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Jessica Vann & Forbidden School of Body Art

Located in NE Portland just off Stark and 82nd is the three story School of Forbidden Art. Jessica Vann and her husband first opened the school as an outlet for their friends to tattoo and soon after turned into a new art form for Jessica. The school has a friendly open atmosphere and explosions of amazing colorful graffiti throughout the levels that awaken the creative mind. Layers of tracing paper fill Jessica’s office with geometric patterns and detailed dotwork. At the School of Forbidden Body Art it seems as though both the teachers and the students grow from each other and inspire one another in their art and creative passions of tattooing.


When did you start tattooing?  What guided you towards a path of tattooing and have you always been interested in the creative arts/ tattooing?

I have been tattooing since 2004.  My husband and I opened our shop before I started tattooing to provide a place for our friends to work. I originally learned how to do cosmetic tattooing and then taught myself the artistic side. I was more of an athlete than an artist growing up so I never really expected to find myself in an artistic career. I attended Pepperdine University and Portland State on soccer scholarships and enjoyed writing and business classes mostly.

Tell us a bit more about the Forbidden School of Body Art. What is  typical day like at the FSBA in terms of curriculum and instruction?

Our school runs more like a traditional college than an apprenticeship. Students spend the first 300 hours of their program studying the school’s textbook as well as tattoo community resources such as webinars and books to learn the basic foundation of the career such as safety, sanitation, skin disorders, diseases and Oregon rules and laws. They also participate daily in one on one discussions with instructors and small group classes that cover common equipment, technique, art, color theory and business practices. We have a large staff that each have expertise in the areas that they teach. Each instructor is qualified in the area that they teach outside of just the tattoo industry. For example, our business section and classes were developed by myself and another instructor who has 7 years of corporate business experience. The color theory class is taught by an instructor who has 8 years of experience as a professional makeup artist. Our instructors that teach the art and drawing portion of the program have fine arts degrees or experience in that field beyond tattooing. Many of our instructors have only a few years of tattooing experience but they are always extremely qualified to teach the portion of the program they are in charge of based on what they have achieved before they learned the medium of tattooing. We currently have a staff of 7 instructors, 5 of them teach classes and instruct students while they are tattooing and our 2 head instructors oversee the staff and general progress of each student. Each staff member has been through our school and knows the curriculum inside and out. They demonstrated leadership qualities while they were in school and most importantly they have the ability to see every students potential without discrimination. The quality of our curriculum and the diversity and qualifications of our staff is what makes our school so successful. We also uphold a commitment to each student that we will provide them a safe place to work until they get hired at a shop or choose to open a shop of their own. Successfully placing our graduates into reputable shops where they will succeed is of utmost importance.

How have you seen the ink’dustry change over the past few years…?

The main change that I have seen in the industry in the past few years is the separation between tattoo artists who choose to tattoo as a job opposed to those who choose it as a career. I have seen tattoo artists who do great work but lack the business skills to keep up with the market. Especially with the various social media outlets that artists have to advertise in, it takes both an artistic and business minded person to get the most out of what the market has to offer these days. There is a growing gap between those artists who are satisfied with just doing a good tattoo and those who are willing to learn skills such as marketing, organization and digital media tools to brand themselves and take advantage of the market to its fullest. Most tattoo artists have ambitions to be booked out months or years, make and sell prints and clothing or travel but they have never been given the tools to accomplish these dreams. Luckily there are educational outlets becoming available more readily such as website like, conventions such as the World Wide Tattoo Convention and schools like ours that are geared towards education and advancement of the industry for those tattoo artists who are open minded and driven enough to take advantage of what the progressive end of the industry has to offer.

Describe your creative process from designing a tattoo to finish.

My creative process at this time in my career starts with a genuine understanding of what the customer is looking to get out of their tattooing experience with me. Some customers are very specific about what they want in the design while others are more open to my interpretation. Understanding this right off of the bat makes the process much smoother. Eventually I would love to direct every piece more towards my style of art which has a more left brained, precise approach including geometry, patterns, dotwork and a graphic, illustrative feel. I will always try and incorporate these elements into the design process but at this point I am still very considerate of my clients preferences and I know that my ability to produce a technically sound tattoo for my customers outweighs my desire to add in design elements that I would consider “my style”. I am lucky to have many customers who trust and love my style, so I definitely see myself being more and more exclusive to my own style in the near future. The nice aspect of being surrounded by such talented artists at my shop is that it is easy to pass along clients to other artists who’s style may fit their desires better than my own.

What makes your style unique from other artists? Where do you pull your inspiration from?

I love geometry, patterns, mandalas and dotwork. Blending organic and traditional shapes and imagery with bold patterns or illustrative designs is what I enjoy the most. I think that it gives customers the ability to have imagery that may be meaningful or even popular but with an interesting twist that keeps each piece original to the collector.

Do you have any future expos/ conventions coming up?

I will be attending the Portland Tattoo Expo in October which is great for local marketing but my favorite conventions are invitationals such as The Evergreen Invitational in Springfield. I just attended the 208 Tattoo Fest Invitational in Boise, ID last month and it was really fun. Invitationals are great because there is a higher standard for artists who attend and there is more commandeer and less competition. It is also great to attend the out of state conventions just to see the reaction to my style, which in many states is very new to collectors. I do look forward to attending more conventions and guest spotting out of state in the future but running the school is priority right now and this limits the amount of time that I have to travel.

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