A tattoo artist on finding meaningful work with cancer patients

Manon Payette with a client. (Photograph by Jessica Deeks)

Manon Payette, on treating breast-cancer survivors: ‘I’m the happy ending, because they’re alive’ (Photograph by Jessica Deeks)

Manon Payette: Paramedical tattoo artist, White Lies Beauty, Orléans, Ont.

Education and training: one-year makeup artist certificate from La Cité collégiale; multiple courses from Micro-Pigmentation Centre in Toronto and BioTouch Canada in Vancouver

Average income: $450 to $800 per patient

Years on the job: 13

Q: Why did you go into paramedical tattooing?

a: After a while, after doing brows and lips and eyes, you’re not bored, but you want to give a better meaning to your work. I like my clients’ reactions after getting my tattoos. When you start with a breast that has nothing but scars, then when it’s done you have a more natural breast, that’s very rewarding. I’m helping people. I don’t save lives—I’m at the end of the nightmare. When someone learns they have cancer, they’re not thinking of perky breasts. First, they don’t want to die. After that, it’s “What am I going to look like?” I’m the happy ending, because they’re alive.

Q: What are some of the challenges that come with this job?

a: You have to understand what the client wants—make them talk a lot. You have to be patient. A perfectionist. When you’re mature, that helps—people trust you more. But physically, you’re bending a lot, you have to be careful of your posture when you do the procedures.

READ: La Cité collégiale | Ottawa, Ont. | Founded 1989

Q: How is it different from regular tattooing?

a: Regular tattoos are as detailed, but colour-wise, when you have to match a breast that’s been reconstructed with one that has not been reconstructed, that’s tricky. You can’t really, really make it look like the natural colour of skin because you’re using a pigment. So you have to be good with colours. You have to be artistic, but I would say more important is precision. For example, when I do eyebrows, brown is made of green and red, but if you have someone with red undertones to their skin and you do brown brows that have more red in them, it’s going to turn reddish. So the difference is the importance of the chemistry of the skin and the pigments.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone looking at paramedical tattooing as a career?

a: I would couple it with something else. A good background in aesthetics would definitely help, and when you hear about new techniques, you go check it out. It’s getting more and more popular—more and more people are doing it without the proper training. Open your own place; I’ve always worked for myself. Remember, in terms of medical tattooing and breast reconstruction, we’re behind. Canada is so far behind compared to other countries. So the industry is going to grow.

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