Casey Roberds' career plans have changed drastically since she enrolled in McDaniel College. A graduate of Winters Mill High School, Roberds began her college career studying art and art history, with the plan of becoming a teacher. Her sophomore year, though, her career path took a surprising turn.
While working on a school fundraiser, Roberds was doing temporary Sharpie tattoos on students. She started to receive praise for her artistic abilities, particularly her ability to draw well on the curved surface of skin, and soon, people were recommending she consider becoming an actual tattoo artist.
"At that point, I had one or two tattoos already," Roberds said. "But there was a lot going against me. I was a girl, and I was really young, and that's not what they were looking for. I've got long blonde hair and I'm five foot, and that's not what people think of when they think of their tattoo artists."
Soon, Roberds decided to give tattooing a shot. She went to Matthew Aversa, of Matteo Ink in Westminster, to discuss beginning a tattoo apprenticeship.
"He told me, 'Why don't you show me that you want this job?'" Roberds said. "I didn't know what that meant, so I just showed up at the shop every day and sat and watched him."
Soon, her persistence paid off, and she was able to begin apprenticing between classes at McDaniel.
"It's the hardest experience you can imagine. You go in and you're kind of the slave of the shop for six months," Roberds said. "You restock paper towels, answer phones and learn how to clean and sterilize the needles. They're teaching you about customer service and how to carry on the business before approaching the artistic side."
Eventually Roberds graduated to drawing tattoos on oranges, grapefruits and artificial skin. She said it's important to learn how to draw around curves on a unique canvas.
"You have to practice until they feel you are ready, and then you get to tattoo your first person. You either have to tattoo yourself or a very trusting friend," Roberds said. "The client's nervous, and I'm nervous, but the artist walks me through every line. When you're drawing on people permanently, you have a round surface that moves and screams. You've got to get used to the movement, particularly if you're doing painful places like the ribs and feet."
After finishing her first tattoo on a friend, Roberds had to complete 99 more gratis tattoos before she was able to start charging for her work. Roberds completed many of her tattoos for her mother and aunt, with her mom coming in nearly every week for new ink.
Though she is going into a non-traditional career path for a college graduate, Roberds said her education at McDaniel was invaluable for her development.
"You definitely have to be an artist first and foremost. People come in with art they already have or ideas they can't put on paper, and you have to be able to change the design to fit what would look right on their body," Roberds said. "In terms of art, we have to be able to work right to left and upside down some of the time. You're working with a needle that's 13.2 ounces, and that's 13 times more than you're used to with a pencil, and you have to keep a 45 degree angle at all times."
Roberds said even her background in art history has been a boon to her skills as a tattoo artist.
"I can apply things I've learned in my East Asian art class. I've gotten to know Chinese versus Japanese images, so if people come in with specific works of art or specific characters, it's useful to have that art history degree," Roberds said. "I changed as an artist thanks to McDaniel. I can think about art in new ways now, approaching ideas of color contrasts and values that come into play with these designs."