Clients like Taylor Swift and 'Euphoria' love my realistic airbrush tattoos. Here's how I built my business.

Clients like Taylor Swift and 'Euphoria' love my realistic airbrush tattoos. Here's how I built my business.
Grace Lovejoy says fake tattoos in film and TV started to look worse and worse as Hollywood's cameras got better. She set out to do something about it.Courtesy of Grace Lovejoy

  • Grace Lovejoy created a new way of airbrushing film and TV tattoos with her laser stencils.
  • Since then, she's grown an enviable client list and booming business despite battling stage 3 cancer.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Grace Lovejoy, a special effects tattoo artist based in Las Vegas. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The way tattoos on-screen are commonly done in the entertainment industry is with a sticker. That was okay in the '80s, but when cameras started getting better and people started actually using RED cameras around 2010, the way fake tattoos looked became a really critical issue for a lot of directors.

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I was looking at the tattoos in different shows and movies and I felt like they really just … sucked. I figured I could do something about it. I used my experience with airbrushing and my really good knack for making stencils to create an intricate process for airbrushing realistic tattoos with stencils. Since then my work has been featured on Taylor Swift, Halsey, A$AP Rocky, Chris Brown, and way more. You can see some of my work on television in shows like "Euphoria," "Shameless," and "The Magicians."

I didn't set out to airbrush tattoos, or to work in film and TV at all

I started airbrushing when I was 8. I've always been very artistic and I actually just stumbled upon some art college trunks my mom had before she dropped out of art school. I found her old airbrush and figured out how to make it work. By the time I hit high school, I was airbrushing as much as I could — on t-shirts, cars, and doing body-art.


My friend's mother was a makeup artist who worked on a TV show called "Melrose Place." She let me apprentice with her, and I ended up showing the makeup team how to cover up actors' tattoos using airbrushing. That was my introduction to Hollywood. I was only 18, and at the time decided that working on Hollywood sets wasn't for me. It felt competitive and there seemed to be a lot of work politics.

I decided to pursue a career in fine art and did that for about 10 years. I tried my hardest to break through and get representation, but it just never seemed to be my time. It didn't seem to be the time for any Black woman artist. I started working as a graphic designer to support myself and was even one of the first designers at Adobe when one of my employers got acquired. We were ultimately laid off, so in 2009, I decided to get back into the makeup game in Hollywood. That's when I started to notice how bad TV tattoos were.

Almost as soon as I started my tattoo business, I was in high demand. We started to get calls for A$AP Rocky, Zayn Malik, Chris Brown and more

I started developing my realistic airbrush tattoo business for film and television in 2009. By 2011, I had a laser and began engineering airbrush stencils for the tattoos. By 2013, I was really starting to expand my business and make it into a viable thing — the film industry started calling and begging me to save their productions from the terrible tattoos that were being put down. Fake tattoos just didn't exist the way I was doing it.

I made a website and Hollywood people started finding me and calling all the time. It hasn't stopped since then. The calls started coming from higher-level people over the years, so we've really had to learn how to deal with Hollywood productions and the sometimes big personalities that call us out of the blue.

The entertainment production industry is a very 'last-minute' business. I once got a call from a production looking for tattoos for A$AP Rocky. At first I was like, yes I can do that — but then they said I'd have 48 hours to design the tattoos and get myself down to LA to apply them. It was stressful, but I got it done. A lot of the time, productions want to haggle over my fee. Once they figure out that no one else can do what I do, they come back and pay my price.


From my experience, people will take full advantage of you if you allow them to, so I've had to really develop my business sense to create a situation that makes it difficult for that to happen — and also so no one I send to a production in my place is treated badly enough for them to want to quit.

I had to really persevere to keep my business — and myself — alive and thriving

Business was booming, but dealing with productions and fighting to be credited ultimately contributed to a lot of stress in my life and wasn't helping my health. In 2016, I was diagnosed with what turned out to be stage 3B colon cancer.

I fought an epic health battle, and had many surgeries to rebuild my intestines while working to maintain my company and my life. I continued to build success even during that ordeal. By 2020, I was in remission, and my company's phone never stopped ringing off the hook.

One of the biggest places my work appeared was on Taylor Swift, in her 'You Need to Calm Down' music video

Clients like Taylor Swift and 'Euphoria' love my realistic airbrush tattoos. Here's how I built my business.
I created Swift's now infamous airbrush back tattoo in 2019.Taylor Swift

One of the proudest moments for my business was having my work featured on Taylor Swift in the 'You Need to Calm Down' music video. Unfortunately, I was never credited publicly for the work, but the art was loved by Taylor Swift (as you can see in the behind the scenes of the video) and her fans. There were a bunch of articles published at the time about whether or not Swift had gotten a real tattoo.

Another big moment for my company was our work on season 2 of 'Euphoria.' I was credited this time, for my airbrush work on Fezco's Grandma, Kitty, on episode 1. I love that work because the tattoos are such a big part of that character. We have to be really aggressive about claiming our credit, but it's always worth it.


A typical day on set for me is probably what you'd expect

I get to set, set up my air brushes and stencils, and I just go to town. I airbrush on every tattoo, and then if it's a sleeve, I build it up one tattoo at a time. A sleeve usually takes about an hour. If it's a torso with both sleeves, then that's usually two or three hours. It's pretty fast work by the time I get on-site. I've seen whole teams of makeup artists take over six hours to do what I can do with my method in an hour.

Clients like Taylor Swift and 'Euphoria' love my realistic airbrush tattoos. Here's how I built my business.
It can be really difficult to get productions to credit the work that I do. Seeing my name in the 'Euphoria' credits was a big moment for me.HBO Max

This is a really difficult industry, but I've managed to excel anyway

I've developed a rare talent in Hollywood by persevering, inventing a new way of doing things, and doing it well. That said, I've had a lot of experiences in the industry that I wouldn't wish on anyone, from working with very difficult people to having to fight to have my work credited. I'm ready to replace myself in Hollywood — so I'm teaching willing makeup-artists my skills, so I don't have to go on set unless my expertise is absolutely needed. I've now built a successful temporary tattoo shop in Las Vegas called Tat Bar. We welcome everyday patrons to get the same FX tattoos they've seen in film and television. My goal is to have these shops all over the world.

My advice for anyone working in Hollywood is to be the best at what you do, and never let anyone treat you like the help. Leave your mark. Watch your back. Read contracts & NDAs word-for-word to make sure the terms are good for you before you sign them.

Get your credit first. If you can't — give yourself the credit by putting it in your portfolio first.

If you work in Hollywood and would like to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at