Lauren Damon didn’t begin tattooing until she was 30 years old.
Previously, she’d built furniture and sets for Broadway shows in New York City before moving back to Savannah and getting an apprenticeship at a friend’s tattoo studio.
She remembers the first few years of apprenticeship terrifying. “You’re so nervous, and you don’t want to mess up,” she recalls.
Now, Damon is the owner of Riverside Tattoo, which recently celebrated a move to the Starland District. Kidder runs an all-female shop and tattoos alongside fellow artists Josie Johnson, Lydia Schneider, and Hilliary Moore.
That’s remarkable for a largely male-dominated industry. Many times, female artists come up through the ranks in a shop run by men, and Damon describes being talked down to and pushed aside.
While it wasn’t intentional for Riverside to have women artists, that’s how it shook out, and Damon is proud for it to be that way. She says that some clients have shared how safe they feel at Riverside, which is the ultimate goal.
“We had an idea and a purpose, and we wanted to do things that created a safe place for women or nonbinary or queer folks,” says Damon.
In her approach, Damon is thoughtful and honors the history of tattooing through collaboration with the client.
“I look at where tattooing started on a tribal level,” she explains. “You’d mark someone to show their hierarchy in their community. It should be taken very purposefully—I’m not just here to take your money. I’m here to work with you and collaborate and create art.”
That attitude is what makes customers love coming to Damon.
“As a tattoo artist, you’re kind of selling this ego,” she says. “For me, I want that ego to show tolerance and acceptance. I want whoever walks through that door, regardless of where you’re coming from or what background you have, we will come to a common ground and create something really beautiful that you’re going to walk out the door and be proud of.”
Runner-up: Scott Althen