Lyndi Lou, the owner of Bardstown Road’s newest tattoo shop Mama Tried, was talking about her first experience with tattoos, when she inadvertently suggested an additional meaning behind her shop’s name, other than the Merle Haggard reference:
“The first time I ever saw a tattoo, I was in Payless Drugs with my mom, I was really little, three or four, and there was a sailor with a little tattoo, and I was like: ‘Mom! What is that?,’ and she’s like, ‘That’s the worst thing you can do to your body,’ ” recalled Lou.
This parental disgust, likely meant to keep Lou from ever getting a tattoo, had the exact opposite effect, and a wolf-whistle tone snuck into Lou’s voice as she recalled her response, “I was like… well, hello.”
For several years now, Lou has been gaining a following in Louisville, her visibility has been bolstered by her work as a curator in the local art scene, and as one of the creators of the Louisville Zombie Attack.
Throughout her career as a tattoo artist, including stints at shops like Imperial Tattoos, Twisted Images and Tattoo Salvation, Lou has known she wanted to one day open her own shop.
But she said that owning a shop isn’t the goal for a lot of tattooers.
“I have tons of friends who are great tattooers who have no interest in the administrative side of it. With me, having done things like Zombie Walk, and curating art shows and stuff like that for so long, I kind of like bureaucracy and paper work, honestly,” admitted Lou, adding, “I like to pretend I don’t but I feel very at home at the permits office.”
The journey to finally opening Mama Tried wasn’t all smooth sailing, and even getting started as a tattoo artist had its difficulties, due to the particular shape and structure of that business, as well as a little good old-fashioned gender discrimination.
“It’s getting a lot better now, or has gotten a lot better, but traditionally in tattooing women aren’t involved unless they are somebody’s old lady, or just real tough. And I’m neither.”
One of the ways women were kept out of the business was the apprenticeship process much of the tattoo world employs.
To get into the business, you have to be apprenticed to an existing tattoo artist. And that artist has to accept you as an apprentice, based solely on their personal discretion.
They keep you around for a couple of years while you learn the ropes, and it’s usually at least a year before an apprentice does their first tattoo.
It’s a somewhat informal hierarchy, loosely backed by state regulations.
“We register through the state, and to be registered or licensed you have to be at a licensed tattoo shop, and to get hired at a licensed tattoo shop you probably had to do a traditional apprenticeship,” explains Lou, though, she was quick to note that there are some amazing tattoo artists who bucked this trend. “But those are the exceptions, not the rule.”
When Lou began looking for an apprenticeship, she was turned down in quite a few places. She notes that some of her rejections may have been due to the style or quality of her art, nevertheless, she believes — and in one case knows, for sure — that her rejection was based on her gender.
“Some were more direct than others. I was told by one shop that they didn’t need any hens in their chicken coop. That person has since apologized.”
Despite the counterintuitivity of that turndown — dude, chicken coops are mostly filled with hens — Lou finally gained an apprenticeship under Adrain Wright, an Elizabethtown artist.
After her apprenticeship, she started working in Louisville shops and beginning the long process of building her skills and clientele.
But when the time finally came to open her own spot, she faced another battle; finding a tattoo friendly landlord.
“The owner of one building was like ‘you mean like pornography?’ and I was like, ‘No. Whoa.’ I was taken aback. And the owner of another building was like, ‘I don’t like bikers,’ ” said Lou.
This continued bias against tattoos surprised Lou.
“I guess I’m in a bubble where I know that tattooing has moved toward an art-based thing, so the idea of the back alley tattoo shop with a bunch of violence? That’s not how it is.”
She finally settled in a converted storefront a few doors down from Highlands Taproom.
Now that she’s open, she’s hoping to offer her own distinctive style — based in color neo-traditional if you know the lingo — as well as some other artists and some community engagement.
The shop already features another full-time artist, Thomas Russell Engle. Lou described him as “super talented.”
“The other day he was like, ‘I think I’m gonna draw up a pretty little cardinal,’ and then, like three minutes later, it was the most beautiful rendition of a cardinal I’d ever seen. I was like, that would take me four hours. He’s also a big nerd, super into Magic the Gathering.”
There will also be a dedicated guest spot to welcome traveling artists.
Lou floated the idea of having special days that benefit the community as well. “Hopefully, it’ll be once a month, a give-back day… where we have flash and it will be a discounted rate, and the proceeds will go to charity.”
Flash is a smaller design that is predrawn, and therefore easier to execute quickly. Lots of shops feature discounted flash days on special occasions like a grand opening, or frequently, on Friday the 13th.
Lou said she in talks with the folks who offer to escort at the clinic and mentioned Saving Sunny as another possible partner.
Mama Tried, at 1052 Bardstown Road, is open from noon to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. But as with any new business, it’s prudent to double-check before you head on down.