Pavla Ellis started out drawing marker tattoos at conventions. Watch her in the fifth episode of the Moneyish original series Small Business.
This 9-year-old tattoo artist is already making her mark.
Pavla Ellis has been drawing Sharpie tattoos at tattoo conventions for years. But last year she inked her first real tattoo on her dad, Scott Ellis, a tattoo artist who owns two shops in Austin, Texas.
“To do my first real tattoo, it was very scary, I was very nervous,” Pavla told Moneyish. “But it ended up looking really good. Well, not my best, but it looks pretty good.”
She was inspired by her father’s business. “I thought my dad’s job was so cool, and I wanted to be like him, and I guess that’s how it started,” she said.
She has done two more tattoos since, on her dad’s friends and fellow artists. Ellis showed Moneyish a video clip of his daughter inking a red rose on his leg. Pavla wasn’t impressed by him offering hugs and stuffed animals as payment, though.
“I’m like, no. I’m not 5, dad!” she said.
She’s got a point; tattoos are now a $2 billion industry and climbing, according to industry research firm IBISWorld, as three in 10 Americans (and almost half of millennials) have at least one tat. Tattoo artists earn $31,000 a year on average, although some masters command $93,000, according to PayScale.
But Ellis is also the one who taught her how to draw, and bought her two tattoo machines of her own in May. And he explained that a person who already has dozens of tattoos isn’t going to worry about getting a potentially less-than-perfect tattoo from a child.
“You’re getting a lot of tattoos just for the experience of getting them,” he said. “Plus, I think a lot of guys look at her and think, if she sticks with this, she could be really good someday. And it would be kind of cool to have one of the first tattoos by someone who went on to be really good.”
Pavla hustles her less-permanent work at tattoo conventions, where she sets up a table and displays her flash (aka tattoo design samples), then draws them with Sharpies on curious customers for $3 to $20 apiece. Her signature designs include roses, cherry blossoms, skulls and ladies with rosy cheeks and big eyes.
She has saved just under $500, which she plans to spend on an iPad and an Apple Pencil to draw more designs that she can print on t-shirts. “There’s a million tattoo designs that I have yet to learn, and I want to learn them,” she said.
The family — Ellis, Pavla, his wife and their 6-year-old son — recently relocated from Austin to Prague, where Ellis is working as an artist-in-residence at a friend’s shop.
Pavla also enjoys coloring and styling hair, singing and acting, and has considered becoming a chef someday. But one thing that draws her to tattoos in particular is their permanence.
“If you draw something on a whiteboard, it will eventually be erased. And if you draw something on paper, it might fall in water and be smudged,” she said. “But a tattoo can never come off. That’s what makes it special, and your art will stay there forever.”
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