Tattoo artist Tiffany Perez ’09 has a vision. As the owner of the largest tattoo studio in New Jersey, Ink Gallery Tattoo Studio, Perez sees a world of opportunity that goes well beyond the typical tattoo business.
“My shop has 20 employees and 13 booths,” she says with pride. “I have 5,600 square feet of space. I am thinking of offering tattoo seminars, painting events, poetry nights, and live music.”
Perez has a history of following her heart, and her art, into unexpected directions. “I have always loved drawing,” she says. “I knew I wanted to go to a New Jersey college. I remember that someone from Montclair came to visit my high school in Wayne. The University’s staff helped guide me through the application process.”
Perez enrolled at Montclair as an Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) student but didn’t declare a major right away. “Art felt like a hobby to me,” she recalls. “Also, I was a bit shy and wasn’t sure if teaching would be a good fit.”
Joining the Lambda Tau Omega sorority and performing in a campus-based hip-hop dance group helped Perez build confidence. “These activities helped me break out of my shell,” she explains. “They also kept me entertained and involved. I loved the interaction – and the parties! There was always something going on at the Student Center.”
EOF holds a particularly special place in Perez’s Montclair memories. “EOF prepared me for college before I began my first semester,” she says. “I met so many amazing people who are still like family to me.”
By the end of her sophomore year, Perez was ready to commit to a degree in art education.
A special gift she received for her 21st birthday had her re-thinking her path, however. “My father gave me a tattoo machine – my first – and I fell in love with the art form,” she says.
After earning a bachelor’s in Fine Art with a concentration in Drawing, Perez built on her high school and college work in portraiture, mural painting and graffiti design by training as a tattoo artist. She apprenticed at Riders Ink in Newark and further developed her craft at Chico’s Marked 4 Life in Miami, before returning to New Jersey to open her first studio.
“It takes time to work out of your nervousness,” Perez says of becoming a tattoo artist. “But it is also very exciting. Every tattoo is a totally new piece of art.”
Perez specializes in black and gray and modern fine-line tattooing. Her growing clientele includes R&B singer Omarion, hip hop artist Maino, television personalities Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Justina Valentine, NFL players James Ihedigbo, Ray Lucas, and Nate Burleson, and NBA Knicks player Cleanthony Early. She has also filmed for season 1 of Oxygen Channel’s reality television show Best Ink, season 5 of VH1’s Black Ink Crew, and seasons 1 and 2 of MTV’s How Far is Tattoo Far? Her designs have been featured in Urban Ink magazine and she herself has graced the cover of Tattoo, the world’s largest selling tattoo magazine.
These days, Perez is grateful for the education classes she took at Montclair. “What I learned about teaching has really helped me in bringing apprentices up to speed,” she says. “I was able to create a curriculum that includes a workbook, reading material, videos, and homework assignments.”
“Montclair helped me to become more resilient and versatile, which is important as a business owner,” she adds. “I use everything I learned to build a more complete business.”
Some of her apprentices are Montclair students, a connection that Perez values. She is staying connected to her alma mater in other ways as well, even organizing and hosting an alumni party for her Montclair friends.
“We had a great turnout,” she says. “Reuniting is exciting and inspires us all to make a difference. We will definitely do this again. Some of us are looking for other ways to get involved with the University.”
Perez has taken notice of today’s students’ use of social media to build community. “I like that students are connecting with each other and writing about the University,” she says. “There is so much going on today. It is important for them – for all of us – to work on having strong relationships and a strong and positive mindset.”