Kelly Torres, Black Cherry Tattoo Studios
The Lagrangeville tattoo artist shares the secrets and meaning behind her work.
Photograph by Michael Polito
Petite and powerful, Kelly Torres makes her mark by working with women who are breast cancer survivors — camouflaging, enhancing, even celebrating their scars with graceful and feminine tattoos. A mother of three, she tends to her family (she’s married to her high school sweetheart) and her art with equal gusto, and has been working as an artist in one form or another since age 16. She has also made a name for herself in the body painting world, with a past commission from NFL players for a Superbowl party. “I always say to my oldest daughter, ‘Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.’ It took me a lot of years to realize that I can make a living as an artist. It was just a matter of finding the right opportunity, and having confidence in myself.”
First tattoo: Two dragons on my back at age 18
Latest tattoo: A tattoo machine on my arm with a paint brush coming out of the tube
Most meaningful tattoo: “Never give up” and “Never look back” tattooed on the inside of my arms. It applies to my whole life. I’m a runner, and when you’re eight miles out and you want to turn around, you need those words of encouragement. After I did Rock the Ridge in 2013, which is 50 miles through the Mohonk Preserve, I tattooed wings on my feet — because I earned them.
The road not taken: I thought I wanted to be a nurse at one point, when I was trying to be practical. I did certified nursing assistant work as a patient care tech in a hospital. One of the great things I did was universal precautions training, so I was used to working with blood and fluids. The nurses were great and allowed me to assist them in wound care — which really translated when I went into tattooing, because you are breaking the skin and you have to understand how much the skin can tolerate.
Her style: I do a lot of floral, filigree with beadwork draping down. People tend to notice my flowers and feathers, but I think what stands out is the way I color my tattoos. I have a painter’s style of coloring. I go for bright and bold colors, but very feminine and swirly.
Artistic influence: Salvador Dali has always been my inspiration. As a kid, I used to try to paint his melting clocks and mimic his style. I’m still hanging onto some of the books I bought as a teenager.
Words of wisdom: Never put a man’s name on your body, never ever! You’re going to spend $400 to cover it up. I would say 60 percent or more of the tattoos I do are cover-ups.
Clientele: I get a lot of divorcées and a huge number of middle-aged women who say, “I’ve always wanted one and now it’s more common, life is too short, and I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. It’s my body, and I own it.”
Her mission: Mastectomy patients are left with scars. Some go to surgeons to have nipples tattooed, and they’re giving them these funny looking nipples — you’re much better off going to an artist. I’ve worked with about 10 mastectomy patients so far, either giving them nipple pigmentation tattoos, or doing designs around the scars. I would like to eventually network with some of the surgeons so they could refer their patients to me. I love doing that kind of work because it is so rewarding. I get to make beautiful art, and the cancer survivor feels whole again. They feel like they’ve been given back something they lost.
Find her at Black Cherry Tattoo Studio, Lagrangeville