She was the talk of the town. As Veronica put up the signage on the window of her corner shop in the traditional town of Mosta, people started talking.
“A tall girl, with shaved hair, is opening a tattoo shop.” a shopkeeper told a stranger. “Yes,” Michelle replied. “She’s my friend.”
“I never meant to open a shop.” Veronica immediately explains. “I used to think it was too much of a commitment, but I made it work to fit my priorities.” she tells me as I watch two elderly women walk past her window.
“I’ve loved drawing since I was a little kid, but back then no one pushed art, so I was engulfed by the rat race like everyone else.” she tells me. “I was a croupier, then a flight attendant, then a property consultant. It felt like every 4 years I had to change. I did well in every job, but it always felt like I had to make an effort, it didn’t come natural.”
“In sales, especially – I don’t see myself as a very sociable person, so as soon as I put my job hat on, I had to switch every time.”
“One person though, my best friend since I was in my late teens, she always believed in my talent. See, while you’re running fast in the rat race, you run out of time to do what you love – so your brain cells close out the creative side.”
For about 5 years, Veronica researched tattoo courses online. “It was just a recurrent thought, tattooing. Then a series of things just happened. I was sitting down at a training, watching a video and this question came up – Do you see yourself doing this in 5 years’ time? – That was my confirmation. No. I did not want to be doing this in 5 years’ time.”
A few weeks later, one of her property clients was an experienced foreign tattoo artist looking for a shop. She shared her dreams with him. “Don’t go up that ladder,” he warned her. “Starting now? You’re 30, you have commitments, you won’t manage.”
But her best friend didn’t agree, so she pushed her, “‘Go for it,’ she told me. So I booked a course in Thailand. It was full immersion – very intense. You sleep there, you wake up and brainstorm. At a certain point, I took a holiday in between to take a time out. It was a very exciting journey though, I met many interesting people. The master has various foreign clients coming there on purpose. He liked what I did, and I ended up tattooing 10 persons while I was there.”
That was 2011. “Even at that point. I still couldn’t see myself as doing this as a living. I took the course as a personal challenge not as an investment.”
So upon her return, she went back to property for two years. “I stayed on, but I realized the effort I was making was becoming more difficult by time. I was becoming depressed, I was selling half of what I used to make before. I found myself postponing appointments, because I didn’t feel I had the energy to go. I had been taken over by the rat race again.”
“Then, I remember it clearly. It was a Tuesday, April 23rd. I was driving to work and I decided. I was wasting my days. So I walked into the office, grabbed a coffee, sat down with my boss and resigned.”
“I did it. Then I felt lost. I had been working since I was 16, like a robot. Waking up, my work schedule planning my day. For the first two to three weeks I didn’t know what to do. I read books, I trained on pig skin. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“Then my boyfriend got a new job and in the first week he met a guy who did tattooing part time.” Through him she got to know where to get a licence, how to apply with the Health Department, all you need to open up a shop. At this point, an opportunity came up to rent out the shop in Mosta. “So I decided to take the plunge. Within 2 months I got all the paper work ready, I refurbished the shop and in January 2015, I opened.”
“The first idea was to open on an appointment basis. Then I opened on the first day and 3 clients came in. It was nerve wrecking. It had become real.”
“It was then that the whole puzzle took shape. It just so happened that in my last week at Remax, months before I even imagined having a shop, I was sent to assess a property. I walked in, and it was my colleague’s twin sister, Michelle. I had always been told how I reminded her of her. And when we met we confirmed it. We sat down and talked for a couple of hours. It turned out she was an artist too but she had no studio to work in. So once the shop was refurbished and I worked on my designs behind closed doors, I had offered her the other desk. ‘It’s all yours,’ I had told her. And thank goodness for that! When those 3 clients came in on the first day, she was the support I needed. If she hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it, I’d have left.”
“To this day, every tattoo, no matter how big or small, still feels like a challenge to me. Like an exam, every time. I love that there is no routine at all in this. Every tattoo helps my confidence. See, artists especially, we are our own worst critics. Every tattoo means people are confiding in my art, my skills. No one tattoo, is like any other and the newness of each day helps me live.”
How do you balance your life and the shop?
“Business has been coming in, so instead of just by appointment, I open Tuesdays to Saturdays, leaving Mondays and Sundays free for my own personal stuff. I do continued hours, not shop hours. So that whenever I finish, be it 5 or 8 in the evening, I can do whatever I want. Most days in Summer, I close the shop and drive up to Riviera to watch sunset and show my gratitude to the higher power. It’s very important to me. Once a month, I take a long weekend to switch off and I want to keep this habit of travelling for a few weeks at the beginning of each year.”
“I am grateful every single day for what I am doing, how my life shaped up. I’ve always believed in a higher power, I don’t give it any form, but my journey in the last decade has proved to me, even more, of this existence. I feel that finally, for once in my life, I can be myself. If it’s meant for you it will come, but you have to give it your 100% too.”
Facebook – Veronica Lee Tattoo
More by the author – www.denisecassar.com