“I was always extremely passionate and driven with my art. If I had something in my mind, I would work night and day on it,” says Laura Martinez, a tattoo artist who didn’t originally think of tattooing as a career. Now co-owner of Fleur Noire, the French tattooer works in two shops in New York and travels around the globe.
At age 18, Martinez went to art school in Paris and after five years, got a masters degree in product design. She went on to design for Dior retail stores, quickly learning that the corporate environment was not for her. “The spirit around luxury brands wasn’t feeding my need for freedom and inspiration,” she says. “I needed more independence in my creativity, to meet people, hear their stories.” So, Martinez hopped on a plane one summer with her best friend. She quit her job, flew to New York, and fell in love with the city.
It was here that she started drawing a lot again. She was surprised that so many people loved her work and next thing she knew, she was taking part in small exhibits. Her friends got tattoos of her drawings, inspiring Martinez to get a part-time apprenticeship.
“It takes a lot of humility to gain the respect of old tattooers. It teaches you to put your ego on the side… and learn,” she continues. Like any apprentice, she spent most of her days prepping other tattoo artists’ work stations, and sometimes cleaning toilets. But more importantly, she listened and watched. Martinez was an apprentice in a New York tattoo shop until something went wrong with her mentor, prompting her to start working from the comfort of her home, practicing on her husband and roommates, and their friends. A few months later, she found herself working as an official tattoo artist at a shop in West Village.
As someone who describes herself as “a traveler [and] a foodie,” who loves “wine and piña colada and adventure,” it’s important for Martinez to balance what she’s most passionate about career-wise, and the things and people that make her feel alive. In her case, it’s precious time with family and friends. “I really need these times with them. I can only draw well if I get to spend time with them.”
Finding that sweet spot is not always easy though. More often than not, we get pulled too much on one side, and we end up struggling to maneuver between them. But for Martinez, “life is about taking opportunities and risks.” In the fall of 2016, that’s exactly what she and her husband did.
Along with Sam Perry and Burak Moreno, a fellow tattoo artist hailing from Istanbul who has been in the industry for almost 20 years, they built Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlour in Brooklyn. For Martinez, building a tattoo shop was like “having a baby.” Along with hard work and perseverance, she noted the importance of believing in themselves and “not listen[ing] to people saying ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’. After everything I had done already in my life before, I wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Fast forward to today and Fleur Noire has two locations – one in Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn, and a private studio. It took about two years before Martinez was at peace and for the shop to find its rhythm. This has allowed Martinez to savor the lifestyle being a tattooer has given her.
“I love and need to travel all the time,” she says, sharing that in the past two years, while being as dedicated as possible to the shop, she still managed to travel and tattoo in Brazil, Mexico, France, Canada, and all over the US. “It’s hard to believe it sometimes! I feel accomplished. I’m happy.”
For Martinez, there’s no secret to succeeding as a tattooer. She noted, however, that if one wants a successful career in the tattoo industry, having an individual style is important for potential clients.
Martinez works with fine lines. Though she considers it more of a technique than a style, she says it explains her aesthetic. “I love working with tiny details,” she says. “I do a lot of delicate tattoos and lines with flowers, thin scripts, and organic designs.” She also does a lot of custom work where she creates designs based on how her clients describe the kind of tattoo they want. Sometimes, it’s about trauma, sometimes about a family event. Whatever that is, Martinez finds joy in conceptualizing what she calls “important life moments” for her clients.
But not all tattoo designs have to have a deep meaning. Martinez is also keen in doing designs that have no meaning, but are based on nature, animals and landscapes. For her, it’s all about listening to what her customers want.
What started as a pure love for art has flourished into a lifestyle that feeds her creative soul. “I remember always wanting to make art, building things, drawing tattoos when I was 10 that I could get tattooed when older,” she says.
Today, Martinez is overflowing with special tattoo stories she shares with her clients, like the 65-year-old woman who went through a double mastectomy to win her fight against breast cancer. “She asked me to draw what I wanted on her breasts after she received implants. She doesn’t have nipples anymore, which appeared to me to be one of the most beautiful canvases and pieces of art I could have ever imagined. It was a very unique and intimate project that I was invited to create,” she explains, detailing how she drew leaves all around her client’s breast, and ribs. “She was so happy that she now wants to keep adding more to it on the rest of her body.” It is stories like this that, for Martinez, make all the hard work worthwhile.