Once upon a time, tattooist Tram Dinh was that “unique” student who doodled incessantly instead of taking notes in class. Good thing she got that practice. Tram Dinh is only 24 now but has garnered the high esteem of young tattoo enthusiasts all over Vietnam. She has her own studio, Cô Giáo Tattoo Studio, where she also teaches. What does this tattoo whiz kid keep in her purse? We ask to take a peek to find out more about her.
Tram Dinh’s student life wasn’t easy. She was a regular in detention at school. And, she confesses, she rarely paid her teachers any heed. Instead, she worked on her own mini projects.
“I discovered my love of drawing early on,” Tram Dinh looks up nostalgically. “Everyday life, movies, and comic books. I transferred all of this into drawings in my notebook.” Few people had any faith in Tram Dinh’s future. Little did they know, she would learn to shine in her own way.
“I was a little shaky about my life direction too,” Tram Dinh admits, “Then I came across this beautiful tattoo of a close friend of mine.” Seeing her friend’s tattoo made everything clear. Her whole life, Tram Dinh has relied on using pencils to depict all her ideas, from memories to ambitions. She decided to swap the pencil for a tattoo gun. She knew in her heart that this would be her dream job, despite also knowing that she’d receive pushback from her parents.
Tram Dinh now boasts a hefty customer Rolodex. Even so, she remembers the individual behind each tattoo she creates. “I like digging deep into the souls of my clients,” she tells us, “I love feeling my clients’ emotions and sentiments, and I love using my creativity to turn them into images that can reside on their bodies forever.”
1. Mobile Phone
One of the requirements of being a tattoo artist is constantly being in contact with clientele. “My phone helps me schedule appointments and carry out consulting.” Tram Dinh explains. Tram is admittedly absentminded and can’t imagine even a few hours without her phone within arm’s reach. She’s also a lover of Facetime and Viber. She lives with her parents and spends most of her time working from home, but she still maintains regular communication with them. “I like to see if they need me to pick something up from the store and make sure they’re not worried when I’m away,” Tram Dinh flashes a loving smile.
First item of business each morning for Tram Dinh is checking her email and doing a mental rundown of the day’s schedule. “It was love at first sight for my Macbook,” Tram Dinh shows off her computer, “This Apple masterpiece exhibits clean and sophisticated design.” Tram Dinh uses Photoshop to design her tattoos and Powerpoint to help her in carrying out tattooing lectures for her students. The device also acts as a drawer full of digital memories of good times with friends and family.
Next, this tech nerd pulls out another Apple product, an iPad. She considers this device to be her greatest “work assistant” but also something that keeps her entertained when she works particularly gruelling hours. On the iPad, Tram Dinh uses a drawing app called Procreate that requires a pen that allows an artist to “draw” directly onto the device. “It makes work easy and fun for me, and it helps clients visualise my ideas immediately and give feedback accordingly,” Tram Dinh praises. The iPad was a birthday gift from Tram Dinh’s father. It marked his approval of her life path. With this gift, he showed that he recognized his daughter’s determination in pursuing her passion. “It means so much to me because it connects me to him,” the tattooist beams.
4. Lucky Charm
For Tram Dinh, being a tattoo artist is more than just a job. Clients transform from strangers to best friends. Tram had one client who came to her wanting to cover up an old scar from a car accident. Tram says, “She actually wanted to reignite the pain of the injury. She was a little hesitant at first. After her skin had been inked, she loved every bit of it.” This woman later went on a Singapore holiday and brought back a lucky charm for Tram Dinh. The tattooist carries it everywhere. She recalls a time when she was riding her motorbike in the mountains. It started raining. The roads became slippery. Her vision became clouded. She slid down a slope but didn’t suffer any significant injuries. “I was said to be extremely fortunate to be intact after such an accident,” Tram says wide-eyed, “I’m convinced that an invisible power protected me.” She attributes this power to the Singaporean charm and has never left home without it since the accident.
Tram Dinh pulls a small wallet from her bag. It’s stuffed with a handful of Instax-sized photos. The photos capture sweet moments of Tram Dinh and her gang of friends having adventures throughout the country. Tram Dinh also keeps a decent amount of cash in this small wallet. She is a sucker for street food, and she keeps cash handy in case she gets a sudden hankering. “That’s why always have to keep myself busy, lest all my money go to snacking!” Tram Dinh laughs.
Tram Dinh loves technology, but she also believes there’s no school like the old school. She always has a paper notebook and black charcoal drafting pencil on her. Technological devices are super handy, but hand drawing lets Tram Dinh access different parts of her brain. There is a certain flow that comes only when she’s holding a tangible pencil and paper. She feels more free to let her mind roam. “It takes me back to the old days,” Tram Dinh says, “Except now I’m getting paid for this stuff, instead of being punished.”
7. Beauty “Duo”
Tram Dinh’s beauty “duo” consists of perfume and lipstick. The perfume is Lancome’s La Vie Est Belle. She considers this scent to be a magical elixir that boosts her confidence with a couple quick spritzes on the wrist. The scent is romantic and complex. The lipstick is a rusty orange shade by 3CE. “Every girl needs a good lip color that truly speaks to her.” Tram Dinh advises, “It’ll charge you up and give you energy for your day.” This beauty duo may seem like one of the more trivial items in Tram Dinh’s bag, but it aids her just as much in fighting her daily battles.
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen. Edited by Nicole Wong.