Iconoclastic Ink: Behind the pearly gates of Angels Collective

The flowers are blooming almost violently outside. The chaos of drivers impatiently beeping fills the air. I pass through a heavy red door off Broadway in Providence and walk up the stairs to Angels Collective tattoo studio. The chaotic beeping deadens once inside. Light filters in through a green-paned, stained glass window at the top of the stairwell. I wonder how old it is and think about the everyday art made before I was even a thought in my mother’s head, and what will outlive me when I’m gone. Fluffy clouds hang from the ceiling over crocheted, granny-squared pillows. The titular name glows on the wall in the waiting area (courtesy of local bender Nick McKnight). Angels hangs in lowercase script, white neon. Amen.

Angels Tattoo describes itself on its website as “a multidisciplinary collective of queer & non-binary artists making magic in Providence, RI,” continuing on to say that it is “a licensed tattoo shop” that “hopes to bring inclusivity and community care to the forefront of the local tattoo scene.”

Mimi in their studio.

Upon ascending, I am met by one of the Angels, Mimi Chrzanowski (@bbypokes). They are an artist who has been tattooing since 2010, describing their style as illustrative, folk arty, playful and “always applied one dot at a time, by hand.” They continue telling me about their start into the world of tattoo, saying, “It was initially a very casual pastime with friends, and I’m eternally grateful for being surrounded by these down-to-clown punks in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and later, Providence.” Mimi shares a studio space with Blue Wallick (@puppygoblin), and together, they have adorned the walls with adorable blue and green murals of a friendly snail and caterpillar.

A kewpie doll keeps watch on a bookshelf in the corner. Blue tells me over email that he draws inspiration from “the whimsy of childhood” as well as “forest critters, 2000s video game nostalgia, storytelling, and magic.” In the studio, Mimi begins to give me a tour of the rest of the rooms.

I am led into the shared studio space of Kiki Shu (@shuuin) and Jessa Cabral (@twoconestattoo). The space is gorgeously decorated but comfortable, like an especially cool Virgo friend’s house. Shu agrees with this assessment, describing the atmosphere as a “living room vibe” that is “divided up into cozy rooms with one to two artists in each.” Aside from the cozy atmosphere, Shu explains that their “goal is always to prioritize clients’ comfort, and I really value being transparent with the process, expectations, and having informed consent.”

Getting inked. (Stencil by Kiki Shu.)

I’m lucky to witness a bit of Shu’s process with a client, as Shu places a stencil for a tattoo that reads Angel Baby in a modernized gothic font and deep red ink. The client contemplates the placement on the front of their thigh in the mirror while Shu hangs back respectfully, then laughs as I snap a picture. “I guess my thigh will live in Motif forever,” they say.

Eternity looks good in a place like this. In the next room over, I chat with Jeanine (@xj9.tattoos) who shares a studio space with fellow angel Lilly (@lilatattoos). Lilly’s side of the room features flash sheets and a holographic wall hanging of Zelda. They tell me that they specialize in black and white tattooing, with styles ranging “from high contrast, dark and spooky, to delicate, light, and soft handed.” Lilly tells me that they often draw inspiration from their love of video games, specifically The Legend of Zelda, and that their dream tattoo would be “a full video game sleeve or back piece.”

Jeanine’s side of the room, by contrast, is romantic and homey — a kind of slightly gothic, cottagecore vibe. The juxtaposition of decor isn’t lost on Jeanine, who says, “People have described our setup like grandma (my side) and grandkid (theirs)…. There’s a little something for everyone!”

Jeanine setting up for a client.

After checking out Jeanine’s setup for a client who is coming in for a tattoo later that afternoon – a gorgeous, fineline, reticulated snake from Jeanine’s flash sheet — I follow Mimi into the staff room. On the opposite wall as I enter is a negative space mural painted by former Angels tattooer Mary (@crescentwretch), featuring beetles, snakes, flowers, wings, and heavenly, disembodied hands. I can’t walk two feet in this place without being bowled over by artistic talent and it makes me a little shy. I accidentally bump into their microwave on a cart by the door, knocking some paint brushes off the top.

Straightening out the paintbrush situation, I am introduced to another Angel, Laura (@poopy.pokes). I ask them where they draw inspiration for flash designs. They reply, “Usually something will catch my eye while browsing through folk art, textile art, paintings, etc. and I will make a note of a shape or figure or element that speaks to me… I enjoy the idea of using small motifs, be it the brow on a face, a small sun in the corner of a landscape, or the curve of a floral, in cultivating a kind of stylistic through line.” This is super evident in their flash sheet, which features repeating dancers in a line, similarly sloped petals, and an eye drawn the same for a bird as for a leaping horse — an oblong dot that creates continuity throughout some of the creatures that Laura tattoos.

I am struck by the energy of radical acceptance, collaboration, creativity, and care at Angels, which is not something I have always experienced in other more traditional tattoo shops, to say the least. I asked each of the angels how they think the culture of tattooing has changed in recent years, and if it is more or less inclusive for queer and nonbinary artists. Blue answers, “I would say tattoo culture has become a lot more inclusive. Most of my tattoos are by queer people. But of course with visibility comes the criticism. There is a huge divide between ‘oldheads’ and greener tattooers, and I think part of it is the fear of change. But there’s room, and clients, for everyone.”

Laura echoes this, but underscores, “While I think there has been increased visibility through social media in promoting tattooers who identify as queer and nonbinary, I think it’s important to recognize that queer and nonbinary artists have always been present in tattoo spaces, and have made essential contributions to tattoo history and ‘traditional’ tattooing as we understand it.”

I stumble back onto the sidewalk, back to Earth. The next time you are thinking about adorning your mortal coil, check out the work of the talented artists at Angels Collective.

For full interviews with the artists, continue reading.

Polaroids of Angels Collective members via their website.


Dana Schneider (Motif): How long have you been tattooing for? How would you describe your style of tattoo?

I’ve technically been tattooing for ~8 years, but I’ve been tattooing consistently/full time for a little over three3 years. My tattoo style at the moment is mainly illustrative organic imagery and hand drawn calligraphy, but I feel open to anything! I like to work in a mix of linework and dotwork.

Mimi: I started tattooing in 2010. It was initially a very casual pastime with friends, and I'm eternally grateful for being surrounded by these down-to-clown punks in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and later Providence, Rhode Island! I'd say 2018 was the turning point year where I started cultivating my tattoo practice more seriously so it could grow further. I'd describe my style as illustrative, folk arty, playful, and always applied one dot at a time by hand.

Blue: I’ve been tattooing on and off for five years — unless you count a sewing needle tattoo I gave myself at 16, then I’d say 10 ;) but have been full-time for just over 3 years. My style is very illustrative, I love to tattoo characters and nature scenes.

I've been tattooing for just shy of four years. I'm a hand-poke tattoo artist primarily interested in re-interpreting folk imagery, textile patterns, and landscapes among other things, while emphasizing bright colors, high contrast, and whimsicality.

Lilly: I have been tattooing for three to four years specializing in black and white. Some pops of color to anyone who likes it! From high contrast, dark and spooky, to delicate light and soft shaded! I like to try and do the most with just some black ink.

Jeanine: I've been tattooing for six years! My style can be described as fineline illustrative, both color and black and gray.

DS: How did you come to join Angels Collective?

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of the original crew that started Angels Collective (as we know it today) in December of 2020. It still feels like one of the luckiest flukes of my life, haha! I had never met any of the other members in person until we started looking at spots to rent together. I was pretty fresh out of college and feeling a lot of nerves from imposter syndrome and general shyness, but the opportunity to be in a collective with cool & talented peers like Angels felt like everything I could have ever hoped for as a baby tatter still getting their feet on the ground.

Mimi: It was in December 2020 that Angels Collective as we know it was born on Broadway in Providence. For months prior to that a number of us were online discussing what renting a space together could ideally look like. At the time some of us barely knew each other outside of having traded a tattoo here and there. Reflecting on that fact always makes me overflow with gratitude for how much I love, trust, and admire my studio family, past and present <3

Blue: I was invited to join as a founding member by Jessa, which was great because I was newer to Rhode Island. It was nice that someone I had traded with invited me to participate, and in turn changed the course of my career.

Laura: I had cultivated relationships with several Angels Collective members over the course of my tattoo journey; when I expressed interest in moving to Providence / working out of the Angels' space, the collective was incredibly supportive and agreed to have me on as a part-time guest artist, then eventually as a full-time resident.

Lilly: Angels has always been a place I had looked up to when starting my tattoo journey. I guested here one summer and grew to love it. Luckily the studio had put out an advertisement for a new artist and I had applied thanks to the encouragement from my partner.

Jeanine: Angels came into my life at the perfect time. A client of mine while tattooing in Brooklyn, NY recommended I look into Angels Collective and Providence as a possible home, right as I was looking to move closer to my hometown in MA. That week, Angels posted they were hiring, and everything fell into place! Truly heaven sent. I feel so lucky to be here.

DS: What is the shared vision of Angels Collective and how does that align with your own art practice?

Angels Collective values joy, aid & support, inclusivity, comfort, and collaboration, whether it be with our members, clients, and/or larger Providence (and beyond) community. We learn from and support each other, and strive to give back whenever we can. I’ve been inspired by each and every one of my studio mates at Angels, past and present, in so many ways! I am seeking to make a positive impact and to never stop learning new skills/ways to do so in my work and my life. I’m 100% a better person and artist because of my time & company at Angels.

Mimi: The seven of us at Angels strive to create a space that prioritizes communication, consent, and the joy of asserting bodily autonomy through tattoo transformation. One of the things I love about tattooing as part of my art practice is its inherently collaborative nature. Using my creativity and practical skill in this craft is wonderful, but equally so is the feeling of being in service to someone walking through our door and providing them with a sanitary and chill environment.

Blue: I believe the vision of Angels is to be a space for growth and non-judgment in both tattooing and the arts. Angels has taught me that it’s okay to do your own thing, and following a more traditional path isn’t for everyone. So in my own practice, I try to embody that feeling of empathy and gratitude for my own unique perspective.

Laura: The Angels Collective aims to create a space inclusive and accessible to the surrounding community through its operation as a collective, collaborative entity. I maintain that my tattoo practice is inherently one of collaboration, shared trust, and relationship-building with each client, and I'm grateful to be surrounded by peers and collective members who share a dedication to this emphasis on a collaborative, dynamic process.

Lilly: The people here at Angels are so guiding, understanding, helpful, and open. I am so thankful to have found a group of people who are willing to give and help out our community. I am thankful to share my art here at Angels.

DS: How has the culture of tattooing changed in recent years? Is it more or less inclusive for queer and nonbinary artists?

I think the culture has shifted a lot in the last decade. I also acknowledge that I have not been in industry for a very significant amount of time. Nontraditional styles of running tattoo businesses (such as private studios like Angels Collective) have become much more prevalent in the past decade, and can feel a lot more accessible and inclusive for people with marginalized identities who may face a lot more hardship in entering industry compared to cis/het/white/rich/etc. counterparts. Social media has also changed everything. From the clients’ side, browsing for and finding new artists has never been easier and more accessible. I remember when I was a teen, all I was really privy to were the couple of street shops I would drive by in my hometown every now and then. Now, there is a huge range of shops, private studios, and independent artists at your fingertips. I think in this way the playing field has leveled a lot, especially for marginalized artists. I know I’m grateful, as a queer & nonwhite artist, to have started tattooing when I did!

Mimi: Looking around it's easy to see how much tattooing culture has exploded in terms of experimentation and acceptance in recent years. The internet made information about safely tattooing more accessible to a wider range of people, and social media made it feasible for artists to work in specialized styles or in alternative environments and still be found online by clients seeking their unique qualities. I chose to enter tattooing through the DIY back door because I wasn't sure there would be a place for me to be me when I started stick and poking long ago. Little did I know at the time the extent to which queer people have always been a part of tattooing culture. We're just more visible now.

Blue: I would say tattoo culture has become a lot more inclusive. Most of my tattoos are by queer people. But of course with visibility comes the criticism. There is a huge divide between “oldheads” and greener tattooers, and I think part of it is the fear of change. But there’s room, and clients, for everyone.

I think we have seen tattooing expand as an artform across both imagery and technical application, and with this we've also seen an increase in tattoo interest and acceptance within the general public. While I think there has been increased visibility through social media in promoting tattooers who identify as queer and nonbinary, I think it's important to recognize that queer and nonbinary artists have always been present in tattoo spaces, and have made essential contributions to tattoo history and "traditional" tattooing as we understand it.

Lilly: I believe yes it has become more inclusive! You will find your community wherever you are. When I started tattooing I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many queer and nonbinary tattooers there are. We are everywhere, it’s lovely and comforting to see.

Jeanine: There are so many more options these days compared to when I entered the business in 2017 for queer artists. It certainly depends who you surround yourself with; I chose to move to Brooklyn, NY in 2020 to be able to work in a queer owned shop. I was so thrilled to come across Angels Collective which consists completely of queer and nonbinary artists, it feels more welcoming than I ever imagined a tattoo space could feel.

DS: Do you have a favorite tattoo that you have done recently? (Or is that like a teacher admitting to having a favorite student?)

I have been really enjoying tattooing lettering in color lately! There are always certain types of projects that I feel extra excited for, but my interests and fixations are always changing month by month.

Mimi: They're indeed all my children! I will say, I really enjoy combining solid linework with dotty detailing, whether it's a flash design or a custom request.

Blue: I love any tattoo I make of dogs! I have a repeatable design of a trotting dog with a collar and chain that just makes me happy any time I do it.

Laura: I'm incredibly proud of a piece I was able to do for a studiomate recently-- it is a sort of warrior holding a severed head and was made on the ribcage. The imagery itself is more macabre than is typical for me, but there is something almost coy in the quality of expression, and both myself and my studio mate agreed to think of it as a kind of talisman / protector set to ward off any ~bad vibes~.

Lilly: I love all my tattoos I do, I can’t call any of the babies ugly. I do have a favorite tattoo though. I did a Wolf Link and Midna leg piece. I’ve always wanted to do a piece with them and I was so thankful. Shoutout to you Aaron!

Jeanine: I am the worst at picking favorites! However anytime I get to take on a large scale piece like a back piece or sleeve, I am particularly stoked.

DS: What can someone expect when they sit in your chair to be tattooed? What’s the atmosphere like?

We definitely have a “living room” vibe at Angels, our space is currently divided up into several cozy rooms with 1-2 artists in each. My goal is always to prioritize clients’ comfort, and I really value being transparent with the process, expectations, and having informed consent. I ask clients if they have any sensory or accessibility needs during booking intake, and during the appointment the client is in control the entire time–from placement, snack breaks, session length, music volume, privacy screening etc. I’m down to be quiet or chatty, and clients are free to nap, listen to music, or watch movies with headphones if they want, and I make sure to check in with how the client is feeling every so often during the session. I currently do exclusively handpoked tattoos, so the tattooing itself is pretty quiet (no loud buzzing of a machine).

Mimi: Upon your arrival we'll settle in together and review what you're seeking that day and what you'll need to be as comfy as possible during the process. Chances are good I'll have Cocteau Twins radio on the speaker yet again. I do handpoke, which makes the room pretty quiet so things can be as chatty or as zoned-out as you're feeling. The giant snail painted on the wall next to my tattoo station will watch over us as we commence hehe :)

Blue: I really want my client to feel empowered, so I am as collaborative as I can be. Quiet or chatty, I’m happy to follow their lead on that! Surrounding talks about placement, size, and colors, I’m always there to offer a perspective. I’ve been told almost weekly that my space is “cute!”

I always work with music playing — clients can expect to hear just about any and every genre under the sun. I'm always eager to discuss the process and answer any questions clients have. Folks have often described the process of being hand-poked as a meditative experience — I think something about the rhythmic, light-handed nature of hand-poke lends itself to a kind of relaxation. Sometimes people even feel sleepy!

Lilly: I can be chatty! I love to learn new things about people and what they do. There are so many different worlds people live in and it’s nice to live in them for a moment during our tattoo.

Jeanine: I strive to make the environment as comfortable as you can be while getting poked! I always encourage clients to bring comfort items with them and offer conversation and music throughout the session, but ultimately I try to let the client determine the vibe. My station is very homey and I share a small room with my fellow Angel Lilly. People have described our setup like grandma (my side) and grandkid (theirs) with our decor — antique, romantic feel on my side, video games on theirs. There's a little something for everyone!

DS: How do you come up with ideas for flash? What are your sources of inspiration, loosely defined? (I.e. an artist you like, a TV show, a place?)

I’ve always been inspired by flora and fauna. In my teen years I was really enmeshed in the online furry community, and was super focused on honing my nature drawing skills and capturing expressions and actions of animal subjects. I still carry so much of that drive and inspiration with me in my present day work! I’m also inspired by just taking things in through my everyday life. If I’m super into a video game, show, or hobby it will totally have an affect on my art ideas. Additionally, clients’ custom tattoo proposals inspire me all the time, and I’m grateful to have gotten to collaborate with peoples’ visions and draw a bunch of concepts that I would have never drawn on my own.

Mimi: This is an annoying answer, but I truly am inspired by everything I see around me. Be it colorful packaging at the grocery store, a funny face in the clouds, a trip to the library to pour over art books and comics, or a cute animal video sent to me by a sweetie.

Blue: I’m really inspired by the whimsy of childhood. I love forest critters, 2000s video game nostalgia, storytelling, and magic.

I try not to adhere too strictly to any reference — usually something will catch my eye while browsing through folk art, textile art, paintings, etc. and I will make a note of a shape or figure or element that speaks to me. From there I try my best to draw from a place of not really knowing what the outcome — intended or otherwise — will be. As someone new to a kind of visual artistic practice this has definitely taken some getting used to. I enjoy the idea of using small motifs, be it the brow on a face, a small sun in the corner of a landscape, or the curve of a floral, in cultivating a kind of stylistic thru line.

Lilly: For the clients who have come into my studio , they can see I know what I like: Zelda. It is no secret! I get a lot of my inspiration from that as well as many other games. Different genres and gameplay bring new experiences and a lot of that gives great flash ideas.

Jeanine: I honestly don't usually go in with much of a plan, I tend to start drawing what aesthetically feels right in the moment. Oftentimes I end up with a flash sheet of pieces I'd get tattooed on myself if they weren't mine!

DS: A dream tattoo that you haven’t gotten to do yet?

Nothing in particular, but I am always fantasizing about doing more large scale work like full back pieces/sleeves/bodysuits/etc. It definitely takes a certain type of person to commit to big handpoked work though ;-)

Mimi: I'd love to take on larger scale work! Big ol' back piece of a mysterious creature, anyone?!

Blue: I would love to plan a full sleeve with someone. I have gotten pretty close, but I’m talking shoulder to wrist, all the way around. As for the content, I’d love some animals in there, but I’m flexible!

Larger compositions! I'm currently in the process of synthesizing pieces for the back, stomach and chest. The idea of being able to cover a large area of someone's "canvas" is a very new but very exciting way of thinking about space and composition.

Lilly: My dream tattoo is a full video game sleeve or back piece. I would be so happy to do my Zelda or Luigi's Mansion piece I have on my Instagram ready for anyone!

DS: Favorite RI summer activity/antic?

I love camping, playing tennis, going to the beach, eating frozen treats, and just enjoying the long days.

Mimi: Going to the beach, preferably during vampire hours, Like No Udder's vegan ice cream, and roller skating outside!

Blue: Like No Udder for ice creams, and I’ve been playing tennis!

Laura: I've yet to experience a Rhode Island summer and am so excited! Current plans include bike riding everywhere, visiting as many beaches as possible, lots of ice cream, and patio seating.

Lilly: I love to go out to eat. Although I have my set and specific palette I choose from, I like to try many places with that!

Jeanine: I'm such a sucker for yard sales and art markets! You can always find me supporting the local art scene or grabbing an ice cream from Kow Kow.

DS: Social media handle? Anything cool that you want to shout out?

@shuuinn (tattoo) and @beckishu (art)
Angels Collective has a Patreon/bi-monthly sticker club!

Mimi: @bbypokes
I'm always accepting inquiries about making your art/tat dreams a reality so don't be shy about sending me a proposal!

Blue: I’m @puppygoblin on instagram! Just want to say that aside from tattoos, I also make games and am open for illustration commissions, so you can visit my site for any of that stuff, or just to say hi!

Laura: Instagram is @poopy.pokes; I will be releasing brand new flash and booking for the summer months soon, so folks are encouraged to subscribe to my newsletter in order to get that information (linked on the Angels' website). <3

Lilly: @lilatattoos I am currently booking for June!

Jeanine: @xj9.tattoos! My custom and flash books are open, I'm always looking to do more large-scale and color work on all skin tones.