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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marie-Philippe Plante is waiting patiently for the Quebec government to announce the reopening of non-essential businesses, so that she can get back to doing what she loves: drawing permanent pieces of art on people’s bodies.

Plante, a tattoo artist based out of 116 Tattoo Club in downtown Sherbrooke, had a gut-feeling the mandatory holiday closure would extend into the new year. Although she never expected a curfew, Plante has done her best to stay positive and keep busy during this time.

“I’m staying at home with my boyfriend and my cat. I work on a lot of paintings, tattoo designs and other home projects, getting ready to go back to work as soon as we will be able too,” Plante said.

During the first lockdown in March, the 29-year-old Sherbrooke native said it was particularly difficult to cope with a sudden loss of business. Her fellow staff members needed to contact dozens of clients to rearrange appointments or cancel them altogether.

“It was hard to skip work for almost three months, mainly because spring is a really high period for tattooing,” said Plante. “Usually, these are the months that people get the most tattoos, in my experience.”

But when June rolled around, and businesses began to open up again, Plante was floored by an unexpected surge in customers. People were contacting her about tattoos all throughout the spring confinement period. She was booked solid for several months.

“When I started working, I was really, really busy,” Plante said. “In my 11 years as a full-time tattooist, I never had this many appointments; I had over three months fully booked in advance.”

The presumption was that most people wouldn’t want to spend any money because the economy essentially shut down, Plante explained, but it had a completely opposite effect. Her theory is that, with travel and vacations off the table, Quebecers were able to save money.

It has also been a tumultuous time for many people in the province and around the world, she continued. For many folks, tattoos are often ritualistic, Plante said, it can be test of strength, a way to honour the past, or even taking an important step forward in life.

“It was for most a really challenging time, full of instability, insecurities and changes,” said Plante. “I do believe that after strange or difficult moments like these, some people like to get a tattoo as a simple mark of time, a reminder, a proof that they got through it.”

Whether the studio will reopen after Feb. 8 remains to be seen. The government could extend the lockdown if cases continue to rise. But if they are able to once again open their doors to clients, Plante said they are completely up to code with health and safety rules.

The studio is already designed in a way that supports physical distancing. According to Plante, half of the staff have private rooms for tattooing, so the shop never feels crowded. And tattoo artists are normally very clean, she said, they always follow strict disinfection procedures.

“I never felt that my clients, my colleagues or myself were at risk,” she said.

While Plante spends most of her days working on tattoo designs and projects for clients, Karl Roy and Amy-Lee Gosselin decided to put more time in growing their small business. They co-own Génération d’Encre, another tattoo studio in Sherbrooke.

The pair started a tattoo care company, Atomik Wave, five years ago. They were disappointed when the government extended the January lockdown, but it gave them time to spruce up their website. It also allowed them to build new partnerships with cross-country distributors.

They found time to appreciate their other passions, as well. Gosselin is working on canvas paintings and Roy is perfecting his sculpting techniques. The goal is to build a large portfolio and eventually open it up to buyers.

“I’d like to, after the pandemic, have enough material to do an exposition and sell these projects,” said Gosselin.

However, the two artists are eager to get back to their studio and work with clients. Roy is confident the shop will reopen on Feb. 8, noting Alberta has already reopened small businesses. They are also booked until the end of July, with new projects coming in daily.

“We’re not nervous. We have a right to government aid, so we’re doing alright right now,” said Roy.

“It allows us to create, but we’re also excited to see our clients and continue to tattoo; it’s our passion.”

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