DeWitt Clinton senior makes tattoo program reality


A unique opportunity presents itself for students attending DeWitt Clinton High School; they can acquire a tattoo license.

Clinton senior Dejaa Mitchell brought the idea to principal Pierre Orbe.

Tattoo artist Carlos Ramirez has been in the industry for eight years and said students who participate in the program will be eligible to graduate with their tattoo license, giving them the opportunity to immediately take up an apprenticeship in his tattoo shop or branch out on their own, seeking an apprenticeship or tattoo position with another artist.

Currently the program has seven students participating, all of whom are juniors except for Mitchell.

“This is something I’m looking to do long term. I already get to be in the shop because I’m 18, so I’m already apprenticing, watching and observing things that tattooers like (Ramirez) do on a regular basis,” Mitchell said.

Junior Isamar Paulino has been interested in art since she was little and joined the program because she also wants to pursue tattooing beyond high school. Paulino said the art of tattooing is especially meaningful because it means her art will live forever. Her favorite style of tattooing is realism, which emphasizes shadows, highlights and contrasts to make the tattoo look almost photographic.

Ramirez said he specializes in neo-traditional and new-school style tattoos and that is what he has been teaching the girls during their time together. Neo traditional tattoos take elements of traditional styles — like black linework outlining the design — and mixes it with color and shading. New-school tattoo keeps similar elements of heavy black outlines and colors but often depicts cartoons or media figures in an exaggerated way.

Despite defined styles, Ramirez said his work is his own, which is one of the hardest parts of being a tattoo artist for him. Often clients come to him with a design picked out and he has to remind them that, while he can give them the design it will not be a replica because he is his own artist and all of his work will come from his artistic viewpoint, the same applies to his students.

“Even though they’re all working on the same design, they’ll all have different takes on how they apply the needle and color so it will all look different,” Ramirez said.

Outside of teaching the girls how to do things like shade, line work, needle depth and understanding the meaning and application of designs, Ramirez is also teaching the girls how to be entrepreneurs and understand the importance of financial literacy.

“I had to learn on my own, so I’m happy to just share and give them a leg up,” he said.

When the girls graduate, they will all take the exam to gain their licensing certification, which Ramirez and Orbe said is far more concerned with safety precautions and less with artistry.

“This was the first conversation we had, about safety,” Orbe said. “The exam is mostly safety and protocols. They’re proving they can work on a living person and know all the health requirements to take care of them.”

Ramirez said, on top of teaching the girls the basics, he has discussed protocols on how to tattoo someone with HIV, a skin disease or blood disease, but he believes as much as he can educate them, the real learning will come once they’re in a shop working on people.

This program is one of what Orbe hopes to be many for the school. Orbe said a big part of his role within the school is providing students with opportunities like this one. The school follows a C.C.I. motto — college credits, certifications for jobs, internships. Orbe is committed to providing the 1,200 students in his school with the chance to have their voice heard and their plans followed through.

Mitchell spends her free time working on her art and hanging out in Ramirez’s tattoo shop, Unique Ink, absorbing the atmosphere and techniques. She plans to graduate and pursue an apprenticeship in Ramirez’s shop while completing her studies in studio art at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

“I’m grateful that Clinton has a very extensive art program,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s mother gets her tattoos done by Ramirez so one day while in the shop the idea for Ramirez to teach children combined with Mitchell’s desire to become a tattoo artist sparked the idea for a program at Mitchell’s high school. Mitchell approached Orbe, who readily agreed and began the process of making his student’s dreams a reality.

The process to get Ramirez into the school took almost an entire year, with Mitchell bringing the idea to Orbe, getting Ramirez on board, and filing all the proper paperwork through the city education department to add him to the school as a vendor.

The girls have been meeting after school since March to explore the art of tattooing.

When Orbe announced the tattoo program to the school during an assembly, he let the student population know that ideas like this one are student generated and he would love further student input on other programs and offerings the school could work on facilitating.

The first things to come of what he called an extensive list will be cosmetology and barbering programs coming next fall for students to explore gaining expertise in the care of nails, skin, hair and more.




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