Savannah is a respected tattoo artist from Fort Myers, Florida with a passion for art, spirituality, and wellness. She founded Scars Transformed, a non-profit organization providing pro bono tattoo services for self-harm and mastectomy scars. Savannah’s 15+ years of experience in the industry partnered with her dedication, skill, and compassion have earned her a reputation as a talented and compassionate artist.
Kingpin had the honor of visiting Savannah at Asylum Tattoo, located in Cape Coral, Florida. She shared with us her experience, journey, and passion for working with Breast Cancer and trauma survivor clientele.
Read on to learn more about Savannah.
Kingpin: “How would you describe your style of tattooing?”
Savannah: “A lot of color. A lot of mag work. A lot of soft surreally stuff. I don’t use a lot of heavy lines, and if I do, I use a heavy liner-shader; ironically!”
KP: “How did you become interested in providing tattoo services for breast cancer survivors?”
S: “About 8 years ago, I had a lady come in who was a breast cancer survivor. There was an issue with her insurance and she was coming to get her reconstructive work done at a studio instead of going to her plastic surgeon. I charged her the shop minimum because I felt terrible. Afterwards I went to my boss and asked if I could do these kinds of tattoos for free. It just didn’t feel right to have that be a part of my paycheck.
Soon after that, I had a young client, she was 15 or 16, she came in with her mom. The word mutilated is so grotesque, but there really isn't another adjective to describe it. She had burns, scars, the whole skin was almost plastic; wrist to shoulder, thigh to knee, and parts of her torso. There were still even fresh wounds. I let her know we couldn’t start work immediately but the mother and I worked together to find resources and support to start her healing journey. We planned that when she turned 18, we would start a big project and I wouldn’t charge a dime.” KP Note: Wow!
KP: “Can you describe your experience and training in working with breast cancer survivors?”
S: “A lot was self-taught. My traditional apprenticeship didn’t necessarily cover scar tissue. It was more blast and cross your fingers. I did a lot of research on my own and practiced a lot of trial and error. I was very honest with my clients, explaining that it would be a collaborative process. The client gets their tattoo and I got to educate myself. And now through the years I know what to avoid and what to expect.”
KP: “What is the typical process for a breast cancer survivor seeking reconstructive tattooing with you?”
S: “The process starts with an email to me at followed by an appointment for an in-person consultation. I have to look at the scar tissue, how old everything is, if it is something we can work on tomorrow or push out a year or two. For my mastectomy clients we then meet for pigment matching. Then finally, we can book for the tattoo.
There are also various other ways clients find me. One is word of mouth. A lot of women have gone through chemotherapy or go to the same clinics together. Another referral being plastic surgeons. They know what I do and send their clients to me. Plastic surgeons are covered by insurance, but they admit they don’t know what they are doing artistically or technically to prevent the work from falling out. And of course, there are tattooers. Reconstructive work is tough stuff. Scar tissue is not the same as healthy cellular structure and a lot of tattooers can get frustrated working with it. They know this is my passion and I am very thankful to the local community for sending me clients.”
KP: “How do you ensure a comfortable and empathetic environment for your clients during the tattooing process?”
S: “Making sure that clients feel safe and comfortable is first priority. Nothing that they have been going through has been easy. So, when they come in here, I often don’t bat an eye. I have the client tell me what's going on and give them room to express that. Because they are ultimately still processing something horrific and hard that they have been through. I do have a private space, so customers can share those stories and experiences freely. There are nearly always in tears and I feel like that is a good thing. It’s a safe space to get tattooed, grieve the loss of something, or happy cry the birth of something new.”
KP: “Do you use the same tools and pigments for your reconstructive work?”
S: “Yes, I do. The only difference is the way I have things tuned, and the combination of needle packs. Tools are generally the same. Most of the time my client is in the chair, we are focused on pigment matching. I use industry standard pigment, just formally matched to the client’s skin tone.”
KP: “Are there any potential risks or complications associated with reconstructive tattooing that clients should be aware of?”
S: “Yes. For example, if I were to run a crisp, bold line through unhealthy cellular structure, something that is really torn up from previous trauma, there is always a risk of a blowout. Which is why it's really important to have a discussion with your client. I explain the ink may not hold because of the cellular structure of that skin or we may need two or three sessions. I may not be able to do a certain design because the type of lines in the composition could potentially present this big, bruise, blowout. Also, I use my knowledge of depth and size of the location and make sure my concept design fits that.”
KP: “How do you stay updated on the latest advancements and best practices in this specialized area?”
S: “I know when I first started, a lot of tattooers were apprehensive about working on mastectomy tattoos because they weren’t sure what would happen when they tattooed over scar tissue. I had to dive into this and learn through trial and error. But now industry wide, it is huge. I feel like it is important to stay up to date as a service to your client.”
KP: “What is Scars Transformed?”
S: “That is my passion, my baby! Scars Transformed, is a non-profit organization providing pro bono tattoo services for self-harm and mastectomy scars. I have a team of tattooers in multiple states that know what I am doing and want to be a part of it. It is something I have been trying to build for many years. I hope to create a network of tattooers that are easily accessible for survivors, plastic surgeons, and mental health professionals.”