Onyx Ink: An all female-operated tattoo studio in Burlington

Elizabeth Roote, Staff Writer

Between the potted plants to the vibrant art covering the walls, it’s hard not to feel at home at Onyx Ink Tattoo Studio.

Onyx Ink’s owner, Alisha Dykema, opened the studio in 2018. Locate on the second floor of 73 Church Street, the welcoming atmosphere is an integral part of the service the artists at Onyx Ink are trying to provide. 

“We just try to make sure people are as comfortable as possible,” Dykema said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air going into shops that are similar to ours, that they want to talk to you, they want to make sure you’re comfortable.”

Dykema and fellow tattoo artist Nicole Christman worked together at We the People Tattoo Parlor, which previously resided in the space that Onyx Ink currently uses.  The two worked under owner Rick Meyer, and when he moved away, that space became Onyx Ink. 

Dykema, Christman, Olive Czeck, and piercer Haley Zaleski work together at Onyx Ink, an all female-operated tattoo studio.

Christman admits that this milestone was achieved by accident. 

“At the beginning, Alisha and I were like, ‘this would be cool,’ but we wanted first and foremost to make sure that whoever was going to work with us would be a good fit,” Christman said. It just turned out that we worked well with the other females that were interested in working with us.” 

While both Christman and Dykema agree that tattoo artistry is a traditionally male-dominanted profession, those dynamics are starting to change. 

“I think there’s a lot of female artists coming into the industry,” Dykema said. “I think, as females, we can offer a different side of it. A little more nurturing, a little more caring because you know, they hurt. Just kind of offering a little bit more of a personal experience.”

When junior Sophia Prandini came to Onyx Ink with her friend, she compared the welcoming atmosphere to that of a hairdresser’s. The warm, inviting space helped to ease her anxieties about getting a tattoo. 

“It was really well-lit, there was art everywhere, there’s a bowl of snacks, nice couches — It was very comfortable,” Prandini said. “This was my first tattoo, and I had that stereotype in my head of like a dark basement with a flickering light or something.”

Prandini admits that the studio being all-female was a selling point for her when her friend suggested it. 

“I think it contributed to the atmosphere and made it a more relaxing, inviting place,” she said. “Not that men wouldn’t do that, but I do think it helped.”

The studio has been well-received by Burlington with great turnout, especially for special charity events. Onyx Ink has participated in drives for Chittenden Food Shelf and Planned Parenthood, among others, with great success. 

“We really do want to use what we enjoy doing and what we’re good at and give back to the community,” Dykema said. “And to see your community stand up as well, it’s really awesome.”

Due to the close contact required for tattooing and body piercing, the shop closed on March 17, a week before the stay-at-home orders were issued. It was both the safety concerns and the emotional toll that went into the decision to shut down. 

“It was really hard to focus on doing a permanent piece of artwork on someone when all this is also going on,” Dykema said. “It was just kind of a dual decision on that part to close, and then we were mandated to close a week later.”

As a result, a lot of the skills that have built up over time will have to be re-acquired once business starts back up again.

“You’re always growing every time you put the needle in someone’s skin, and so when you’re not doing that, I feel like it’s kind of taking my practice — like, it’s kind of bringing me back a little bit,” Christman said. 

During this time, Christman has been very thankful that she is also a painter. Through this medium, she is able to make up for a temporary loss of a job and a creative outlet. 

“I’m painting for myself right now, not for an audience. I kind of need to work through these feelings,” Christman said. “That’s the reason why I tattoo, for my mental health and for my artistic expression. It’s the same thing for painting.”

With the close proximity involved in tattooing and piercing, the studio will be extra cautious when opening its doors again. Although they are excited to get back to work, Dykema says that the studio will stay closed until it is clearly safe to open again.