When Pat Fish explains her career, one may assume that that she is the most badass therapist in Santa Barbara—only she’s a local tattoo artist. In a talk presented by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Women’s Center at the Student Resource Building on Tuesday, April 7, Fish discussed body positivity and empowerment through body art.
As she sits in her all black attire, fiery red hair peeking out of a beanie and short sleeves revealing fully tatted arms, she explains that when people sit in her chair, they reveal deeply personal details of their lives.
By helping individuals cope with death, find new love for their bodies, connect with their heritage, and decide against poor life decisions, Fish does act as a therapist of sorts—but by the end of her session you’ll walk out with a one-of-a-kind tattoo to match your newfound enlightenment.
Fish, owner of Lucky Fish, is a UCSB alumna who broke into the tattoo field 30 years ago, a time when women were very rarely allowed in the industry because old-school tattoo personalities were overwhelmingly male biker types that attempted to keep out tattoo artists that did not fit this mold.
As tattoos have become increasingly popular and a more diverse population has begun to seek out tattoos, the artists themselves have become more diverse as well. Fish is among the first generation of women tattoo artists and the foremost leader in Celtic tattooing for the entire nation. People travel from around the globe to visit Fish’s studio. After hearing the personal investment that Fish and her staff place onto each tattoo, it is clear that people who come looking for a simple tattoo often leave with a new frame of mind.
Many of Fish’s cliental are cancer survivors. After what can be years of chemotherapy and following doctor’s orders, some cancer survivors use tattoos to symbolize the reclaiming control of their bodies.
“A lot of people come to me after cancer and want to get a tattoo to say, ‘I am back in charge,’” Fish said.
Fish recounted a tattoo she had done for a woman who survived breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. The scarring was prominent and Fish said, “To have to live with that, it seems like they didn’t really have a sense that they survived.”
Originally, the woman came in asking for a small flower, but she eventually came back for a larger design. Along with the evolution of her tattoo, it seemed that she began to grow into her new post cancer body, blossoming like the flowers that Fish designed.
Later, the daughter of this woman called Fish, and Fish recounted her saying, “[You] gave me my mother back. She was so sad and by letting her not have to look at the scars anymore, she has regained herself.” The external scars can be transformed into artwork, helping heal the internal trauma that these individuals had to suffer.
However, Fish reveals less glamorous aspects of the job. At the height of the trend in the start of her career, Fish recalls a large portion of time honing her skill by repeatedly tattooing suns.
“I must have tattooed a sun on somebodies butt crack every single day for a decade,” said Fish. She joked that this tedious tattoo bought her beach bungalow that she owns today.
But a positive aspect of this was that this type of tattoo allowed her to become more of an artist, as she placed her own spin on a common trend. She remembers how drawing suns began to dim her passion.
“When I was doing suns all the time I had to fight constantly to keep a positive light on it,” Fish said. She eventually was able to place Celtic designs, among other unique twists, in the middle of the sun, and as it seems Fish is often able to do, she drew positive vibes onto what could have been a monotonous situation.
Tattooing is more than a simple stencil in Fish’s shop. She is a someone who cares and takes great pride in their work. As Fish says, “If you want art, I can help with that.”
If you would like to get a tattoo done by Pat Fish, you can find her at her shop Lucky Fish, located in downtown Santa Barbara off of State Street. For more information and a portfolio of her work, visit http://www.luckyfish.com/.