Born and raised on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, tattoo artist Tiffany “Tiffy” Elmergreen knew she had a passion for art at an early age. She was always drawn to tattooing, but in high school, she saw it as a mere “pipe dream.” When the opportunity to do what she loved finally came, she went for it.
One of Elmergreen’s main motivations at the time was to be taught by a woman. That didn’t happen right away, but she took an apprenticeship, learned the ropes and found herself at Honest To Goodness Tattoos and Piercing, where she learned most of what she knows under shop owner Kaelyn Currow.
Once she had found her mentor, she was able to hone in on her specific style — American traditional, with a touch of the feminine and delicate. With her versatile style, she is able to stand out among other tattoo artists and keep her books full. Be prepared to wait if you want work done by Elmergreen, but the delay is well worth it.
What’s your favorite part about being an artist?
Art-wise, I get to do something I love on a daily basis and it pays the bills. I mean, that’s so rare for an art-related job. You might chase after art your whole life and it just doesn’t work out; you either just get by or you’re not making any money. So the fact that I can pay my bills by doing something that I love is insane to me. I’m really grateful for that.
That is rare!
The other aspect, and something I was naive about, was what a people business it is. Before, I thought, ‘Oh, I get to draw all the time and mark people permanently with my own artwork.’ That’s all I thought it was, and it’s very much my connection with people and making an experience and setting an atmosphere. When I get tattooed, I remember that day and I remember everything that happened; the conversation, the food I ate and every little detail.
If you could describe your style in one word, what would it be?
One word?! I’d say … feminine, which could be in a bunch of different ways. I did not have a defined style when I started. I definitely was interested in the traditional style and tried to draw that. But then, over the years, I do a lot of flowers and more delicate subject matter, yet still in a traditional way. I use those black outlines and pretty solid color. My style has developed over the years and I’m still finding it, always.
Who or what influences or inspires your art?
I do look at a lot of other tattooers. Instagram is awesome for that, but if I’m not in a good mindset, it can be really discouraging. I look to other tattooers probably more technique-wise, trying to figure out how to do stuff. Other inspiration would be nature in general. I have a million pictures on my phone of flowers and leaves, mostly plants. A little bit of fashion too — not as much in the design aspect, but colors and patterns. I’m really drawn to patterns. And just old artwork or architecture.
How do you feel about tattoos having a ‘deeper meaning?’ Do you think it’s always necessary?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I feel that it’s usually a starting point for people, because if they’re marking their body forever, they want it to be meaningful. So, I think it’s definitely alright if you want to have every tattoo to have a meaning. I think for myself, once you start collecting and have so many, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that broccoli looks good there.’ A lot of it is just decorating your body and making something even more beautiful. Or, I feel like tattoos can be very therapeutic in helping you love certain parts of your body that you might not have loved before. Once I started tattooing my legs, I started wearing shorts and skirts more, and before I only wore pants.