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Beyond the Canvas: Tattoo artist Megan Thayer

In a new Canvas series, Beyond the Canvas, we're profiling area artists who create art outside traditional mediums. This week, blog coordinator Sarah McQuillan profiles Megan Thayer, owner of Ascension Tattoos.

“The very first thing I tattooed on was bananas,” said Meghan Thayer, owner and artist of Chapel Hill’s Ascension Tattoo.

“After you’ve tattooed a banana, you can peel it back and look at the inside of how deep your lines are and see if they’re too deep, if they’re not deep enough. You can see it from the inside, which is a really cool learning tool. And of course you haven’t really hurt anything, and you can peel the banana and eat it.”

After practicing with bananas and apprenticing for a year, Thayer opened Ascension Tattoo in Chapel Hill in September of 2012. However, opening her own tattoo studio proved to be a surprising twist and challenging journey for Thayer, who had never imagined herself as a tattoo artist.

“I’ve always loved tattoos and I’ve always been drawn to it. I got my first tattoo when I was 18 in a minute — I just loved that aspect,” Thayer said. “But my upbringing was always kind of school and more conventional type stuff. So I went to college, got a corporate job and did all of that, and was really quite successful at it, but was super, super unhappy.”

Thayer said she began getting tattooed again in her early thirties while working in real estate.

“I wanted to start getting some bigger work and became friends with the tattoo artist at that point and helped him with some other kind of business type stuff that had been my background,” she explained. “And from there I just got really involved and ended up learning to tattoo.

“It’s kind of weird,” Thayer said. “I hate to say that I fell into it, but tattooing kind of came to me.”

Thayer said she chose to set up shop in Chapel Hill partly because she lives nearby and loves the area, but also because the town lacked a studio of its own.

“There’s Glenn’s over in Carrboro, and they’ve been there for several years, they’re a well-established shop,” she explained. “But Chapel Hill proper hadn’t seen a tattoo studio in many years. I love that [now] there’s a local place that people can come get good artwork.”

Thayer, who has roughly 15 tattoos of her own, said she has done thousands of pieces throughout her career. She said there are many aspects of tattooing that draw her to the craft.

“I think every art form has its own thing, and people are drawn to it for their own reason,” she said. “I think [tattooing] is both an art form and a craft. It’s something that to be good at you really have to discipline yourself, you really have to put in the hours and you have to do it repetitively.”

“Also the way tattoos go on the body is definitely an art form,” she continued. “Working with the lines and the curves of the body to make [tattoos] look like they belong or like they’re natural, or enhance what’s already there -- I really like that aspect of it.”

Although her style of tattooing has changed over her career, Thayer explained its current state as being bold.

“I’m still kind of developing my style,” she said. “I like doing lots of heavier line work, black work. I like doing lots of illustrative stuff, botanical stuff, and geometric stuff.”

To maintain her art and business, Thayer said she must remain balanced and focused in many aspects of her life. But with two elementary-school-aged boys, it’s a difficult but fun task.

“I'm a single mom, so it’s the three of us,” she said. “It’s awesome and crazy and hectic and fun.”

“It requires a lot of balance and I think more than anything all of those situations and aspects of my life have given me a lot of discipline. It’s also taught me to really take care of myself as well, because if I’m not okay everything else starts to fall apart. So a big part of my life is making sure I’m ok, making sure I’m taking breaks, spending time with my family -- really making sure I’m attending to the down time, and then scheduling and juggling the rest of things.”

Thayer’s drastic career change and full time jobs as mom and small business owner certainly present challenges, but are not without excitement and reward.

“I think it was always a dream of mine to own a small business,” she said. “It’s absolutely an adventure. I never really knew what that [dream] looked like or what it would be, but I knew it was what I wanted to do, and everything just started happening.”

“It’s been a super challenging journey, but I’m definitely in right place at the right time.

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