NISKAYUNA – Niskayuna artist and teacher Jane Romm is carving out a niche in the local tattoo industry, using hand-poke tattooing and eschewing the intimidating atmosphere found in some shops.
A Latham native, Romm graduated from Shaker High School and went on to study art at Syracuse University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and has worked as an art teacher for 11 years. For the last few years, she’s taught at Niskayuna High School and worked as a tattoo artist locally, first at A Vita Tattoo in Rensselaer and then at I&I Tattoo in Schenectady. She often runs charitable tattoo events, donating to nonprofit organizations both locally and further afield.
This fall, Romm plans to open Plain Jane Tattoos in Mechanicville, where she hopes to create an inclusive environment and give back to the community. The Gazette recently caught up with the artist about hand-poke tattooing and Plain Jane Tattoos.
Q: How did you get into tattooing?
A: I moved away for a bit for college and grad school and then settled in New Jersey for about seven years. It was living in Jersey and having close proximity to the city, specifically Brooklyn, that I was able to witness firsthand the resurgence of hand-poke as a tattoo style. I am a machine-free tattoo artist, which means I don’t use a conventional tattoo machine. I do everything by hand. It’s the same sterile process but it’s quiet. There’s no vibration to the skin and it’s much gentler on the skin.
It was a rebirth of a feminist practice of tattooing; taking back tattooing from a toxic masculine industry. That’s what drew me to it because a lot of the people who work in the hand-poke industry are women or people who identify as non-binary or queer.
Q: How did you learn the hand-poke technique?
A: Unfortunately, with hand-poke, you can’t really go through a conventional apprenticeship. So I’m actually self-trained, but I took licensing classes in New York City and got my license there and really did my due diligence to make sure that I learned the craft and made sure that I knew all of the sterile procedures and took all of the coursework.
Once I finally knew how to do everything making that next jump to finally become a tattoo artist was very scary because it’s one thing to learn about it. It’s another thing to do it.
At the same time in my life, unfortunately, my father was diagnosed with leukemia, and had a very short stint in the hospital and actually passed away. I think part of the grieving process was just that idea of realizing that life was too short. That was the final push to get me to actually start tattooing formally.
Q: What made you pursue opening your own shop?
A: I’ve loved both of my experiences at A Vita and I&I. I owe so much of my career to them for giving me an opportunity to be in a tattoo shop and be able to work and grow my craft and receive mentorship.
Now I’m at that point where I really want to create my own space. [I’m] trying to create an environment that’s modeled after what I was introduced to in Brooklyn, creating that safe space that focuses on not only inclusivity but body positivity as well. [I’m also] taking steps to get to know my clients. Before I talk to them, I have this intake form where I’m able to ask people’s names, pronouns, and any boundaries that they may have before they get tattooed.
I’m really excited for this new opportunity to continue to foster that environment and grow this idea that not every tattoo shop has to be scary to walk into. You’re going to be coming into a welcome space where your voice is heard and valid. And you’re never going to be gaslit or steamrolled into doing something that you don’t want to do.
Q: What do you want your students or the community to understand about tattoos?
A: Society is changing where tattoos aren’t as stigmatized, but I still feel like we have a way to go. A lot of people feel like they have to have a certain body type . . . in order to be able to get a tattoo. But everyone has permission to take ownership of where they are in their life and what their body looks like and be able to feel whole and complete in their body as it is now and to celebrate that with something like a tattoo.
For updates on Romm’s shop and for more on her work, visit plainjanetattooco.com.
“Getting To Know …” is a weekly feature spotlighting people making a difference in the lives of others. If there’s someone you think we should feature, let us know by emailing us at [email protected]