Shayla Day is living her dream every time she walks into work.20-year-old Day is a tattoo artist at For Ink Sake Tattoo (FIST)in Atascadero, Ca., a fantasy job she never thought she would have.

Tattoo artist Shayla Day sitting on a chair in her booth at a tattoo parlor. She has blue hair, and tattoos on her arms and legs. Her tattoo table is right next to her.

Shayla Day now works at For Ink Sake Tattoo, a job she never thought she would have.

Day got her first tattoo at 18: a patch of leopard spots on her right shoulders. While she was getting it done, she asked the artist about how she could get into the field, but the artist told her that it was nearly impossible.

“I never thought that it would actually happen,” Day said. “They told me apprenticeships were really hard to get.”

So Day scrapped that dream and decided to go to Cuesta College instead, where she studied graphic design.

But her hopes of becoming a tattoo artist were reawakened a year later when she went into FIST to get tattoos done with her mother. Day’s mother mentioned to the artist that she wanted her daughter to design her next tattoo, and the artist encouraged Day to bring in her portfolio.

She brought it in some time later, and the tattoo artists at FIST looked over her art, before agreeing to bring Day on as an apprentice.

“They said, ‘Yeah, you’re good. You can start next week,’ and I was like, ‘F**k yeah!’” Day said.

Deciding to take on an apprentice is a major decision for a tattoo parlor, and so has to be a group one, said D.J. Mattos, who has worked at FIST for three years. The artists there look for potential artists who have both talent and commitment, Mattos said.

“It takes a real passionate person to come in here and devote all their time to being here,” Mattos said. “I’ve gone through so many apprentices that have fallen off the wagon.”

Many tattoo parlors refuse to take apprentices at all because so many quit, Mattos said. At FIST, however, the artists want to give potential the opportunity to grow, Mattos said.

“When you find someone that has that talent you want to pull them in and give them that chance,” Mattos said.

But again, talent is not enough to take someone from tattoo enthusiast to professional artist.

This is because being an apprentice at a tattoo parlor can be a grueling job, Day said. Aside from coming in early to clean and sanitize the shop, Day was also at the beck and call of all of the artists at FIST.

“You’re pretty much the shop bitch,” Day said.

In addition, the artists would send her on embarrassing errands or make her do push-ups as a way of hazing her.

Sometimes, they would mark a quarter, tell Day to go get change for it from the gas station across the street, and once she had come back, they would order her back to the gas station to retrieve the same quarter.

“It’s to test how bad you want it,” Day said.

Along with running errands and sanitizing equipment, the artists at FIST trained Day in tattooing, with her practicing on melons and synthetic skin first, Day said.

After several months, they told her to start using people to practice on.

“They’d say, ‘Go get some of your friends and tell them you’ll give them a free tattoo,’” Day said.

After some time, they told her to up the price to $20, then $60. Finally after she had been apprenticed for eight months, the other tattoo artists told her that she was free to charge whatever she wanted.

Since then, Day has been steadily building up her own clientele based on friends and word-of-mouth, as well as the odd person off the street who leaves pleased with her work.

Day shows some of the original designs she's created for clients.

“There’s always walk-ins that you get and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll come back to you next time,’” Day said.

Everyone at FIST has their own specialties and preferences, Day said, and even though she’s relatively new to tattooing, she already knows what she likes, and what she absolutely won’t do.

“I don’t do portraits at all,” Day said. “I’m really scared I’m going to mess them up.”

That doesn’t stop her from doing a variety of different pieces, however, in a range of different styles. Day has done tattoos of pixie frogs, skeletons, horses and stylized wings.

If someone has a request for a specific style, she goes online and looks at as many examples of that style as she can before sketching, Day said.

A girl with blue hair and multiple piercings and a leopard spot tattoo on her shoulder sits at a table sketching a wing.

"A lot of people make these nice, tight, controlled lines at first and I just kind of get messy with it," Day said of when she starts a sketch.

And Day’s dedication to quality shows in her work, according to her clients. Those stylized wings that Day researched were a tattoo for Lizzie Christie, Christie’s second tattoo from Day.

Day originally tattooed a raccoon, Christie’s spirit animal, on Christie’s arm, when Day was giving tattoos for $60.

The raccoon was so well done that Christie went back several months later for a pair of loopy, detailed fairy wings.

“I’ve had people actually tell me that they don’t like tattoos but they like my raccoon because it’s so well done,” Christie said.

After a year at FIST, Day said she couldn’t see herself anywhere else.

“When they told me to bring my portfolio in I was like, ‘No way, no way, no way!’” Day said.

Today, she’s a full-fledged member of the team.

Q&A with Day

Tattoo artist Day with some of her designs.

Q: What’s the weirdest tattoo you’ve ever done?

A: A smiley face on a butt.

Q: What was the first tattoo you did on a live person?

A: It was a little nuclear bomb with a banner and skull and cross bones on it.

Q: Color or black & gray?

A: Black & gray.

Q: Texts or graphics?

A: I like pictures more than words. I really do.

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