Pride Month Artist Spotlight: 4 Artists You Should Know | Painful Pleasures Community

Pride Month Artist Spotlight: 4 Artists You Should Know

These 4 artists are making their impact on the industry. Check out all their unique styles and insights in celebration of Pride Month!
by Danny Tress Last Updated: June 23, 2023

Kingsley Van Zandt

Headshot of Kingsley Van Zandt with three of his tattoos

Bisexual transgender artist from Unkindness Art in Richmond, Virginia

Nature has transformative magic in Kingsley Van Zandt’s body of work. Kittens sprout butterfly wings; goldfish blow bubbles that bloom into mushrooms; and crystals grow jaggedly from the body of a long-tailed rat. As an artist with mostly queer clients, Kingsley values these surreal elements as symbols that resonate with the community. 

“For most non-cisgender folks, there is a desire to change your physical self and/or a sense of not belonging, like you’re some sort of “other”— things like werewolves & movie monsters appeal to this, and in my personal work, I tend to play with these transformative themes. Things like an animal becoming something else, feminine subjects becoming more traditionally masculine & vice-versa, or an ethereal sense of something beyond.”

Dimorphism and duality are other key subjects in Kingsley’s work. As a bisexual transgender Jewish man from a mixed-race family, this choice of subject matter holds great resonance in Kingsley’s life. He’s also taken on more than a few gender-affirming tattoos, including cover-up work for surgery scars, feminine subjects on transgender women, and moths colored like the trans flag. Largely staffed with queer-identifying artists, Unkindness Art Studio fosters this kind of gender-affirming work. But Kingsley points out that tattooing is still “classically gatekept by cis straight white men,” so challenges certainly still exist in the industry for other transgender folks looking to create similar art.

“I started my transition well before entering the tattoo industry and as someone who passed as a cishet white man from the beginning, it means I get to circumvent a lot of biases against people who are more femme or androgynously presenting or otherwise stir up the status quo within the industry […] getting an apprenticeship is still difficult, and while the generation of mentors will inevitably become more diverse as time goes on, it does still create a problem wherein those qualified to mentor right now may still hold biases or problematic views […]” 

A self-proclaimed “tatter tot” who’s fairly new to the industry, Kingsley is out and openly trans now, but he’s been transitioning for over a decade. Before that, he was “stealth,” passing for a cis-gendered person under the radar. Coming out was a nerve-wracking thing for Kingsley but was an important step for visibility and representation. Visibility, after all, counteracts those pre-existing biases that are still roadblocks for aspiring artists. It helps the industry transform and grow. 

“Know your worth. A lot of us struggle with imposter syndrome and end up undervaluing ourselves in one way or another—and society will often back up these thoughts for marginalized individuals. You’re worth just as much as your cis or heterosexual counterparts and colleagues, and to an equally marginalized audience—you might be even more important just being seen.” 

Follow Kingsley on Instagram @alekivz. 


Headshot of Lulu with three of her tattoos

Lesbian cis-gender artist in Miami, Florida

Lulu gives life and dimension to pop culture icons, animals, and abstract portraits. Her work is striking, so alive it looks like it might come right off the skin. This liveliness is colorful, joyful, and, according to Lulu, celebratory.  

“I love to celebrate life, and I do this through the vibrant colors in my work. Even though life can be difficult and challenging, there’s always a beautiful way of honoring those struggles. This sentiment is something I feel reverberates throughout not only the LGBTQIA+ community, but for all individuals.” 

Part of honoring those struggles and herself is being open about her identity as a lesbian woman. She volunteers her time to queer-run programs in her community, and proudly invites her partner to conventions and other important social events. It’s this openness and dedication to her community that continues to open more doors in the world of tattooing, and close others that ought to be shut.  

“Recently, at a tattoo convention, a fellow queer artist moved me when they expressed their admiration. Women have begun to be more represented in tattoo spaces, but the queer community is still a smaller share of it. This artist expressed to me their appreciation for how adamant I am about showcasing both of these identities and that my willingness to be seen helped them to feel seen. I’ve always shown who I am, so any client that comes to me is choosing me knowingly. I strongly believe being open about my identity has protected me from people who could have chosen to not work with me if they’d learned about it later on.”   

An artist of almost a decade, Lulu was inspired to become a tattooer after seeing other female tattoo artists killing it on Ink Master. Still, despite being inspired, passionate, and ready to go, Lulu certainly felt pushback when she tried to get her foot in the door—not only as a woman, but as a queer woman, too. This pushback, she points out, is growing less strong. 

“[…]More women and queer people have joined and become badass artists. Through socials, a lot of people gained access to information on how to tattoo that was once gatekept, and this has allowed for more diversity in the field as a whole. I hope to continue to see artists of all identities celebrated for the caliber of their work, companies continuing to stand behind LGBTQIA+ artists, and more veteran artists willing to share their knowledge to the new generation.” 

Lulu is confident the pushback is worth it, having seen the progress that comes when you push through it. Whether she’s tattooing an intimate portrait of Mother Nature or the iconic Vanellope Von Schweetz, Lulu continues to create vibrant, celebratory work. She invites other aspiring queer artists to feel empowered to do the same in their own unique way. 

“Let your art and work ethic speak for you over anything. Getting started in this industry is tough, be resilient and allow who you are to be what makes you stand out.” 

Follow Lulu on Instagram at @lulutattooart.

Becky D  

Headshot of Becky D with three images of their tattoos

Becky D’s headshot courtesy of Alicia LaPierre Photography

Queer trans artist and shop owner of In Bloom Tattoo Collective in Ottawa, Canada

Known for their neotraditional work and intricate detailing, shop owner and artist Becky nonetheless doesn’t fit into one stylistic box. Their work is flexible, fluid, free-flowing, and sometimes free-handed. Their style, in fact, parallels the way they live their life as a proud queer, trans artist.  

“I am gender-fluid, meaning that while I normally present more masculine or androgynous, I fluctuate wildly in how I feel every single day. You can find me dressed as a greaser boy one day and then wearing a long wig, full face of makeup, and a flowy dress the next. It used to be difficult to embrace the fact that I don’t fit into a certain set of boxes or labels—I flow with my whims and embrace the concept of growth in phases.”  

Becky’s identity colors every aspect of their life and reveals itself in their transformative artwork. They create reaffirming and life-altering body art, an imaginative way of declaring that life can always transmute, change, and get better. 

“My queerness and transness colours every single aspect of my life and my artwork. The clients I work with are primarily 2SLGBTQIA+. The entire meaning of my life revolves around bringing queer and trans people closer to their vision for their bodies. In a world where we are so often told that our queer or trans bodies are wrong, tattooing is a relatively non-invasive way of reclaiming our bodies.”  

While the idea of trans or queer bodies being “wrong” still exists in tattooing spaces, it doesn’t darken Becky’s perspective nor their pride. After all, being so radiantly proud about their identity has attracted like-minded people, support, and community. And when adversity does present itself, they respond to it with confidence. In fact, they see that confidence as a kind of small rebellion. 

“I have been asked at conventions by relatively famous cishet tattoo artists (as well as online trolls) why I feel the need to express my queerness so loudly when they do not feel they have to with their straightness. My answer is simply because this is not a message for them— it’s a beacon to my fellow queer and trans folks that I am a safe person who may understand their experience more than someone from a different background might.”  

This confidence fuels Becky’s artistic career and life purpose. They make it their mission to run a shop where everyone, including queer- and trans-identifying artists and clients, can feel safe and comfortable. Their shop is also wheelchair-accessible, inviting guests and clients of all identities who have formerly been other-ized. Another key aspect of Becky’s mission? Making sure the number of queer artists in the industry continues to grow.  

“I try my best to be the change I want to see and that starts on the ground with the shop I’m creating and by bringing other queer trans folks into tattooing like my apprentice, Theo (@fleischchurch) […] We have always been here but it certainly feels safer to be out and loud about it. Be out, be proud, be loud, to your own comfort level and above all things—trust your gut. If a situation in a shop, at a convention, in an apprenticeship, with a client, etc. feels uncomfortable… get out. Wait to find the perfect place that will allow you to grow and flourish as your authentic self. Don’t make yourself smaller for anyone else’s benefit. I see you, I believe your experiences, and I am excited for you!”  

Follow Becky D on Instagram @beckyd_tattoo. Follow their shop @inbloomtattoocollective. 

Nicky Spellcraft 

Headshot of Nicky Spellcraft with three of his tattoos

Gay tattoo artist and shop owner at Spellcraft Tattoo in Baltimore, Maryland 

Strikingly surreal lady faces are Nicky Spellcraft’s specialty, but he also works magic with black-and-gray realism and neotraditional styles. Elegance meets darkly supernatural elements in a lot of his work, giving prominent character to every portrait he creates. Florals, coiled snakes, and strings of pearls are common touches to Nicky’s work, but there’s one icon that holds particular significance with this artist: 

“Sometimes I incorporate upside-down triangles in my tattoo designs and I use [it] as a sort of signature to sign art prints. The reference being: the upside-down pink triangles sewn onto the prison uniforms worn by perceived homosexuals in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It’s been a symbol that I have carried with me throughout my life [like] many people in the LGBTQIA+ community have, as a reclaiming of our power.” 

Part of Nicky’s reclamation of power has been finding his place in an industry that still carries with it some outdated opinions and prejudices. Early in his career, Nicky grappled with disrespect, ignorant remarks, and outright violent threats from artists and clients alike. Nevertheless, he embraces how those trials have made him stronger, more outspoken, and well-equipped to own a shop that’s open to all kinds of people. 

“Having opened my own shop with my husband in 2020, it afforded me the opportunity to be a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ people, both artists and clients. I’ve never had that starting out in tattooing. I always had to watch how I acted or what I said in front of certain people. My shop Spellcraft Tattoo is open to all people from all walks of life to be whomever they want to be with the utmost honesty. I am proud and privileged to be in that situation.” 

Nicky expresses his pride not only through his spell-binding work, but also by reaching out to and connecting with his community. Through Spellcraft Tattoo, which has a mission to give everyone a five-star tattooing experience, he’s attracted more like-minded people, grown his self-confidence, and worked hard to keep prejudices and ignorance at bay. Prioritizing outspokenness, Nicky also hosts Pride flash events at his shop to keep promoting inclusivity and repel negativity.   

“[We] create LGBTQIA+ relevant tattoo flash pieces. It’s like a party, we hang out, do tattoos, play loud club music. It’s a lot of fun. We have Pride shop merch also […] I would love to say that it’s much better today and that we don’t have those problems anymore but it’s not completely there yet. I don’t know if it will ever be 100% inclusive, or at least my definition therein […] But I think the more queer artists make themselves visible and known, the easier it will be for us and we’re definitely moving in the right direction.” 

Nicky has definitely seen more and more queer-identifying artists making themselves known. He’s heartened by queer social media presences on TikTok and more representation in shops around the world overall.  

“I could probably learn a lot from the younger generation getting into the industry. These kids have an identity and a confidence that I didn’t come into until later on. But I think if I could say anything it would be to support each other. Support other LGBTQIA+ people and artists and remember that we are all in this together.” 

Follow Nicky Spellcraft on Instagram @nickyspellcraft. Follow his shop @spellcrafttattoo. 

Comments are closed here.

Follow us @ Instagram