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Featured Artist: Tattooer Carole Nelan

Connor Lovat-Fraser



Carole Nelan is an artist, a musician, and a giant nerd. She painted a badass mural at Bong Mansion and appeared on Mass Nerder alongside her brother, co-host James “Cubby” Nelan. First and foremost, however, Carole Nelan is a killer tattooer.

Carole Nelan Bong Mansion Mural

Carole Nelan’s Bong Mansion Mural

Nelan has been involved in the tattoo game for about 13 years and currently works out of Tell Tale Heart in Burlington, Ontario.

Her tattoos are bold and sharp. 

Carole loves what she does.

Surprisingly, Carole Nelan found her passion for art – and ultimately tattooing – later in her teen years.

“It was always an interest, but I never really took it seriously until high school when I decided to [take a high school art class] as a bird course,” Carole says, laughing. “My art teacher was like ‘Where have you been this whole time…why have you just started taking art in grade 13.’ So I did a victory lap, because I had no idea what I was doing. I just took all art courses and made a portfolio to apply to schools.”

After graduating high school, led by the right side of her brain, Carole attended McMaster University where she earned degrees in Art and English.

“I initially wanted to go into art specifically, but I flunked art history,” Nelan wryly admits. I was really bad at like the memorization of dates and things like that. So, after my first year, I went into a split major in English. I’m a big comic book nerd and fantasy nerd, so it kind of dovetailed nicely.”

Armed with what Nelan describes as “basically a useless degree, unless I go to Teacher’s College,” Carole opted to spend a year teaching English in Taiwan. The move was an attempt to test the waters and pay down some student debt before committing to more schooling. Ultimately the path was not for her, and Carole found herself back to square one.

Tattoo by Carole Nelan

Tattoo by Carole Nelan

“I started thinking, ‘Well, if I can draw something…I can draw a tattoo.’ Eventually I just kind of started harassing the shop that I went to get tattooed at, and asked them what they look for in an apprentice,” says Nelan. “I’m very stubborn. Once I get an idea, it’s like, ‘No, this is happening.’ So, I basically kept showing up until they let me work there. And the rest is history. I’ve been tattooing now for almost 13 years.” 

With her love of art and tattooing firmly established, Carole enjoys the act of creating pieces even when she isn’t working on tattoo designs for clients. She finds that the creative process creates somewhat of a very focussed high.

“There’s like this kind of weird high when you’re in that perfect moment of focus and concentration,” laughs Nelan. “Whether it’s a tattoo or a painting, your mind can sort of wander a little bit, but you’re basically in that moment.

“I feel like I’m always kind of like chasing that moment where I’m right in the zone and laser focused on what I’m doing. That’s what keeps me interested in what I do. It’s always different. It’s always challenging and you’re always learning.”

While she never smokes weed while tattooing clients, Carole fervently enjoys getting high while creating. Jokingly referring to herself as a “sativa diva,” the tattooer finds that it can help her zone in.

“I really only smoke [sativa] or hybrid because I find that it gives me a brain buzz. It helps me creatively,” Nelan says regarding her strain choices. “I never partake before I’m tattooing somebody for obvious reasons. But if I’m getting home and I’ve got a few hours of drawing to do, I’ll smoke a bowl or two and, you know, get into the right headspace and the work.”

Yoda tattoo by Carole Nelan

Yoda tattoo by Carole Nelan

While not necessarily dedicated to one particular strain, Carole enjoys the variety that Canadian legalization has brought to the table.

“It’s definitely a totally different vibe,” laughs Nelan. “You’re not spending a whole night trying to track down a dime bag now that we have this crazy weed buffet wherever you go. 

“I usually go into the store and try to find out what’s good in sativa. I like to find the most potent that I can. Sometimes I also like a good mid range of THC and CBD for a little more mellow of a high. But typically it’s all it’s edibles. I know those aren’t technically legal yet,  but it’s a great time. That’s more for the party time than it is for the work time.”

Moving forward, Carole is focussed on continuing to hone her tattooing skills. She is always drawing inspiration from other tattooers, and searching for ways to grow and learn. She’s recently been enjoying the work of artists such as Onnie O’Leary, Iris Lys, and Danielle Rose

Tattoos by Carole Nelan

Tattoos by Carole Nelan

The continued pursuit of growth and inspiration is the driving force which will propel the intrepid tattooer into 2020.

“My plans for next year are just to travel as much as possible. I really hadn’t done tattoo conventions very often earlier in my career, and I started doing those in the last couple years. Next year I’m planning to hopefully do four or five. So, lots of traveling. Let’s just keep doing it, you know?“

With the excitement of travel on the horizon, and the option for so many opportunities presenting themselves, Carole remains optimistic-but-pragmatic in her goals.

“Hopefully, I don’t get carpal tunnel and can keep going for a really long time. At some point I’ll have to think of some sort of retirement strategy, because there’s really no pension plans for tattooers. But for now, I’m probably at the height of my game.

“Hopefully that hubris doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass.”

Connor is the Editor-In-Chief for Puff Digital and has been cultivating the written word for over twenty years. His background in music and entertainment landed his band “Boys Night Out” a Juno nomination in 2003, and the group’s 2007 concept album “Trainwreck” went on to garner a great deal of critical acclaim and inspire a theatre production of the same name. Connor believes that any time is a good time for anything.