Nursing student by day, tattoo artist by night

UI Student Casey Gartlan plans to pursue both passions in nursing and in her art.


Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

“By the way, this isn’t Jesus fan art,” Casey Gartlan said while shading a tattoo design of a cross on her sketchpad. The cross is for her boyfriend’s father. After beating cancer, he requested the commission of a cross entwined with a cancer awareness ribbon. The commission will be one of the most important she’s done but certainly not the first or last.

Everyday designs such as crosses are not typically what Gartlan enjoys designing. A junior at the University of Iowa, she spends her time making original compositions that align with her aesthetic. Considering her style to be that of a “witch mom,” she sports a blue dye-job and septum piercing, complete with mom jeans. However, hardly a generation behind, Gartlan uses social media to promote her style and find customers who align with her personal brand.

“I’ll stress the importance of social media in marketing and connecting me with customers who share the same aesthetic or are looking for my style of art specifically,” she said. “My Instagram and Twitter create more of a brand than just art; it allows me to freelance with no real business education or know-how.”

Still, while having no entrepreneurial knowledge, Gartlan’s prints are available at White Rabbit as a result of her commitment to her craft.

Since her childhood, she has enjoyed drawing and painting. Finally taking classes in high school, she began to hone her talent. In her senior year, she sold her first tattoo design and then began getting into prints. Now, at age 20, her love for art is matched only by her studies as a nursing student.

“I’m a nursing student, then an artist in that order,” she said.

While she is dedicated to her studies, she doesn’t let them get in the way of her artistic endeavors. Rather, she uses her art as a tool to help her study.

The anatomical design of a skeleton is her most popular drawing and personal favorite, having been inspired by her coursework.

Gartlan considers her designs as functional art to make something she can keep, touch, and even sell out of her assignments. Line drawings that are inspired by traditional tattoo style and vintage scientific illustrations mark Gartlan’s work in what she calls “a fusion of tattooing and the medical field.” She plans to continue the trend with diagrams of the heart and the brain.

“It’s a vibe everyone likes,” she said. “I always do it in black and white, with more detail.”

Gartlan has received commissions for more than 100 designs since her senior year in high school. Design costs range from $30 to $70, depending on whether the design is a painting or a print design.

“When I started, they were $10,” Gartlan said. “Now, I’m able to charge around $60 for what I used to do for $10. The first design was for a girl in Canada, but I got Canadian money, and it turned out to be seven-something. I felt too bad to get the full amount.”

Now dealing with people from Canada, all over the United States, and the UK, Gartlan has mastered her amateur business practice.

While she seeks compensation for her work, because it takes time away from her nursing career, Gartlan includes art into her dream. She wishes to be a nurse by day, and a tattoo artist by night, a pin-up Jekyll and Hyde (minus the murder).

Feeling productive after readings and constant studying, her work becomes proof of her scholastic and artistic advancement. She will continue making art informed by her studies, continually distinguishing herself in both fields.

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