Q&A: Tattoo artist Amanda How discusses changing artistic mediums from film to flesh

Photo of Amanda How
Self portrait of tattoo artist and photographer Amanda How (Photo courtesy of Amanda Carlson)

By Jordyn Bradley
Medill Reports

Though Amanda Carlson has only been tattooing for a year and a half, her career as an artist started long before she picked up a tattoo gun. 

Professionally, she goes by Amanda How because, in her words, her middle name is “catchier” than her last name.

How worked as a photographer specializing in portraits and at a 9-to-5 graphic design position for nearly a decade. Timing is everything though, and How says she’s entered the industry at just the right time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.


What drew you to taking portraits?

I feel like when I look at people in their face, I see all their best features. So I started shooting people and it was just like this waterfall effect. When I take pictures of people, I just want to capture the beauty in everything. I think no matter what you look like, there’s one day out of the year you wake up and look in the mirror and you’re like, “I look pretty good.” If I could capture that one moment, that’s the most satisfying, fulfilling thing for me. It’s like a gift of making someone feel good, so I find a lot of fulfillment in that. 

Are there any techniques that you use when photographing that translate into tattooing?

Understanding your light source is a complicated thing, especially for somebody that doesn’t have as much of an artistic eye. That and the basics of composition directly correlate to tattooing.

You started tattooing in August of 2021, yet you have this large repertoire already.

I kind of just hit the ground running. I became so obsessed with it that I was just like, “I’m going to try to (tattoo) as much as I humanly can.” (Since August 2021, How estimates she has given over 2,500 tattoos).

What made you decide that you wanted to try this new avenue out?

Basically, since I got my first tattoo from my friend Pony Lawson, who is an amazing tattooer, I feel like a switch turned on inside of my brain where I was like, “I need to quit my job yesterday and literally do everything I possibly can to become a full-time tattooer.” It just felt so right. It felt like every artistic thing I’ve ever done in my life has accumulated into this one craft.

People talk about how once you get your first tattoo you’re never going to stop wanting more, but you went further than that.

It’s like one of those things where people say to you your whole life, “Oh, when you find a job that you love, you never work a day in your life,” but that’s true. That happened to me, and I never thought it would. I’m still blown away every day.

Is there something in the styles that you enjoy tattooing that also translates into what you’ve enjoyed photographing?

I’ve been wanting to try out realism tattooing. If there were some photos that I took that I’d be able to also tattoo, that’d be really cool.

If you could tattoo anyone, who would it be?

Probably some cool bands and musicians.

So somebody that you know would have it on display for everybody to see?


Your tattoo work and photography is featured in a recent Inked magazine article on TikTokker Chrissy Chlapecka. What’s it like to have your art seen by so many people?

That was my third time working with Inked as a photographer but the first time my tattoos were featured, and it was just cool. It’s nice to have a publication recognize an artist and publish them.

Do you ever recognize tattoos you’ve done in public?

All the time. I remember being at this art gallery once and there were like seven people there that I tattooed before. 

How do you combat creativity blocks or lack of inspiration?

If I have any creative block with tattooing, it’s more of me trying to create original flash designs and trying to pull inspiration. You can pull inspiration from a lot of things that aren’t tattoo related like poetry, photo books or art history. Inspiration for my tattoo flash designs comes directly from my life and how I’m feeling emotionally, and it’s important to pull things from different subject matter and mediums to create something unique. For photography, it’s more like, “Let’s motivate ourselves to do this and make it something really special,” not just, “Oh, my God, that’s such a good photo.”

Do you think of yourself as more of a tattoo artist or a photographer?

A tattooer. The way that I fell in love with tattooing was a lot different than the way I fell in love with photography. Photography is something that’s kind of always been there, and it just kind of always has happened. Whereas with tattooing, I’m obsessed with it. I feel like every artistic outlet I’ve ever done (photography, graphic design) is all engulfed within tattooing, and it’s not just the art form of having a tattoo, it’s the connection you make with people and the way it’s like a lifestyle. When I look at photography, it’s this tool to create artwork. With tattooing, it’s like my life.

Where would you like to see your art going next?

I want to start focusing more on my drawings and my paintings. Five years from now, I would love for there to be a rose, for example, and you can just tell from the style of that rose that I made that rose. I want to just have a more distinct art style, and the only way to do that is to draw all the time.

Jordyn Bradley is a social justice graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @byjordynb.