From avoiding a potential gunfight at her first shop in Texas, to appearing on the popular VH1 show “Black Ink Chicago,” Cobra Lightning has seen it all, and knows what it takes to make it as a female tattoo artist in a male dominated industry.
“I have a male chauvinistic dad who’s like a macho man, oil dude, so he raised me with no handicap. He was really hard on me though when he raised me. He was kind of like, ‘oh, you really think someone’s gonna feel sorry for you cause you’re a woman?’ It was really tough growing up with my father and I,” Cobra said. Her upbringing prepared her for a future in an industry that would constantly test and push her. A lot of industries in the modern world today have been, and still are, male dominated, so her mentality has always been the same: stand behind your work. This is how she’s surpassed every guy she’s worked for and stands amongst the top tattooers at Certified Tattoo Studios in Denver, Colorado.
One of the most difficult things she’s had to overcome was breaking away from stereotypes related to her gender. Having clients come in asking for certain designs or styles simply because she’s a woman. She specializes in black and white photo realism, yet people come to her asking for colorful pieces because she’s a girl. There’s expectations that society has implemented that bleed into every facet of our lives, whether intentionally or not.
Her biggest struggle has been just that. Not allowing these stereotypes and ignorant people to box her in and label her as something she’s not. She’s always put the craft first and her work at the forefront. That was part of the reason why she decided to rebrand herself as Cobra Lightning early in her career. It afforded her the ability to detach herself from her artwork. To let her work stand for itself. It’s an attitude. An “I don’t give a fuck” attitude after spending years being boxed in. She does what she wants and her work shows. Take it or leave it.
“I stood up for myself. I worked in a shop with all guys. I think they want you to do all the cleaning, they want you to do all the books, they want you to do all the money, because they’re fucking kids who need their moms to wipe their asses, in reality.”
Besides stereotypes and labels, the biggest downfall of woman in this industry is love, according to Cobra. A lot of women who are artists are romantics, she added. They fall for the tatted up bad boys, which are…most tattoo artists. Sleeping with co-workers, clients, bosses, etc. is the fastest way to end your career. Once you do that, there’s no coming back, especially early on. It’s hard to be taken seriously if you’re fucking the boss.
“I see girls winning awards that completely suck because they’re fucking somebody,” she said. Her advice is to treat tattooing like a boyfriend when starting out. “If you love tattooing, love tattooing. Don’t love anybody else.” It’s easy to fall into stereotypes or get swept up in the politics of it all, but if you want to make it, put your work first and the rest will follow.