From Dreams to Tattoos

This piece is featured in the collaborative project between WhyNot and Project See and B for Propel Youth Arts WA 2024 KickstART Festival in Western Australia.

Words by Mae (they/them) 23 WA

I have been in and out of the creative space in Perth since I was about 16. Whilst completing ATAR art in high school I would draw illustrations on my iPad in my study periods for my “future store,” dreaming of making shirts and seeing people walk around with my original characters on them.

Throughout high school I had a poor attendance due to a whole array of issues – being diagnosed with mental health issues and later (7 years after the fact) fibromyalgia and joint hypermobility syndrome. I always showed up to art class however, my teacher Ms Henderson being a driving force in my creative career.

I put my passions on hold for a few years to work some fast-food jobs, eventually opening my own small business selling stickers and air fresheners in 2019/2020. I had grown a passion for cars, and loved attending events to sell my art. It’s surreal seeing a car drive around with your art on the back! This passion led me to study an automotive mechanical pre-apprenticeship, but after 6 months of working in a mechanic shop my disability caught up to me and I was thrown back into bed.

I settled for a half-way point, taking a full-time job selling car parts, and selling my stickers on the side. I eventually even moved to shirts and beanies – 16-year-old me would have been so excited! After working full time for 2 years and juggling these two passions I was once again facing the brunt of my Fibro. I took a leap into applying for a dream job of mine and got a tattoo apprenticeship! I’m currently two months into this journey and I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been! The idea of being able to sit down and draw for a living is a dream! Even when my wrist gets sore and stiff it feels like I’m hardly even fatigued. I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me.

The long journey of gaining a diagnosis for my disability was difficult, I gave up over and over, eventually realising I had to advocate for myself and learnt to be resilient and strong. Now I understand my limits and have learnt how to look after myself and prevent flares a bit.

The shift from working retail and being on my feet all day to doing something I’m so passionate about has helped tremendously with my mindset. When I was first diagnosed I was so hung up on the fact that I was disabled and “not normal”, but through finding my place in life and following this dream I’ve embraced the fact that I’m just as capable as anyone else, albeit a little less energetic lol. I love driving to work every day in my sparkly car and getting all my ideas out onto paper so I can tattoo them in the near future!

I hope to look back on this in a year or two and tell myself I made it and I’m doing what I love, knee pain and all.


Illustration by Jodie. You can find more of her work on Instagram @jodie_ellin


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