In her teen years, goth Nina Gremo became interested in tattoos and the tattoo industry. But she knew she would rather work for herself than someone else. That led to her opening three different tattoo shops, before she picked up the gun herself. And now she’s using it for a good cause. 

Gremo’s interest in tattoos led her to get one as soon as she was able to.

Underage and determined, 15 year old Nina Gremo walked into a tattoo parlour to get the most heinous tattoos she could think of.

A witchy woman with waist length long black hair, wearing a long black dress and a headlamp answered teenage Gremo’s desire.

An inverted cross, a pentacle, a spider and an all-seeing eye found its home on her forearm.

After getting that first tattoo, Gremo found herself working in tattoo parlours as a counter girl and piercer before deciding she’d rather be her own boss.

“I knew that working for anybody else for too long would make me unhappy,” says Gremo.

She also knew that the there were tattoo artists out there “doing them the wrong way.”

Opening her own business allowed her to operate it “without anybody interfering” and the way she thinks is best.

She pursued her goal of opening her own tattoo shop in Australia with her then-boyfriend.

The two of them opened a short-lived shop. Because Gremo could not get anything more than a visitors visa, so she had to pay for everything privately.

Looking back on her experience of operating a shop in Australia, Gremo says she learned a valuable lesson: “If you’re going to open a business, just make sure it’s somewhere where you understand the lay of the land.”

Gremo took the lesson she learned and moved back to Calgary, where she opened her second tattoo shop, Stigmata Studio.

Her second shop closed, but she didn’t give up. She soon became interested in becoming a tattoo artist herself, but did not feel like her art was good enough.Nina Gremo drawing up a detailed set of tarot cards to add to a larger tattoo she’s been working on during a sitting with a client. Photo by Kirsten Phillips

“I think I reached a point in this industry where I needed a new challenge or else I was, not necessarily going to leave it, but I was definitely not really going to be fulfilled and happy in what I was doing,” says Gremo.

To overcome the new challenge of becoming a tattoo artist, Gremo spent a couple of years drawing and becoming more confident with her art.

She then began tattooing about six months after she opened her third shop, Gypsy Rose Tattoo Parlour.

Gremo found that there were “a great many things” that went into making Gypsy Rose a successful tattoo parlour. Two of those things being, “The right people [and] the right attitude.”

With those two ingredients, Gremo has been operating Gypsy Rose for 13 years.

During that time, a fellow tattoo artist, Stacie Rae Weir, got in contact with Gremo about an initiative to support women who have gone through breast cancer.

That initiative, P.ink Day, runs at the beginning of October, where the volunteer artists get matched up with a woman who has gone through breast cancer and a mastectomy to get a tattoo.

Gremo had a personal experience with the effects of cancer. After moving back to Calgary, she reconnected with a close friend from high school who was in her last few months of terminal Cancer.Nina Gremo covers up a back tattoo with a large colourful new piece on a returning client. Photo by Kirsten Phillips.

“I’ve done a small tattoo over a lumpectomy scar. I’ve done tattoos over single mastectomy scars, I’ve done entire chest pieces over women that have had full reconstruction,” says Gremo.

Participating in P.ink Day has given Gremo the opportunity to meet some “awesome women” in the last five years and give them a meaningful tattoo.

“The cool thing about tattooing is that people will get tattooed for virtually any reason you can think of, whether it’s really sad or really happy. At all ends of the spectrum, you get to kind of experience that with people.”

kphillips@cjournal.ca

Editor: Casey Richardson | crichardson@cjournal.ca