Tattooing For Change

Local tattoo artist preps Nichole Franklin for a tattoo for the SNAFI fundraiser.

by Amy Brown

It’s 9:30am on a Sunday and there’s already a long line out the door at Roses and Rivets Gallery and Body Art studio in Santa Paula. Folks had been queued up for some time, waiting to be tattooed by Steph Sparrow at her second annual fundraising event for Still Not Asking For It (SNAFI), a tattoo flash fundraiser event for sexual assault and rape survivors. All proceeds go to organizations which aid in prevention, healing and justice of survivors. Ventura resident Sparrow was selected as the only tattoo artist in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties to participate in the national event, and she chose the Coalition for Family Harmony’s rape crisis center in Oxnard as the organization to receive the money raised from her efforts in the event.

Sparrow tattooed participants from morning into the night, and raised $2,200 for the Coalition, twice what she raised in the event last year. Flash events have pre-drawn tattoo designs relevant to the cause, and available at a reduced price.  Customers are tattooed on a first come, first served basis. “Word definitely gets around that I’m doing it, and it’s kind of intense, with hardly any time for bathroom breaks or to eat, it’s crazy!” said Sparrow.

She shared that she was expecting the crowds, but wasn’t expecting the number of people who also shared their own stories of rape or incest during the event. “The tattoo chair is always kind of a confessional, and I’ve had people tell me about their childhood abuse; it’s a really powerful thing,” said Sparrow. “Tattooing itself gives people the sacred space to own their own bodies; it’s such a powerful ritual. Tattooing did that for me. I’m honored that so many people came out to support the event, and to see so much money being donated to the Coalition.”

Nichole Franklin, a native of Ventura and currently residing in Santa Paula, was one of the first in line for the event. “Steph is a phenomenal artist, plus, she’s a pilot, has been a teacher and a musician—she’s basically my spirit animal,” said Franklin. “This is a great cause—all the events she does are great—but this one is a little more personal for me,” said Franklin, who chose a whimsical Stegosaurus tattoo design with the words “Don’t Touch” below it, in homage to the SNAFI cause.

“We’ve basically been waiting our whole lives for a woman-owned tattoo shop in this area,” said Morgan Williamson, as she waited patiently to get a cute baby porcupine design with “Don’t Touch” under it on her left forearm. When asked why she chose that design, she said “It’s an adorable way to get a little bit of closure, now I’ll be able to look down at something pretty.”

Sparrow who has been tattooing for 12 years, is essentially a modern Renaissance woman; with a PhD in Music Composition, she was also a former college professor, and currently holds a private pilot’s license, and is an avid long-distance runner on the Ventura trailheads. Opposing stereotypes comes with her territory and her brand. “Every single day is an exercise in combatting stereotypes,” she says of her shop, and being a woman-owned business, not to mention tattoos in general. “Tattooing is an outlet of self-ownership, and self-expression, and to be able to empower other people in that way in a safe space is a real honor.”

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