The Art of Permanence

Amy Dowell :: Jackson Hole, Wyoming :: The Painted Lady

As many of you know, Jackson Hole is not an easy place to live or make a living; many people will say, “Here, you either have three homes, or three jobs to make it work.” For many of us who live in places where the highway ends and the dirt roads begin, where the economy swells during ski season and depends (sometimes to a devastating degree) on clear, smoke-free summers, we understand those words too well. For this very reason, many western towns similar to Jackson seem to attract a relatively transient crowd – young snow bunnies chasing winter, Lost Boys looking for quick, part time work before their next 6-month stint abroad, or maybe someone is just having a quarter life crisis, and a ski town seems like just the place to sort it out, even if only for a short while.

Amy Dowell, a mid-twenty-something, Jackson born-and-bred lady artist, however, has carved out space in a business sector that is challenging to float in a small town – body art. You can’t get more permanent than that…

Amy’s parlor, The Painted Lady, is located on Broadway, and housed in the same complex as Jackson’s late-night pizza joint, Pinky G’s. Although it’s in a central location in town, I never noticed it, and was, in fact, confused about just where to go when I went to interview her (I blame the late-night-alcohol-induced-pizza-cravings for that oversight). The single-room is inviting, chic, and notably classy. Her signature art decorates the walls – pen-and-ink drawings of already imprinted tattoos, I’m sure. And it’s bright, and it’s quiet, except for some good morning music. This is unquestionably Amy’s territory – feminine, soft, professional and intimate.                            

Amy grew up thinking that Jackson wasn’t the place for her – a common affliction amongst youngsters growing up in resort towns (I can attest to that). Although the recognition that she was an artist was fostered here, she couldn’t wait to leave. Laramie ushered her through her college education at the University of Wyoming, and Phoenix, Arizona was what finally gave her the push she needed to return to her home town.

Besides the fact that her bank account had been drained within the first four months of living in the desert metropolis, she also felt that her reservoir of creativity had been emptied. “I took [living in Jackson] for granted when I was growing up. Once I moved away, I realized that I lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world; a lot of my work revolves around nature. It’s easy to find inspiration here. When I came back, I felt like I got my creative energy back,” Amy reflected.

If you take time to flip through Amy’s portfolio, you can see just how much inspiration she pulls from nature: mountain scapes, skulls, ungulates and felines, rivers, and flora of all kinds weave their ways in and out of her intricate work, and can keep you searching through each piece’s details for hours.

“I have discovered as an artist that I can’t make anything simple. I want to make art that people want to look at and will keep them searching for new things," she said of her own artwork. Personally, I figure if you’re going to put something on your body – any sort of art – it better be well-worth looking at for years to come, something to study (I unfortunately made the mistake of NOT doing that...thank the Jesus for cover ups). Amy seems to have this skill mastered.

One of her signature styles is what she calls her Lady Faces. These girls are ambiguous, and relatable, classically beautiful, and perhaps they might even remind you of someone you’ve known, or seen. Either way, their simplicity has a way of drawing you in – a way of making you look hard at exactly what it is that gives them such a compelling allure. Combine that with the skull crowns, and the feathered trees that are easy to mistake as hair pieces on the Ladies, and you’ll certainly be captivated for more time than you thought you might spend looking at a black ink tattoo.

While she does draw men from time to time (mostly when she calls upon her love for ancient mythological characters, literary legends and superheroes), she feels that “Women can be appreciated by anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Plus, I can relate to women, and if I tried to create a man, it would feel more feminine anyway," Amy said about the Faces. It doesn’t stop her from pushing her boundaries, though.

“With art, you can always think that you’ve found ‘The One Thing’,” Amy said. “For example, I used to only want to do Lady Faces, but something will present itself and give me an opportunity to do something different.” Enter her new fields of interest, like sacred geometry. “It’s so simple, but also incredibly complex at the same time. The way I got into it was because of a client who wanted a Mayfly with some geometric shapes in the background. I used to think that geometry was boring and easy, not so challenging. But when I did this piece, I thought it was pretty cool, and people have started to want more of it,” she stated.

Amy’s work isn’t born out of whims and flirtations with her creativity. She told me that when she goes to speak to art classes at the local schools, one of the questions she’s often asked by students is how much money she makes.

“The thing they don’t like to hear is that I work 120 hours a week, and only really get paid for 40 of them. Once they find out that they might be working 80 hours over time without extra pay, their interest in being a self-employed artist seems to die down,” she said. Amy is tattooing at least 5 days a week, sometimes six and will often work until 10:00pm. In between her clients, she does what she and her husband call “permanent homework” which entails drafting tattoos, answering emails, placing orders, and cleaning. Her work never stops – it’s what she has to do to keep her studio running, and be prepared for her clients.

“It’s an honor to work on my clients, and I take my job really seriously. My clients are my top priority, and it’s irresponsible to give them any less than 110% of my energy. I don’t go out much, I work a lot, but I absolutely love what I do, which is why it doesn’t feel like work all the time,” Amy said about her job. “It’s taken a lot of effort to get here. That’s pretty much what everything boils down to – figuring out what you want to do and work, work, work, work, until you get there.”

Amy is booked 10-12 months in advance, she doesn’t accept walk-ins, and she charges $125 an hour for clients. The payoff, however, is her complete attention. It’s one of the things she values the most about her parlor, and the way she’s chosen to do business.

“One of the reasons I enjoy my space so much is because when a client comes in, the experience is all about them. I think it’s a reason a lot of people come to me – and I want them to always feel like they have that,” she remarked, introspectively and assertively. The few clients of hers that I’ve known personally have left The Painted Lady feeling proud of and connected to their new artwork. They have nothing to give but 5-star reviews of their experiences, and you can see why. Everything Amy does is beautiful, and is created intentionally for each client who sits in her chair. This is why her business is booming – it’s intimate, she’s consistent, and she’s driven. She seems unwavering in her dedication to continued excellence.

Between following her dreams, embodying her vision of being a Painted Lady herself, and creating and delivering beautiful art, what Amy has done in the last decade has led to her growing roots in a place she was desperate to escape not ten years ago. Now, she's running a business that has allowed her to become a permanent fixture in a fluid town, with an artful product that will be recognized and carried around the world for generations to come. A well earned 'Congratulations' to you, Amy. You rule.

#ladybiz

To see more of Amy’s work, visit her website, http://www.amydowell.com/ or follow her on Instagram @iamthepaintedlady. 

Words by: Casey Sedlack

Photos compliments of Meredith Richardson at Nomadic Lens Productions.