alongside other artists, especially tattoo artists, can be very jealous and there’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of ego. Everybody gets paid in cash, so there’s a lot of drug problems. I just thought, I can’t fucking work with these people. I need to be the boss. My shop in Spain is like a sanctuary. It doesn’t even feel like a tattoo shop.
BLNCD: It’s really cool that you’ve achieved excellence in these male dominated fields, both welding and tattooing. Coming up as a young person, was there a female role model or someone who made you fearless in that way?
MM: Yeah, actually I don’t know how people would take this, but actually Christina Aguilera was a role model for me when I was growing up, and I was 15 or 16 realizing that I was gay. I had a gay brother who was older than me, but he was very openly accepted. I wasn’t whatsoever. So her music and lyrics kept me on the path that I wanted to be on, in terms of not backing down to people who were telling me that you need to go to therapy because this is wrong. She was really like, fight for what you believe in. Ultimately, I ran away from home when I was 16. She got the blame for it. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Fucking Christina Aguilera. My mom would be like, “I don’t want to hear that fucker’s name in this house and all this kind of stuff. She made you gay.”
BLNCD: They blamed Christina Aguilera for your sexuality?
MM: Yeah, and I was disowned.
BLNCD: That’s horrible.
MM: One day, I just got up and I went to school, a week before Christmas, and I never went home. I just jumped on a boat and went to Scotland with a one way ticket with my fucking school bag.
BLNCD: Wow. You still haven’t been home?
MM: I’ve been home. I had to go home for a funeral and then we did reconcile things a few years ago. They found me on Facebook, but this was like 11 years after.
BLNCD: My god, what a journey.
MM: It’s a fucking crazy story. Yeah. But [Christina Aguilera] definitely helped me for sure. I ought to meet her.
BLNCD: For people who are interested in becoming tattoo artists, they’re thinking about taking it seriously, making it a career, what would be your advice?
MM: Well, from my point of view, I almost gave up. It took me maybe two years of going around tattoo shops with my portfolio, and the same people telling me over and over again, you’re never going to make it. You’re not an artist. Five years later I ended up managing one of those shops that turned me down and I said to the bosses, “Do you remember me? I came in here and you told me that I’d never make it and now I’m managing your shop.” So don’t give up, just keep at it until you are burnt out. You got to keep at it. You got to break your self. If it’s what you want to do, you’re going to do it. It’s all a mindset. There is no way around that. You’re going to get there if you keep trying.
BLNCD: How are you liking the BLNCD products?
MM: Honestly, I have tried so many CBD products and lines, and people have sent me things and wanted me to post and stuff like that, and I won’t post unless it works. With the BLNCD products, at first I was skeptical because my anxiety is so acute. I wake up at 5:00 AM and my cortisol levels are through the roof. I have panic attacks. I’m shaking. It’s awful. Can’t get to sleep. I have night terrors, PTSD. But night terrors all the time. And within, in fact the first day after I took the Chill tincture I fell asleep. I stayed asleep, and in the morning I was significantly calmer for the first time in six months, and it could only have been the CBD. I didn’t take anything else.
BLNCD: That’s so good to hear.
MM: It’s amazing. I also fucking love the focus one, the Bliss. I have a lot of problems at the start of the day. Morning is my problem time. I’m normally okay by about two or three o’clock. I’m not anxious anymore. But the Bliss, literally my ability to control my anxiety and be mindful about it, and not catastrophize everything, was so much better. I swear by that, I swear by that tincture. It’s really, really effective. Especially when I take private clients at home, I have a home studio, being able to sort my thoughts out and manage my anxiety in the morning now is such a relief.
BLNCD: It’s wonderful to hear how positively the product has impacted your life.
MM: I am obsessed with these products. Obsessed.
BLNCD: We love your story posts on Instagram. You have over 10K followers on there. Is that a result of your tattooing? Your artwork?
MM: Facebook came first before the whole Instagram thing, and I received a shocking amount of followers on there. I ended up doing a tattoo that went viral.
BLNCD: What was it?
MM: It was just a woman’s hand with a baby’s hand on it, and it said something like family underneath it. So I did this tattoo that went viral and the next day I had a ton of new followers and then it just kept climbing up and up and up. I think because I’m very personable as well.
BLNCD: I think people love how candid you are. What’s the way that you describe your unique approach to the business of tattooing?
MM: Well, the way I approach it, I have everybody for a consultation. The consultation is for me, as well as for the client. I don’t want to sit and be in your company for five or six at a time if you’re an asshole. I want to sit and talk to you and make sure your energy is good and that’s how I approach the work. I want it to be on the right vibration. I want the person to be open with me. I want to know what they want from this tattoo. I want to know why they’re getting the tattoo. I don’t pressurize them to tell me everything, but I want to make sure that they’re comfortable with me and the way that I am, and my personality can be very blunt and, or what’s the word? People say I’m kind of harsh. Like if somebody’s idea is shit, I’m going to tell them. I’m going to say, “That’s not going to work.” If they argue with me, then it’s not working. It needs to be a collaboration because it’s my piece of art as much as it’s their piece of art.
Photography by Martha Kirby
Interview by John Mark