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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Senior brings passion for art and tattoos to the campus community

Gayton has done three of her own tattoos. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

After getting her first tattoo when she was 17, Riley Gayton ’21 fell in love with the art form and recently decided to teach herself how to tattoo.

“I feel like it’s the ultimate form of self-expression,” Gayton said. “Tattoos are just such a cool way to express who you are, and it’s forever. It makes me feel like a walking art piece.”

Although Philadelphia allows tattooing without a license, Gayton still spent a lot of time researching and talking to professionals before she began. She consulted an uncle’s brother who is a tattoo artist in New Jersey, and a best friend’s brother in Florida, getting equipment and product recommendations. Gayton also watched a lot of videos on YouTube.

“I’m very much a process person, so I want to know if I’m doing this, why am I doing it,” Gayton said. 

In February, Gayton started tattooing friends and family in her off-campus home in the Wynnewood neighborhood of Philadelphia. So far, Gayton has tattooed about 37 people who found her through friends or her Instagram account, @triple2tattoos. She charges a minimum of $40, with higher prices depending on size and detail.

Gayton, a psychology major, said it is important to her that people feel at ease when coming to her for a tattoo. 

“Being in my house just creates this relaxing environment,” Gayton said. “I always burn incense before I start to clear my space. I’ll put out a couple of intentional crystals, and then I play music.”

Katie Friedman ’23 went to Gayton for her second tattoo specifically for the informal environment.

“I didn’t want to call the shops and go through the whole process of making the initial appointment and getting the consultation and then going back and actually getting it and everything,” Friedman said. “Especially with COVID, it’s a strenuous process.” 

Friedman said she appreciated how easy it was to work with Gayton to find the perfect sketch and placement of her tattoo. Her tattoo is a picture of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet with a quote in her brother’s handwriting.

“She’s just so welcoming,” Friedman said. “I changed my mind a few times, and she was just really helpful with everything.”

Gayton set up her workspace in the dining room of her shared home. Her roommate, Soph Escario ’21, who also runs Gayton’s Instagram account, said Gayton makes sure everyone follows safety protocols. 

“She always tells us when people are coming, and then she will clean, sanitize and wrap the table and the area around it,” Escario said. “Everyone has to wear masks and has to follow COVID protocols.”

Colin Lake ’18 wanted to get a tattoo from Gayton because he knew her from his time at St. Joe’s and trusted her. 

“I went in and I signed a waiver and everything,” Lake said. “She had everything wiped down already and covered with some Saran Wrap. She showed me it was a brand new needle and then opened all the new cartridges, so I knew everything was safe. I knew it was, I wasn’t worried about that, but her going through that process was definitely comforting.”

Lake got a tattoo of the famed Philly Special from Super Bowl LII. Gayton made a TikTok of the tattoo, which caught the attention of ESPN SportsCenter.

“My friend texted me, ‘Dude, you’re on SportsCenter,’” Lake said. “So we looked it up, and we were on their Snapchat story. It was really cool.” 

That was the second time Gayton had made a social media splash with her tattoos. In February 2021, Gayton tattooed herself, inspired by the song and album cover of the singer SZA’s, “Good Days.” She posted a photo of it on her personal Instagram and tagged SZA, who then reposted the post to her own Instagram story. 

For Gayton, the best part is not the short-term attention but the permanent impact her art has on someone else. 

“I love tattooing other people because to me one of the greatest things you can do in your life is change someone else’s for the better,” Gayton said. “With tattooing, it feels like a piece of me is with them forever. My art is on their body forever. Even if I only see the person that one time, someone eventually will ask about the tattoo I gave them and in that way, I’m a part of their story forever.”

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