How 7 Artists Express Themselves Through Their Ink How 7 Artists Express Themselves Through Their Ink

How 7 Artists Express Themselves Through Their Ink

by Kaitlyn McNab

Every day, we have the opportunity to activate our creative souls and show the world who we are through self-expression. There are infinite ways to do this — through fashion, music, illustration, dance, film, writing — the list goes on. One of the ways to outwardly showcase identity is through beauty — making yourself into art. Makeup, since it’s mostly temporary, is one way to experiment with yourself as a canvas. Then there are tattoos, a way more permanent transformation. We chatted with seven artists about the importance both makeup and tattoos have in their lives, and about how permanent body art allows them to express themselves in ways that temporary body art can’t.


Lijha and Yvonne are seasoned makeup artists and educators who have worked with everyone from Charlie XCX to DMX. A year before they got married, they started @LipstickQueers, an Instagram page dedicated to sharing their art, lives, and experiences as well as spreading love and shedding light on issues in the LGBTQ+ community.

Milk Makeup: How many tattoos do you have?

Yvonne Macinnis: I lost count after getting so many cover-ups, but I guess somewhere around 27-30.

Lijha Stewart: I don’t really count my tattoos, because I work in pieces that cover full areas of my body. I have tattoos on my left upper arm and chest, my right arm and neck, my right leg, and my left upper thigh.

MMU: When did you get your first tattoo? What prompted you to get one?

Yvonne: I was 13 years old. I lived in a small town and went to a small tattoo shop that I knew didn’t I.D. Back then, I think it was more about rebellion instead of art, and claiming my body and identity as my own.

MMU: When did you first start wearing makeup? What made you start?

Lijha: Makeup was my first love, and I’ve aspired to be a makeup artist since I was a child. My grandma loved wearing makeup and she would take her time getting ready every day — I mean at a vanity with false lashes and full lips, the total glam beat down! I remember being little and watching her transform herself in complete awe. When I was about 10-years-old my mom bought me a face paint book. I would paint myself and anyone else I could get my hands on. A few years later I got Making Faces by Kevyn Aucoin and I committed myself to learning every look and technique in the book.

MMU: How does permanent body art like tattoos let you express yourself differently than  temporary body art like makeup does?

Yvonne: I love the freedom that makeup provides — after all, it’s removable art! But I see my tattoos as art that I’ve collected over my lifetime.

Lijha: I love tattoos because they are permanent accessories that, over time, have created a roadmap of my life. Makeup gives me the ability to transform myself into whatever I feel like being that day. For myself and I think Yvonne, too, makeup and tattoos go together. The two art forms enhance each other through storytelling and allow us to honor and express our unique aesthetic.

MMU: Are your tattoos and makeup connected to who you are? How?

Lijha: I have strong, beautiful women tattooed all over my body. This was unintentional and only dawned on me a few years ago, but I adore the feminine form and love to bask in divine feminine power. This translates into my makeup and the nontraditional beauty ideals I love to play with. At @LipstickQueers, we try to push the boundaries of what’s considered “beautiful.” We see makeup as empowerment for anyone who wants to play in femininity or express themselves.

MMU: What is the meaning behind one of your tattoos?

Yvonne: My favorite tattoo is the one we both got after we got engaged. We were told by a spiritual advisor that we were so connected because she saw us as “twin flames.” We created our matching tattoo design by researching the sacred geometry symbol of fire, then mirrored it to create the image of a “twin flame.” We have it tattooed on our left hands; it was our engagement gift to ourselves.

Images courtesy of Lijha Stewart and Yvonne MacInnis


OSHUN, made up of Thandiwe and Niambi Sala, is an independent Hip Hop/Soul duo with an Afrofuturistic sound and aesthetic. Their name is derived from the Yoruba deity Oshun, goddess of water, pleasure, fertility, beauty, and love. They recently released their debut studio album, bittwersweet vol. 1.

MMU: How many tattoos do you have?

Niambi: Let me count… I have eight!

Thandi: I have three tattoos.

MMU: When did you first start wearing makeup? What made you start?

Thandi: The first time I did my makeup was for my eighth grade prom, and I really tried…but it was kind of a fail. I didn’t wear makeup in high school, but then I got to college and I saw everybody popping out. I was like, “I gotta step up my cookies before they crumble.” That was around the time that OSHUN started to progress, so I had to beat my face and now I’m pretty good at it!

Niambi: I tried to do my makeup for high school dances, but like Thandi said, I wasn’t very good. During my freshman year of college I started to get really into lipstick — I didn’t wear anything else but that. I was like “Red lip all day, every day!” I tried to do more makeup for our shows because a makeup artist wasn’t always in the budget, so we really had to front. Our makeup artist now is dope. Her name is Raisa Flowers and she sat us down before we went to perform in Norway, because she couldn’t come with us, and showed us how to do our entire face: eyebrows, eyeshadow, concealer, foundation, all of that and the order in which to do it. She really broke it down for us and we’ve been using that same tutorial for the last two years. I think we’re kind of getting the hang of it.

MMU: How does permanent body art like tattoos let you express yourself as opposed to temporary body art like makeup, and vice versa?

Niambi: I’ve always loved tattoos, I’ve always wanted to be tatted. I think it’s so beautiful to be able to have permanent body art. It’s kind of like leaving a legacy, right? You can tell a lot about who someone was by their unique body art or the marks they had. That’s always resonated with me, because I see myself as a shapeshifter. I look different every day because of different hair or makeup styles, but I’ve found a way to be consistent in that transformation through tattoos. I’ve gotten around one tattoo every year, and now when I look in the mirror, I can track how my body and my body art have developed. The art says a lot about me and where I was in my life when I got it.

MMU: Are your tattoos connected to who you are? How?

Niambi: All of my tattoos are affirmations, representations of things I believe or things that I need to be reminded of sometimes. I have a lot of honey bees tattooed on me in different places, and honey is my reminder to be sweet and keep sweet energy around me.

Thandi: I have a Tinkerbell face. I look very young — people never believe that I’m over fifteen-years-old. I have small features and I wear makeup, so I feel like when people see me, they think they can take advantage of me. But my tattoos counter that. I have a machete tattooed, which is an indication that I have a warrior spirit, and I have the shape of Africa tattooed on my ribs to make it clear that I know who I am, I know where I come from, and I’m not a fairy princess.

MMU: What’s the next tattoo you want to get?

Thandi: The Dogon people from Mali have identified a star system in the sky, called Sirius, that they prophesy we come from. There’s an ancient diagram that they’ve created that explains the journey from Sirius to Earth, and I want to get the outline of that diagram on my back, with some stars and intergalactic-ness.

Images courtesy of Thandi and Niambi Sala.


Alissa Ashley is a California-based YouTuber with over 1 million subscribers. She is known for her platinum blonde, cropped haircut and her signature glossy lip.

MMU: How many tattoos do you have?

Alissa: Let me count. Eleven? Eleven! I have about four quotes and the rest are images, but my whole arm is kind of like a big piece in one. It’s a half-sleeve, and you can only see it from the inside of my arm. A lot of people don’t even know I have it, and then when I show my arms, they’re like, “What? You have all those tattoos?”

MMU: When did you first start wearing makeup? What made you start?

Alissa: Around fourteen or fifteen. I used to stalk my mom while she did her makeup, watching her like “Ooh, what is she doing?” I was really fascinated by it. She used to sit there with her powder and everything, so then I wanted to do it too. I just started copying everything she did, even shaving off my brows!

MMU: What are your makeup go-tos?

Alissa: As of lately, I’ve been loving blush. I definitely think I’ve been gravitating towards a more natural look. I used to do a lot of color, but I kind of grew out of that. Now, I just focus on having a really, really, really smooth complexion and amazing brows. I top it off with a little bit of brown eyeshadow and a glossy lip.

MMU: How does permanent body art like tattoos let you express yourself as opposed to temporary body art like makeup, and vice versa?

Alissa: Tattoos allow me to express myself because I’m able to get whatever I want on my body and no one can tell me no. It’s liberating. I’ve had so many people tell me, “Don’t get that.” This is not your body. I can do whatever I want. What’s cool about makeup is that you can literally change your canvas every single day — for example, my brows are never the same. It’s fun to see a piece of art come together through makeup. I used to paint a lot, and now I don’t have time to, but I’m still able to paint my face, create a beautiful masterpiece, and then wash it off and be excited about the piece of artwork I’ll make the next day. I think makeup allows you to express yourself more because it’s comforting knowing that it’s not permanent. It means you can do whatever you want! Whether it’s faux freckles or a fake mole, it can be removed at the end of the day. With tattoos, you have to think it through a lot more because you know it’s going to be on you forever.

MMU: Are your tattoos and how you do your makeup connected to who you are?

Alissa: I definitely think so. For a while in the beauty industry, I was insecure because I felt that brands wouldn’t accept me because of my tattoos. I soon realized that my tattoos don’t define who I am as a creator. They’re not going to make me less valuable. So I started being more confident in what I decide to do to my body and brands actually don’t mind at all! They accept me as a whole.

MMU: What is the meaning behind one of your tattoos?

Alissa: I have a Picasso quote on my rib that says, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I truly believe in that. Whenever I create my art, whether that be makeup or filming, it makes me happy and gets rid of all my stress, which is what I see as the “dust” of everyday life.

Images courtesy of Alissa Ashley.


Frances Cannon is multidisciplinary artist living in Melbourne, Australia. Her print illustrations, custom tattoo designs, and poetry focus on themes of the body, relationships, sexuality, anxiety, and mental health.

MMU: How many tattoos do you have?

Frances: I have over 20. I’ve lost count!

MMU: When did you first start wearing makeup? What made you start?

Frances: I started wearing makeup when I was 15. I started wearing it because I was going through an emo phase, as many millennials did in the early 2000’s.

MMU: How does permanent body art like tattoos let you express yourself as opposed to temporary body art like makeup, and vice versa?

Frances: My tattoos are a part of me, and I look at them like I look at a freckle: something that is there forever and part of my body. They tell my story, whereas makeup tells the world how I feel on a particular day.

MMU: What’s the next tattoo you want to get?

Frances: I want to get some more tattoos on my hands. I would love some abstract lines, shapes, and scribbles. I also want to get more illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Images courtesy of Frances Cannon


Michael Anthony is a makeup artist who works in the realms of editorial, television, and red carpet. He works closely with Katy Perry and has done the faces of Rita Ora, Issa Rae, and Slick Woods.

MMU: How many tattoos do you have?

Michael: Gosh, probably somewhere around 20. Some of them run together or they’re part of a larger piece, so it’s hard for me to count. I have a sleeve, but I didn’t expect to get one. I just kept getting them in the same area.

MMU: When did you get your first tattoo? What prompted you to get one?

Michael: I was 16. It was a tree frog about the size of a silver dollar on the back of my neck. It’s since been covered with a wasp from an entomology book. Growing up, a lot of the adults around me had tattoos. I always thought they were really interesting because there were always stories attached to them. Sometimes people didn’t want to tell me the stories, or what they meant, so it made me think tattoos were mysterious and cool.

MMU: When did you first start wearing makeup? What made you start?

Michael: When I was, like, three. I played with my mom’s makeup from a very young age, as young as I could remember. I started doing my little sister’s makeup and then in high school I did my best friend’s makeup. I’ve always excelled at art, and I had an aunt who I lived with for some time who was the director for Mary Kay, so I was immersed in testers and samples and books and videos. Then when I was in my twenties, I walked into a MAC store, and there was a burn victim who was getting matched for full-coverage foundation, and when I saw her mini transformation right there, I knew that there was a lot more to makeup and it intrigued me. So, I applied for a job there.

MMU: What are your makeup go-tos?

Michael: The first thing I always go for is kind of funny because it’s not makeup, but it’s skincare. I’m a skincare junkie and I like the thought of taking care of my skin or taking care of my client’s skin before I do their makeup. Having the security of a nice complexion underneath your makeup is a plus.

MMU: How does permanent body art like tattoos let you express yourself as opposed to temporary body art like makeup, and vice versa?

Michael: My tattoos are a roadmap of my self-discovery and self-expression. I can look back at my tattoos and remember what I was going through when I got them and how I was feeling about myself and about the world. Makeup is transformative: it lets you put on a character for a night or for a photo. Tattoos are with you for longer on your journey. Even more, people can see my tattoos and gather an idea about who I am or what my vibe is without me having to say anything.

MMU: What is the meaning behind one of your tattoos?

Michael: I have the words “lucky boots” on the top of my right foot. Remember that Nancy Sinatra song that Jessica Simpson remade for The Dukes of Hazzard? In the beginning of the music video, she walks into a saloon with cowboy boots on and goes, “You ready, boots?” At the time, my best friend and I thought that was ridiculous and really funny, so every time we were about to leave the apartment to go out, we would scream to each other, “Are you ready, boots?!” We both have that tattoo. That was probably twenty years ago, and we’ve been calling each other “boots” ever since.

Images courtesy of Michael Anthony.