PORTLAND IS known for its ability to attract a wide variety of artists, whether they work in writing, painting, drawing, music or film. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Zoe Steele ’25, a local artist. Steele is an aspiring tattoo artist who sells their designs on Etsy and on campus at art fairs in the form of prints, original illustrations and stickers.
“I have always loved art. My art teachers in elementary school, middle school and high school were always my favorites,” Steele said. “I have always been drawing. I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal. I have two huge bins of sketchbooks from when I was a kid.”
Steele eventually went on to work at a tattoo parlor near their home. They worked at the front desk of the shop, and because of this, the majority of their job was personal interaction with patrons.
“I’d always loved working with people and art, and then I started working at a tattoo studio and was like, ‘Wait, this is perfect,’” Steele said. “Before that, I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go with it; I knew I wanted to do art as a career but I didn’t know how.”
Steele works with a wide variety of mediums in their art. Their preference towards one medium or another tends to change with what is on their mind, often swayed by the courses they are taking at that time.
“Over the last semester, I was in ceramics, which is not something I had done before. Now that I’m back in 2-D art classes, they ask you to do specific types of art. There is a shift in the type of art that I’m thinking about constantly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that has an effect on the type of things that I’m making in my free time,” Steele said.
Art can be a difficult product to sell, considering the time it takes to create and how heavily it relies on the interests of others. While they enjoy the idea of making art for a living, doing so as a college student can be a difficult endeavor.
“(Art) definitely isn’t enough to support me right now,” Steele said. “Especially as I’m also studying, I can’t work full time on making stuff outside of school.”
Nonetheless, a college campus does have the benefit of a reliable community, with Lewis & Clark’s tending towards the especially artsy and supportive types.
“Every time there’s an art fair on the campus, usually at the Coop, I sell art there and it usually is pretty good sales. I usually sell prints and stickers of my work or original pieces that are usually smaller, so they’re not crazy expensive. I would be more than happy to sell (my large oil paintings) to people, but I don’t think it’s likely that that would happen on a college campus,” Steele said.
In addition to in-person sales, Steele sells tattoo designs on Etsy. They sell the right to use the design to only one patron, making it an original design for the buyer.
Steele has continued to gain experience in selling both in person and online. They also stressed the importance of a social media presence as an artist, as well as making pieces consumers will be interested in purchasing.
“When someone comes up to me at an art sale and they say, ‘I can’t buy anything right now, but I’m really interested in your stuff,’ I can refer them to (my social media),” Steele said. “I think maybe even having a business card in the future would be good for me. Also making things that (take) a little bit less time, less effort, less detail. Something that you would be willing to part with for not a huge amount of money.”
Steele was not always sure of what they wanted to do with their passion for creation, but, fortunately for consumers of their beautiful work, are now majoring in art here at LC and are making plans to utilize their skills after they graduate.
“My goal after this is to do tattoo trade school and then start working around here. I want to be a tattoo artist but I also am really passionate about fine art and studio art. I’d like to do both, I’d like to continue being at local art shows and art fairs and also being a tattoo artist,” Steele said.
For Steele, the interpersonal relations that come with being an artist are a crucial part of their experience.
“I like doing art that has a focus on … aspects of my own personality and identity, but also my interactions with other people and other people’s interactions with their environments … I think everyone is beautiful,” Steele said. “Part of why I love tattooing so much is because it has to work with people’s physical bodies. It’s so dependent on people’s individuality.”
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