Getting tattooed by Brittany Randell is very different from the traditional tattoo experience. For starters, the artist works out of a cozy home studio in Toronto—primarily during the evenings so she can still spend the daytime hanging out with her three year old son—rather than a standard shop. But it’s not only the warmth of her lived-in space that makes the experience special, it’s also the openness with which she welcomes her clients and the gentleness with which she wields her machine while she tattoos.
Randell, who is perhaps better known by her Instagram moniker ‘Humblebee’, primarily tattoos people of color (POC). As a black woman, she understands first-hand the racism and lack of representation that folks with darker skin experience in the tattoo industry, and she actively works to combat that in her own practice. She does this in several ways: through her designs—she often illustrates black women and African iconography; through the execution of her pieces—she tends to tattoo more gently than a typical artist in order to avoid scarring and keloids; and through her activism—when she uses her platform to publicly call out racist, sexist, and anti-queer behaviour in the tattoo community.
Here, Randell talks to us about what inspires her style (which she describes as “illustrative with a focus on thin linework and minimal shading”), the importance of black representation in her work (and in the tattoo community at-large), how becoming a mom kick-started her career as a tattooer, and what she loves most about her job.
On how motherhood kick-started her journey as a tattooer: “I’ve always wanted to tattoo; at least since I was in high school, but never had the courage or drive really to pursue it as a career until four years ago when I became pregnant with my son. He is ultimately the reason I pushed myself to become self-taught and make a career for myself.”
On her favorite types of tattoos: “I don’t have a single favorite tattoo—I’ve done too many to just decide on just one favorite. But I always love and remember my black female portraits and the people who get them. I love to encourage black female representation through my artwork.”
On why it’s so important for her to portray black culture and experience in her work: “I have a very simple response, honestly: because I am a black woman. It’s what I know and understand, so it’s natural for me to want to express that. We’re the most marginalized group of people so it’s important that I create art and a safe space for other black women specifically.”
If you’re a fan of Brittany Randell’s work, but can’t make the trip to Toronto to get tattooed, you’re in luck: She just released a bunch of semi-permanent tattoo designs. Shop the Humblebee x Inkbox collection here.
On where she finds design inspiration: “Nature inspires me. I love the fluidity of lines within florals and the human face. I love how lines can flow on the human body as well.”
On the best part of her job: “The fact that I can set my own schedule and live more freely, all while expressing myself creatively. I always felt constrained when I worked in retail [her last job before becoming a tattooer was in retail] or had a nine-to-five job.”
On how being a mom keeps her motivated: “I think being a mother gives me the drive to keep working and making money, even on days when I’m creatively stunted or don’t want to. The fact is that I don’t have a choice, really. I love and have to provide for my son and family—money is a necessity and I’d much rather obtain it by working for myself and doing what I love than by working for someone else.”
Want to get a permanent tattoo from Brittany Randell? You can find her full booking information on her website here.
On what the larger tattoo community (which is still predominantly white and male) can do to increase POC representation: “I think there are two main things. The first is for artists to engage [with people of color] and show representation of various people—with different complexions, skin types, and body types—in their portfolios. But even though it’s nice to see tattooers posting one or two POC within a predominantly white portfolio, I don’t think that’s enough.
I think even artists who aren’t familiar with different skin types need to have an open mind about learning and researching and practicing. And as a community we need to be open to sharing that information, because a lot of tattooers seem reluctant to share insights with one another. We all need to speak more openly about the choice of machines, inks, and techniques we use to tattoo dark skin. A great way to do this would be more panel talks or Instagram Stories, posts, and highlights about these topics.”
On the first tattoo she ever did: “My first tattoo is a bumblebee on my own ankle! A lot of tattooers start by tattooing fruit or tattooing themselves, so it felt like a form of self-initiation for me. As for the choice in design, it seemed fitting considering my Instagram name [@humblebeetattoo] and the fact that everyone in my family calls me ‘Bee’.”
On her favorite artist: “I love Lauren Brevner [a Vancouver-based mixed media painter]. She works with multiple mediums and is phenomenal at bringing forth representation of so many different cultures in her female portraits.”
On what she likes to do when she’s not working: “I love to read, paint, watch documentaries, and go to the gym. They’re all great forms of self care and therapy; ways to escape and recharge from my everyday routine of drawing and tattooing.”