Tasha Tonks Talks Traditional Tattooing and Living the Van Life

Photo by Helena Darling

Halifax tattoo artist Tasha Tonks, known on Instagram as Tasha Terror, was captivated by tattooing at an early age. As a kid, she discovered BMEzine online and was immediately hooked by images of an alternative lifestyle. 

“I spent hours scrolling through photos of things 12-year-olds definitely shouldn’t be looking at,” says Tonks. “I hung out in the punk and metal scenes. Tattooing was just always around and intertwined into all that.”

Tonks started getting seriously tattooed when she was in her 20s. She drew and painted flash, asked questions, and eventually learned the craft. “I did not have a traditional apprenticeship,” she says. “I ultimately got started tattooing on my own, but I had a ton of help from my friends in the industry along the way.”

Tasha Tonks tattooing at Darling Tattoos
Tasha Tonks tattooing at Darling Tattoos in Halifax.

The now 31-year-old, who works at Darling Tattoos (co-owned by Helena Darling and Lacey Cormier), has come a long way from drawing tattoo designs for her friends in high school. Her colorful traditional tattoos and bold, ornamental blackwork designs have propelled her into a career that fulfills her creativity and offers her the freedom to indulge in her other interests. 

Putting Her Stamp on Traditional Tattoos

A vintage-lover at heart, Tonks says that she was always interested in the American Traditional style. 

“There’s something about a bold design done with a limited color palette that I find very striking,” she says. “I like simplicity in design, bold patterns, repeating images, and floral and classic tattoo subject matter.”

Scrolling through Tonks’ portfolio reveals her own versions of classic rose and dagger tattoos, lady head tattoos, and a healthy mix of skulls and butterflies. But Tonks applies the traditional style to subject matter that she makes all her own—like fun fruit bundles, spooky spider webs, and burning bras. 

If she’s not tattooing traditional color tattoos, Tonks is laying heavy blackwork into her clients’ skin. She specializes in ornamental designs with crisp linework and dazzling symmetry. 

“I find my ornamental work really takes a lot of traditional elements into its design, so they both work together hand-in-hand,” says Tonks. “I find it very relaxing to draw ornamental designs—there’s something almost meditative about that process for me.”

Seeing the World From Her Van

On Instagram (both on her tattoo account and her personal account), Tonks documents her travels—many of which take place from the comfort of her 1979 Chevy G10 van, which was converted to a camper van by its former owners.

Tonks says that van life wasn’t something she planned. It just happened. “I just one day happened to come across a listing for the van online, and we found ourselves driving four hours to just take a look,” she says. “Then, we brought her home with us.” 

Along with her partner, tattooer Alex Duquette, Tonks takes the van out on the open road and enjoys the flexibility it gives her while traveling. The couple recently hit Van Nationals with friends and have used the teal-green camper to drive around the Okanagan Valley and explore their home province of Nova Scotia.

“I find a lot of tattoo inspiration in antique stores and old architecture, and van life gives you the chance to explore the things you may not normally get to see,” says Tonks. “There’s all those weird offbeat roadside attractions you miss when you’re just flying everywhere.”

So far, Tonks says that—in addition to the Okanagan Valley—the Rocky Mountains, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands, and Valley of Fire have been some of her favorite travel destinations.

Even when she’s not road tripping, Tonks says she uses the Chevy to get outside and draw in front of scenic views. “Vanning is great because you have all the comforts of home,” she says. “When we’re not on the road, we’ll just take the van out to park at a nice look-off and lay in the bed to draw.”

Tonks says that tattooing has allowed her the freedom to travel, and she couldn’t be more grateful to have a flexible career that combines her artistic skills with her adventurous spirit. 

“Before tattooing, it was hard to get time off or afford the travel I wanted to do,” she says. “Now I’m able to make my own schedule and bring my work with me on the road. I want to see as much of the world as I can and tattoo as many people as possible along the way.”

Sharing Her Life and Her Work

Tonks is one of the few tattoo artists who puts herself front and center on her Instagram feed and mixes in images of her personal life with her tattoos. 

“I was told that if I put myself out there online, my work wouldn’t be taken seriously,” she says. “I almost took that as a challenge.” 

Sharing images of herself, her personal life, and her travels helps Tonks reach and relate to her audience. “Posting about my lifestyle and travels has only helped me to reach more potential clients and have something to connect over when we finally do meet in person,” she explains.

Tonks says that she knows other female artists who have been told that they should avoid modeling or posting too many photos of themselves. But she disagrees with that viewpoint and does what makes sense for herself and her career. She enjoys using social media for more than her artistic portfolio.

“It works for me, I feel genuine doing it, and I enjoy it,” says Tonks. “Most of the feedback I get from sharing photos of myself is from other women, and it’s always positive.”

Tonks has dealt with her fair share of bullshit in the tattoo industry. She’s been threatened, told she didn’t belong, and had a few men try to coerce her into sleeping with them in exchange for mentorship. “Every person who told me I couldn’t do it pushed me harder to actually do it, and do it well,” she says.

But throughout her career, Tonks says she’s also experienced a groundswell of support from other women who have helped her grow and learn as an artist. “I have a huge support network of women in the tattoo industry. I have so many amazing women in my life that I look up to and admire,” she says. “Now I’m here living it, loving it, and meeting and working alongside people I wouldn’t even have dreamed of knowing.”

All photos courtesy Tasha Tonks, with images by Helena Darling and Alex Duquette.

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