Jenny: From An Office Job To A Travelling Tattoo Artist
It’s the classic backpacker cycle: travel, run out of money, return home to replenish your bank account — repeat. But most travelers are in constant search of, what I like to call, “The Dream Hustle.” The Dream Hustle is the perfect passion project that financially sustains long-term travel and transforms nomadic tendencies into a lifestyle. Jenny Schulz is an example of someone who found her Dream Hustle.
I met Jenny while working as a receptionist at a backpacker hostel in San Cristóbal de Las Casas (a small tourist town in the south of Mexico). I worked roughly 25 hours a week in exchange for free breakfast and accommodation. Admittedly, half of my free time at the hostel consisted of, chatting with guests in the common area and drinking caguamas (pronounced ca-wa-ma: Mexican slang for a 32 ounce bottle of beer). The other half went towards brainstorming the different ways in which I could find my very own Dream Hustle.
One afternoon, I overheard one of the other hostel volunteers, Robin, announce she was getting a stick n’ poke tattoo (a tattoo made manually by poking the skin repetitively with a sharp object and ink). She showed me a photo on Instagram of the sleek, minimalist design she had chosen to get on the back of her neck. “She’s a traveler from Germany,” Robin said, as we scrolled through Jenny’s Instagram feed. “She lives down the street and gives tattoos for just 500 pesos an hour (around 35 CAD).” I was impressed by Jenny’s photos and I loved how her designs featured the female figure and various cacti native to Mexico. It was evident through her artwork that she had spent a significant amount of time traveling. I was instantly curious to learn how she turned her passion project into a reality.
I often wonder what sets Jenny and other entrepreneurial travelers apart. What made her want to stay and earn a living in Mexico? Why not go home to Germany and earn euros like many other travelers stuck in the aforementioned “cycle”? I sat down with Jenny on one of my last days in San Cristóbal to ask her these very questions and pick her brain on all things travel, art and being a female in a male-dominated industry.
“They always told me, ‘You are so lucky.’ And I was so angry when they said lucky because I’m not lucky. I choose to be happy. I chose to give up everything I didn’t like that much to be here.” -Schulz on her friends’ opinions of her travels.
Erika: When did you start making tattoos?
Jenny: I started in February 2018… It’s crazy because in Germany I studied social work. I was doing creative things but never drawing all day. I think when you travel, you take your time to do stuff that you used to like.
Erika: I’ve noticed a lot of your art is inspired by the female body. Why do you think that is?
Jenny: I think it was my travels — finding myself. I traveled for six months before, without making tattoos, and I just felt really good. I think it’s also the age. I’m 27 now and I feel good about myself — about my body. For me, it’s fascinating, the whole nature of the woman. Maybe it’s also because we’re in Mexico… In Latin America, the machismo [male chauvinism] is super strong, so I just want to focus on the female energy.
Erika: What has it been like as a female in the tattoo industry in Mexico?
Jenny: A lot of times when I meet a tattoo artist and they are guys I don’t always tell them I make tattoos because they don’t take me seriously. Like ah, you’re a woman. It’s probably not going to be very good or you’re not tough enough. But it’s good if they don’t pay attention to you and then someday they realize, oh there’s another tattoo studio. Oh shit, and people are going there. Then maybe they will pay attention and take me seriously — I love it.
Or if not, fine for me as well. You do your thing and I’ll do my thing… but I don’t really pay much attention to what they’re doing.
Erika: Has there been a specific time when you felt disrespected as a woman in the local industry?
Jenny: When I’m with my boyfriend, a lot of times they [men] will talk to him and just ignore me… Sometimes they will come in and ask him about the tattoos and he’s like, “No, I’m not making the tattoos — It’s her.”
But it’s also necessary for you to be really clear and to be present, like, this is my place.
Erika: What do you think got you to this point of being so self-assured and able to be present in a space where you don’t always feel welcome?
Jenny: Everything — the people that I met. I think it’s traveling, no? You learn a lot. You’re growing — always growing. There are always situations that you have to overcome but you always make it at the end and you always come out stronger.
Erika: Who was the first person you tattooed?
Jenny: The first person was me — I was testing on myself. But the first other person was a friend. I met him in a hostel and we were already living together for three months so we trusted each other.
Erika: When did you realize you could earn a living making tattoos?
Jenny: I was in a hostel in Puerto Escondido [a surf town on the Pacific coast of Mexico] and I started to make tattoos for free just to practice. People were like, “Hey you can practice on me” and it worked really fast. In a hostel there are always people who want tattoos… The first time I got paid I was like, omg, they paid me to make a tattoo. Then I started to charge but not a lot.
Erika: Why stick n’ poke as opposed to the standard machine gun tattoo?
Jenny: For me, as an artist, it relaxes me. You have to have patience. If you’re not a patient person, imagine making a line with just dots — you’re not going to like it. But I love it! For me it’s fascinating how you have a design, like a face, and you make like five more dots and everything changes. You can create a lot with just dots. It’s super fascinating.
The benefits for the other person are that it heals much faster, it’s much more gentle for the skin and you can make really fine lines.
Erika: Did you think this was how your travels would unfold?
Jenny: NAH! I left and I told everybody I will come back when I come back. I am not registered in Germany. I don’t have an address or anything. I left and I was thinking okay, I will travel as long as I can and if I want to keep travelling I will figure out a way to do that. I always had in mind, surf-instructor or something, because I love to surf. But in the end I never planned it. It was just happening.
Erika: What are you parents and friends saying about your nomadic lifestyle?
Jenny: I think they have the idea like, “Oh it’s so cool, you have your studio and you have the best life ever.” But in the end it is life as well. There are things that are hard, things that are nice, things that are better than Germany and things that are better here. It’s the same life.
Erika: Have you ever felt like giving up?
Jenny: A couple of days ago I thought, okay, I will leave everything and I will go to the beach for the last two weeks and I will go to Germany and not be here anymore. And then I went to talk with a friend and she was like, “No, don’t leave because we need more women that do that [own local businesses]. Please don’t leave.”
Erika: Have you ever been close to running out of money?
Jenny: YES! So many times. To be honest, sometimes we don’t even have one peso in our pocket. That’s why I’m so happy now that this [tattoo studio] is finally working because sometimes it’s really tough. Usually when you open a business you have, like, some money *giggles* but I was at the end of my travels and I didn’t have any money.
“I think there are some people that need a lot of safety. There are a lot of people that cannot go without things.” -Schulz
Erika: How did you open your studio with no money?
Jenny: We bought these [tables] for 30 pesos (2.90 CAD) and we made the other furniture. We went to the forest, for example, to get plants instead of buying plants… In the end you don’t need a lot.
Erika: What would you be doing in Germany if you were there right now?
Jenny: I would have probably looked for a job in social work. But I don’t think I was ever the type of person that liked to work for other people. I think you feel it… Of course, if you have your own business, sometimes it’s hard. You don’t [for example] get to work in a café every day and have guaranteed money but there are also a lot of benefits.
Erika: How do you respond when friends back home say they are jealous or wish they had what you have?
Jenny: They always told me, ‘You are so lucky,’ and I was so angry when they said lucky because I’m not lucky. I choose to be happy. I chose to give up everything I didn’t like that much to be here. Maybe I don’t have anything saved but I love what I’m doing and you can do the same.
I think there are some people that need a lot of safety. There are a lot of people that cannot go without things. I think it’s also because of how you grow up and a lot of factors that will influence you but I’m grateful that I grew up how I grew up. My parents separated and we moved a lot… Maybe that’s why I feel cozy and homey really fast.
Follow @frieda_sonnenschein_tattoos for more tattoo and travel inspo.