Pretty in ink: Woman-owned LA studio making tattoos more accessible, inclusive

An artist at Girlxfriend LA applies an intricate design to the arm of a client. (Photo by Emeril Gordon/Cronkite News)

At Girlxfriend LA, owner Milla Press says she wants to create an inclusive atmosphere similar to visiting a girlfriend’s bedroom. She opened her shop in July. (Photo by Emeril Gordon/Cronkite News)

LOS ANGELES – The world of tattooing is constantly changing, and at the forefront is a studio that’s dripping in pink.

Hidden behind white frosted windows are bright pink walls and rows of black tattoo beds. At the entrance to Girlxfriend LA tattoo studio are two couches, one pink and one green, filled with colorful stuffed toys and pillows shaped like cartoon characters. The coffee table is stacked with coloring books, crayons and, more seriously, clipboards with tattoo consent forms.

“It’s called Girlxfriend because this is like your girlfriend’s bedroom,” said owner Milla Press, 24. “I just wanted a really comforting vibe and a lot of people come in and tell me like they don’t feel intimidated here. It feels very relaxing and welcoming.”

Press opened Girlxfriend LA in July in the Los Angeles’ trendy Silver Lake neighborhood. With the help of her parents, she found what she believes is the perfect place for her vision of an inclusive studio with feminine and nostalgic imagery, one that’s uplifting to the dozen female and queer tattoo artists who work there.

Press’ emphasis on employing women artists puts her on the forefront of a trend. It’s one that Pat Sinatra, president of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, has watched develop since she began her work in 1976.

At the time, there were only a handful of female tattoo artists. Sinatra, owner of Pat’s Tats in Kingston, New York, said that number has risen exponentially.

From her experiences, Sinatra said, shops with a female artist have a more relaxed environment.

“Women are more concerned about the comfort of the client during the process than men are,” she said.

Press started construction immediately after signing her lease and with the guidance of her mentor, Jayna Won, co-owner of Angel Kisses Tattoo Studio in Los Angeles, and opened the space for appointments in July.

“It all happened really fast,” Press said. “Since Jayna had opened Angel Kisses and been such an amazing mentor of mine for so long, she made this process so streamlined for me. She had already opened a shop, like, she knew exactly what I had to do. My process went by so much faster because I had her to help me.”

Before meeting Won, Press had taught herself how to do rudimentary tattoos, called “stick and poke,” for friends. She dropped out of the ArtCenter College of Design, where she had been studying film, and fell back on her talent for tattooing. She thought it may be a good way to channel her creativity outside a traditional school setting.

Milla Press, owner of the Girlxfriend LA tattoo studio, discusses designs with a customer. Her shop aims to be inclusive with a feminine vibe. (Photo by Emeril Gordon/Cronkite News)

She looked for apprenticeships at traditional shops but was turned down repeatedly because her style – with its original doodlelike designs – is considered nontraditional.

She turned to posting her tattoo designs on her Instagram page, @lambxchop, where she eventually grew a clientele. Press said she struck a friendship with Won, who had seen her online posts and invited her to work at her studio.

“I loved it (Won’s studio) so much, but I didn’t get to decorate it how I wanted it,” Press said. “I have a vision where I want everything to be super over-the-top, kind of tacky, colorful, bright. I wanted my own space where I could do that.”

At Girlxfriend, Press can express herself and provide a space for her artists and clients – many of them women or LGBTQ – to feel unapologetically themselves. All artists who work at Girlxfriend identify as femme (people who are feminine or identify with a more feminine identity) or nonbinary (someone who does not identify within the gender binary of female or male).

Caroline Evans, secretary of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists and owner of Radiant Energy Tattoo in Brick Township, New Jersey, said it’s critically important for a shop’s ambiance to mirror the attitudes of the artist. Inviting and comfortable imagery are just a few of the contributing factors. There are many women-owned tattoo studios across the country, Evans said, but the environment is what sets each shop apart.

“You have people that feel like outcasts and they’re drawn,” Evans said. “That’s how I view it. It’s a safe space. We know what it’s like to be judged. Why are we going to go around judging other people?”

Angel Arpornrat, 21, an artist at Girlxfriend, was casually designing temporary tattoos for friends and hosting at a bar to make ends meet when they first connected with Press, who had posted on social media asking whether other artists would be interested in splitting the cost of rent.

“I feel like she has such a strong aspiration to open up a shop and I saw that and how bright that was and I just went with her and here we are,” Arpornrat said.

In their time working with Press, Arpornrat experimented to develop a personal style. Many of the fun aspects of tattooing have been lost because of the pretentious attitudes of more traditional artists, they said.

“I feel like they take it too seriously and they take all the fun out of it, which is meeting new people and getting to talk to people,” Arpornrat said. “You are having your art on someone’s body forever. Those are really, really, really cool aspects of tattooing people.”

A tattoo is applied to a client at the Girlxfriend LA studio, which caters to clients who appreciate a more feminine touch than found at traditional studios. (Photo by Emeril Gordon/Cronkite News)

Arianna Lansigan, 25, was referred to Press by a friend in 2019. Lansigan said she continues to support Press because of her enthusiastic attitude toward her unique ideas for tattoos.

“Out of all the tattoo artists I’ve gotten tattoos from, she’s the one that always understands my vision without questioning it,” Lansigan said.

Part of Press’ vision of inclusivity is embracing artists from multiple cultures. As a Filipino, it’s important for Press to have a variety of ethnicities represented in the artists who can relate to the cultural significance of some designs.

At the same time, she expresses her own individuality through her appearance, sporting blonde hair, a star-shaped nose ring and bright clothing. One day at her studio last week, she wore a bright green long-sleeve shirt with embroidered butterflies and flowers, a Hello Kitty necklace and a beanie with cat ears.

Press and Langisan connect both creatively and culturally through their Filipino heritage. Langisan said the pride they both have for their culture is something that keeps her coming back to support another young Filipino creative pursuing a nontraditional career.

“It’s cool to see any Filipino in the creative industry, especially the tattoo industry,” Langisan said.

Overall, Langisan said, that the calming attitude of Press and Girlxfriend is unlike any other she has experienced before. Every time Langisan gets tattooed by Press, she knows that the tattooist will strive to minimize pain from the needle.

“I have the lowest pain tolerance in the world,” Langisan said. “Any of the artists that do tattoos here give off such a good vibe and it’s like you’re hanging out with your friends.”

Girlxfriend clients come back for different reasons, but one thing is consistent across the board: the constant feeling of acceptance and care.

When Press first opened her studio, she never imagined that she would be able to reach so many people with her work and her mission. Now in the thick of it, she reflects and sees that her shop is an outlet for a new, more inclusive wave of tattoo culture that she never thought would change.

“It’s very surreal because it’s something that I never went out to have this mission but it just kind of happened. But I think it feels really cool because all of us are able to create something out of it that I never I literally never thought was possible,” Press said.

News Reporter, Los Angeles

Kristen Apolline Castillo expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Castillo has interned with Times Media Group and reported and edited for The State Press.

Emeril Gordon(she/her)
Sports Broadcast Producer, Los Angeles

Emeril Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.