Emma Ray, 25: ‘I’m a recession anomaly – 25, self-employed and engaged’
Emma Ray Tattoo artist photographed in her studio in Dundalk. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
This article is part of The Irish Times Generations project. Since April 2014, people ranging in age from 20 to 102 have shared their views on Irish life, past and present, with reporter Rosita Boland. Read all those published so far at irishtimes.com/generations
Emma Ray lives in Dundalk, Co Louth
I always felt the need to earn my own money. Since I was in school I’ve always done a Saturday job. I never felt entitled to ask for money. My mam, Ruth, worked – she is an infection-control manager – and so did my older sister. My dad, Tom, is an astrophysicist. Everyone worked in our house.
I got interested in tattoos when I was about 15. I guess at the time I thought there was a lot more glamour involved in the lifestyle. On my 18th birthday, straight after school, I went out and got a tattoo. It’s on my ribs. It says, “No excuses, no regrets”, which seems a bit cheesy now, but I still like it, because it’s the first one I got. My parents didn’t know for about a year. It cost €120.
I went to Dublin Institute of Technology and studied fine art. It was the only thing I had an interest in and was good at. I wanted to be a tattoo artist. I thought it was a job I would really enjoy, but before I even stated the apprenticeship I knew it wasn’t going to be some sort of rock-star lifestyle.
I met Baz, my fiance, when I was started college. He’s a body piercer. I ended up meeting a lot of people in the industry through him.
Tattooing is a male-dominated industry. I think a lot of the time, when girls go for apprenticeships, they get treated almost like a piece of meat. Men think they can be sexist towards them.
Every tattoo-magazine cover looks like a porn magazine. At every tattoo convention the people there are mostly male, with only the odd female. Any female involvement is usually burlesque or some kind of Star Trek-themed pole dancing.
Baz has had the piercing shop here in Dundalk for three years, so it made sense for me to have my tattoo parlour up here too. We bought a two-bedroomed house in Blackrock, just outside Dundalk, for a very low price.
I have just over 20 tattoos. I think there definitely is a stigma around tattoos: people assume you’re a bit rough. A lot of people say, ‘Why are you doing that to yourself?’ as if you’ve harmed yourself doing it.
I think the older generation associate it with something a bit more negative, but so many people have tattoos now that the stigma is starting to wear off.
Leaving the country
We’re the generation expected to get on with it and deal with the circumstances of the recession, which for most of us means leaving the country. That or living at home, because you can’t afford to move out or afford to leave the county.
A lot of my friends have left, gone to Australia or Canada. Very few of them are finding work relevant to their degree; they just want to get away from Ireland. Even when their visas are up, and they come home, they want to go away again.
I think your degree is going to be completely irrelevant, especially if it’s in the arts. If you are in the arts or do any kind of creative work – photography, make-up – people expect you to do stuff for free. They think it’s more of a hobby than a career. I even get emails from people looking for free tattoos.
A lot of my friends are from art college, and a lot of them are struggling. They’re caught between trying to do something they love or settling for a job in a call centre or in JobBridge.
What I want to do in the near future is go back to my artwork. I want to get back into screen printing, etching, painting and my photography. By this time next year I want to have done a series of works and have my own gallery show.
I take some interest in politics, but I wouldn’t be overactive. I do vote. I’ll be voting yes in the marriage referendum. I can’t understand why someone would vote against it. I can’t see any reason why someone would say it’s not okay, unless you’re religious. I’m not religious. I don’t even remember believing in God and Jesus.
I’m a recession anomaly. I went to college and did something I loved; I’m self-employed at 25; I have a lovely house, with a mortgage that won’t kill us; and I’m engaged. I think, for my age, it’s unusual to have all that stuff. So I consider myself lucky. But I’m definitely not having kids for a while, that’s for sure.