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Tattoo Artist Sarah Fendlay Talks Shop Ownership, Shooting Straight and No-Portrait Policy

In her seven-year career as a tattoo artist, Sarah Fendlay has progressed from working the desk at a shop to co-owning Shaw’s beloved Electric Cat Scratch Tattoos. We caught up with Fendlay for an inside look at her no-bullshit, keep-it-simple approach to owning a successful shop, tackling challenging tats and knowing what you want before the needle comes out.

On Tap: How did you get started tattooing?
Sarah Fendlay: I was working in accounting after dropping out of college/art school for the third time, and a friend of mine working counter at a local shop told me she needed to replace her position. I always had an interest in art, had a few tattoos by this point and thought I could make it on minimum wage. After a few years of sweeping floors, grabbing coffee and mopping shit up from the bathrooms, one of the artists at the shop offered to teach me a thing or two, so I took it.

OT: Do you specialize in a specific style?
SF: As an artist that likes to do the shit I feel from the heart, I was taught early on by my mentor that in modern-day tattooing, you have to be well-rounded to make a living. Almost a decade in, I feel I can produce a solid tattoo in any style that any person that comes through the doors asks for – other than portraits, f–k that. However, if someone came in and asked me what I wanted to do, at the end of the day, it would be geared toward bugs and floral designs. I have a thing for bugs.

OT: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career so far? The most rewarding?
SF: It’s been challenging to own a shop in DC after only seven years of tattooing. But with my history [in] accounting, management and art, I have a good grasp on shit. On the contrary, the most rewarding thing is that I own a shop in DC after only seven years of tattooing, and I feel like I am doing it correctly for me and the city. I’m happy, so that’s a pretty good reward.

OT: What’s the most complicated tattoo you’ve ever worked on?
SF: An 18-year-old military guy came through the door looking for [his first] tattoo. We talked and made an appointment for doing something on half of his entire back. We worked on a design and got a super cool tattoo of a kitsune [foxes from Japanese folklore] done after three [or] four all-day sessions. He showed back up months later to do the rest of his back. I had to figure out how to fill in everything I specifically left open. That was pretty darn complicated.

OT: What do you look for when you’re selecting a shop, both to work in and actually get tattooed in?
SF: I have only worked in two: the one I learned in and the one I own. But I have been tattooed at quite a few different shops. These days, I’m more on the giving side of tattooing, which is why I try and make my shop somewhere I would want to be tattooed at.

OT: Do you have any pro tips for someone contemplating new ink, whether they’ve got several tattoos or it’s their first time?
SF: Look at portfolios and meet the artists. It’s pretty simple. If either of those don’t do something for you, look more places.

OT: What makes Electric Cat Scratch unique?
SF: We are a mom and pop-style street shop. I own it with my husband and work with my best friends, and that really translates to [our] clientele.

OT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
SF: I got my first tattoo in someone’s living room at 18 years solely because I thought going into a shop was too scary. If you come into the shop true, you’ll leave with a better tattoo – simple as that.

For more on Fendlay’s work, visit www.tattoosbysarah.com and follow her on Instagram @tattoosbysarah. Check out www.ecstattoos.com for more info and follow the shop on Instagram @ecstattoos.

Electric Cat Scratch Tattoos: 505 Florida Ave. NW, DC; 202-986-4239; www.ecstattoos.com