Tattoos And Toy Cars: Student Jessica Berri on Living outside the Box

Jessica Berri is not a typical fine arts major. Figure drawings of mermaids, bedazzled toy cars and her desired career as a tattoo artist are just some of the things that make her unique.

Since her elementary school years Berri has loved art, and her dream was to grow up and become an artist.

That passion is now centered around a less common niche of the art world — tattoos. 

“Since before I was 14 I’ve had a passion for tattoos. It was frowned upon when I was younger,” Berri said. “But I loved the idea of getting them and the tattoos people had, what they meant and why they had them.”

She started school at Southern Utah University in 2018 as an education major, but realizing that teaching wasn’t for her or her personality, she switched to majoring in fine arts after a year to focus on her art. 

“I know a lot of people say that you don’t necessarily need to go to school to be a great artist, which is true, you don’t, but I’m somebody that needs that kind of schedule and pressure to be good,” Berri shared.

Being in school has helped her improve as an artist, providing the experiences that have pushed her to complete projects that are out of her comfort zone. So, like many students, Berri found the adjustment difficult at first when classes were moved online last March. 

“It’s impossible to do an art class online. You can’t get the same effect doing it over Zoom,” she said. “I have to admit my spring semester probably wasn’t my best, but because of it I took on a lot of quarantine art activities. I used art as a form of distraction.”

Using what she had available and her weapon of choice — her glue gun — Berri’s pandemic art projects included a toy car converted into an art car by pearls, jewels and coins, as well as several barbies that received intricate tattoos via Sharpie. 

She took on more formal projects as well, including drawing self portraits for friends and creating the illustration cover on a textbook for her father, economics Professor David Berri.

Though the continued unknown of the future threatens her schooling, Berri has found ways to use the pandemic as a stepping stone to success on her artist journey. She expressed that art has been critical to her during this unique year and that it’s important to nurture one’s creative side, regardless of how crazy an idea might be.

“If you want to do it, just do it. I have some ideas that are really, really weird. I had an idea for a lady drinking a bottle of arsenic as a portrait. It was weird and it was kind of disturbing, but I put it in my high school portfolio and it was everybody’s favorite piece,” Berri said.

She is currently working on a project focused on the wives and women behind influential religious leaders.

“I find them fascinating as a historical subject because I feel like they are often overlooked and live in the shadows of their husbands, and reading about their perspectives and motivations is super intriguing,” Berri said.

“…So if you have an idea and you think it’s too weird, do it and it might turn out awesome…and if not, at least you’re doing something.”


Story by: Larissa Beatty