Skin in the Game: Jackie Sabur

For Jackie Sabur ’03 ’06, tattooing is the ultimate expression of herself as an artist. The craft allows her to integrate learned techniques of fine art with her insatiable drive to connect and offer healing to people. With a B.F.A. in Painting and M.F.A. in from the Mount Royal School of Art, Sabur is anchored in fine art. She describes it as something she simply learned to apply to a different surface — human skin instead of canvas.

“Black Lotus looks at tattooing the way I do — painting and drawing on skin,” Sabur said. “This studio’s core values are like MICA’s — we are pushed to learn, evolve and excel in our craft, but not isolate ourselves in this tattoo world. We get better when the community we serve is looked after.”

“I started seeing tattooing as a craft imbued with meaning and healing for others,” Sabur explained. “It allowed me to create visual representations of things that mattered most to people.”

Her trek to become a tattoo artist included dreamy moments of self-discovery, but mostly a lot of sweat equity and unwavering persistence. Sabur had to pave her own path, most of the way, sometimes peering over the shoulders of willing craftsman to learn the trade. She explained that there is a protectionist approach to the craft; preserving the primal traditions in a modern society can make it difficult to break into the tattoo industry. Expert tattoo artists are often wary about taking apprentices under their wing. Sabur — fortunate to have helping hands from fellow artists in the trade — relied primarily on hands-on learning to carve a space for herself as a tattoo artist.

Halo Jankowski, founder of the Black Lotus Tattoo Studio and Gallery in Hanover, Maryland and Dana Helmuth ’93 (Painting B.F.A.) were two of Sabur’s unofficial guides over the past ten years. Often voted as the top tattoo studio in the state, Black Lotus gave Sabur space to hone her technique and develop a full understanding of needles. She has worked at the shop for three years now.

“Black Lotus looks at tattooing the way I do — painting and drawing on skin,” Sabur said. “This studio’s core values are like MICA’s — we are pushed to learn, evolve and excel in our craft, but not isolate ourselves in this tattoo world. We get better when the community we serve is looked after.”

At night, she burns the midnight oil, drawing, studying the secrets of sacred geometry and Japanese wood block composition for design inspiration. Most recently, Sabur uses what little free time she has assembling kits of self-made, plant-based tattoo aftercare products. She calls her line Sacred Solutions.

These days, some clients wait up to a year to be inked by Sabur, especially those that come to her for scar cover tattoos.

“I started working with scars and realized it was another way to help people. Double mastectomy, reconstructions, suicide or cutting scars — everyone that sits in your chair is there for a reason and I see it as part of my job to understand why,” Sabur said.

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