Culture » Visual Arts

Jenni Rivera outlines her path to legitimacy as a tattoo artist


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  • Griffin Swartzell
Jenni Rivera couldn’t get a job in interior design after graduating from The Art Institute of Houston, so she moved to The Bronx, bought a tattoo kit, and started illegally inking people out of her home, eventually working in a dirty shop inside a nail salon. The money was good until she got caught by Kristen Fristed in 2013.

“[Fristed] was a tattoo artist trying to protect her craft,” says Rivera. “I didn’t even know it was really an art form when I started. I was just trying to make some money.” Fristed, who now works at Nautical Tattoo Co. in Port Charlotte, Florida, says she taught Rivera about the ins and outs of proper sanitation and clean-up. In 2014, Rivera took her skills to Atlanta, Georgia, before coming to the Springs in April 2017. She now works at Pens & Needles Custom Tattoo Company on Weber Street.

Stylistically, she’s a big fan of American traditional, or old-school, tattoos (think mom hearts, swallows and nautical stars).
  • Griffin Swartzell

“It’s so hard to master,” she says. “It’s so simple, but [a good artist] can get so many details through implied detail.” But she also tends to mix things up, using vivid colors atypical of the style and adding geometric elements. Rivera’s been practicing geometric tattoos since working in Atlanta as a means of perfecting clean lines.

“There’s nothing better to work on line-work than geometric designs,” she says. “They have super straight, sometimes super long lines, and if they’re not perfect, it’s going to affect the way the tattoo looks. If you wiggle a little bit or have to go over the line twice, you can tell.”

She also applies her interior design training to her tattoo work. Her formal studies on light source, perspective and especially balance have helped with her pieces. As American traditional tattoos are very flat, visual balance in the design and on the skin is paramount.


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