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Free-Spirited Artist Trades City Living for Desert Canvas

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Jen Headshot: A free-spirited artistJen Shakti is a free-spirited artist, who also teaches courses on grounding and awareness of the energy body. When you meet her in person, she exudes a warmth that radiates into your soul. At the beginning of 2020, as an entrepreneur, she focused primarily on her tattoo business in Long Beach, CA with supplemental income coming from an AirBnB. For 20 years, Jen created her
epidermal masterpieces from a studio apartment that during the week was her tattoo parlor and on the weekend doubled as an AirBnB. The two businesses together afforded her the ability to pay for the apartment that she lived in with her husband.

Jen and her husband, Brandon, expanded their AirBnB business in January by adding to their properties. Jen shared, “[there was] a snow storm right after Christmas, and in the mountains and in the desert, there was snow. We had planned an AirBnB getaway. We came out to Yucca Valley and we stayed in the house; it was just this beautiful, unique winter wonderland.” While enjoying that magical experience as they sipped their coffee, Jen and Brandon discovered the house was for sale. After befriending the manager of the AirBnB, who also was the neighbor and the listing agent, they bought the house and set it up as their own successful second AirBnB until March. 

When the pandemic hit, tattoo businesses were shut down, and for AirBnBs there was a lack of information as to what to do. Then the county decried, “No short term rentals for the foreseeable future.” Jen saw that other people in the Morongo Basin were violating those orders; however, her neighbor was cleaning the Yucca house for her. Jen shared, “I just knew that I could not ask my neighbor to do something, to put her at risk, that I was not willing to do.” So they shut down their AirBnBs.

With no personal income, Jen investigated the options available to her, including artist grants and unemployment. She thought, “Are you having difficulty paying your rent? And I was just like, you know what? I am not at this level of need and including for unemployment. I just trust that that’s going to allow opportunities for me in other ways and hopefully give that resource to someone who needs it more than me.” 

She was one of the lucky ones; she and her husband had been making plans to leave the city and move to the desert for years. They had been paying off their debts, saving money wherever they could, and with Brandon’s job as an IT manager for a manufacturing company now fully remote due to the “Safer at Home” order in Los Angeles, the time had come where it was now possible. With her husband’s job still intact and no possible reopening for tattooing in sight, Jen and Brandon downsized their city living by two apartments and moved to their house in the desert. She reflected, “It’s been pretty cool to have a lot more space around us. And really, we see more critters than people these days. So that’s been a big upgrade for us.”

When she was living in the city, Jen was really focused on her tattoo business. Now that she is living in a more rural setting, where social distancing is much easier and the lifestyle is freer, Jen is exploring new avenues for her creativity and passion. She noted “It’s a great time for artists. If you can get past your mental worries to be working on your at home projects, your paintings, your other passions as a way to spend your energy wisely. I have 30 years of tattooing; I’m ready to start something new. Part of that is that I have scoliosis. My spine is curved. 30 years of being bent over for hours and my body was screaming at me. I was not working as many hours.”

“I think Covid really helped me to put the brakes on and really step back and start working on the legacy that I’m going to leave behind. That’s going to last longer than the people that I’ve tattooed. I have wonderful photographs, but my paintings are going to last longer. I love the desert. I love all nature. I want to spread beauty and kindness and just that message of ecological awareness. I mean, these are the things that we’re all talking about these days, because I think that that being grounded is really what can help us to feel better. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m painting and hiking and doing things like that.”

Jen doesn’t spend all her time painting critters and nature. Now that she has more space and more time, Jen has taken up geocaching. She needed an excuse to get out of the house and found this activity that gets her out in a free, safe and socially distant manner. She was quite excited to explain it. “You just put an app on your phone and there were geocaches. You’ll be surprised in your own neighborhood. So a geocache could be a coffee can; it could be a little pill bottle and it’s hidden somewhere.  I’m enchanted by the whole idea. There’s a bunch around here and it makes you feel like a kid on a treasure hunt.”

While Jen has a higher quality of life in the desert, she does note the one thing she misses about being in the city is her friends. On the contrary, she doesn’t miss city life. Jen explains, “I feel that the hardest thing was to leave the friends behind and not be able to welcome them here as guests for who knows how long, but they understand. This is where Zoom calls and phone calls really help to fill that gap. I had been wanting to leave the city for a long time. I was born and raised in Downey so the general area. I had really had it with the density and it’s not getting any better. As to who I am, I needed the open space of nature and even my breathing was compromised. Lots of allergies. Even my husband was compromised with that. So coming out to where there’s cleaner air and more space has been really helpful. And the noise levels, I’m very sensitive to noise; every day there’s a gardener out my window; there’s sirens going off. That was like really just creating layers and layers of tension along with the muscular tension from overuse from work. I’m not saying that I’m retired. There’s a lot of work I really want to do, but it’s just been time to make a shift.”

Jen looks to her fellow tattoo artists, some of whom have shops that they cannot pay the rent, and she says, “Tattoo artists, by and large, are very independent people, very self-reliant people. I know that there are going to be tattooing people at home despite the stay at home orders. How else are they going to feed their families? However, tattoo artists are the people who know the most about prevention of disease transmission, the prevention of cross contamination, sterilization, just about as much as doctors, nurses, hospitals. So, I do believe that whatever people are choosing to do, that they’re at least going to be informed and as safe as they can be about it.” 

As Jen noted, she isn’t retired, but the current shift allows her more free time to explore other passions. So for now, you can find her in her kitchen getting to know the habits of the critters that visit daily and painting the life of the desert that she sees.

Read more about another artist with how a Philly photographer is thinking outside the box.