Melissa Alexandria is not a typical tattoo artist.
Instead, Alexandria, 51, owner of A Brush with Ink and a medical tattoo artist working in Gig Harbor, helps restore breast cancer survivors with 3-D nipple and areola tattooing.
“This is a way for me to do art and to change someone else’s life,” Alexandria said. “Art pretty much is my life. This is just a different medium for me.”
Coming from an artistic family, Alexandria has been producing art for as long as she could remember. Adding in the ability to help cancer survivors seemed a natural transition to her. With three women in her family and one female friend affected by cancer, Alexandria has a strong understanding of what these women go through to survive and thrive.
She was first introduced to areola tattooing while scrolling through Facebook, where she stumbled on a YouTube video by East Coast tattoo artist Vinny Myers.
This is a way for me to do art and to change someone else’s life. Art pretty much is my life. This is just a different medium for me.
Melissa Alexandria, owner of A Brush with Ink
“By the time I was done watching that video I was in tears,” Alexandria said. “I knew my life would change ... it really only took one YouTube video to know that this is what I want to do.”
She began immediately to look for training and found a school on Whidbey Island at the Whidbey Island School of Micropigmentation, taught by owner Tammy Kelly.
“As an artist it came second nature,” Alexandria said. “I already understood the artistic basics. I just added in the tattoo element.”
Alexandria opened her Gig Harbor Studio in April this year offering 3-D nipple and areola tattooing, microneedling and permanent makeup. Additionally, she also offers personalized designs to help cover scarring that was the result of a client’s breast cancer battle.
“Some women just want to have their areolas back,” Alexandria said. “Others want to have more of their scars covered.”
Shima Garrison is a client of Alexandria’s who has taken advantage of the full range of services A Brush with Ink offers, from areola tattooing to permanent makeup.
As an artist it came second nature. I already understood the artistic basics. I just added in the tattoo element.
Garrison, 56, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, which was treated with a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and radiation. In 2014, the breast cancer returned and she had a double mastectomy to again remove the cancer. The cancer treatments, along with reconstructive surgery, left Garrison with extensive scarring.
“I just didn’t feel whole,” she said of herself post-surgery.
Garrison went searching for a medical tattoo artist and found Alexandria, who recently completed another tattoo for Garrison that is designed to cover some of her scarring.
“She’s wonderful,” Garrison said. “We’re going to do some more tattooing to make me feel pretty again.”
The process for 3-D nipple and areola tattooing involves three appointments with Alexandria: the first is a consultation, the second is where Alexandria begins to tattoo the ink and a third meeting for any touch-ups that might be needed.
She’s wonderful. We’re going to do some more tattooing to make me feel pretty again.
Shima Garrison, client
“You have to understand scarring to know how to embed the ink,” Alexandria said. “I’ve probably gone further (with training) than I’ve needed to, but that’s my personality — to make sure all my bases are covered.”
Alexandria works with clients at least six months post surgery and usually after either contacting the doctor or making sure the client has been cleared for restorative tattooing.
Emotions are often raw and the experience is highly personal for the women she helps, she said.
“If you think about it, at one point they’ve wondered if they’re even going to survive breast cancer,” Alexandria said.
Providing these women with realistic restorative tattooing is one way Alexandria contributes to their ongoing healing process.
You have to understand scarring to know how to embed the ink. I’ve probably gone further (with training) than I’ve needed to, but that’s my personality to make sure all my bases are covered.
And to insure that no woman goes without restoration, Alexandria is donating her services to those who otherwise might not be able to afford medical tattooing.
To be considered for donated services, breast cancer survivors can “Like” A Brush with Ink’s Facebook page and send Alexandria a message telling their story, circumstance and why they’re a good candidate for the donated services.
As her business begins to grow, Alexandria remains focused on the women whose lives she’s changing as they move forward battling breast cancer.
“It’s been kind of a long road,” she said. “But this is a way for me to do my art that helps somebody else.”