Arts·Art Hurts

Newfoundland and Labrador pride shines strong in the dainty tattoos of Jessica Coffey

The St. John's-based artist inks pitcher plants and icebergs on her clients while honouring the Inuit tattoo tradition that forms an equal part of her background.

Jessica Coffey on her Inuit-N.L. heritage: 'Knowing where you're from is very important'

This is part five of Art Hurts, a new CBC Arts digital series now streaming on CBC Gem, that focuses on eight of the game-changers in the Canadian tattoo landscape. And they're all female-identifying or gender non-binary. Just saying, guys.

When you think of Newfoundland and Labrador, you might conjure up some of the images Jessica Coffey (a.k.a. Fredericka Jessica) is known for tattooing on her clients: codfish, puffins, icebergs and pitcher plants. People come to her to be inked with the provincial images not only for their pride in the landscape and natural elements of Newfoundland and Labrador, but for the delicate lines with which she hand pokes them. Coffey notes: "A lot of people come to me for what they say are 'dainty' tattoos, but even if I'm doing a larger tattoo, they still feel like it's dainty in some ways."

As you'll find out in this video made by Latonia Hartery, the traditions Coffey draws upon for her popular tattoos are not the only part of her practice. Coffey was born in Goose Bay, and her heart remains very much with Labrador and with the rich Inuit culture that forms one side of her family. Her love of both sides of her heritage has informed how, whom and why she tattoos.

She says: "There are a lot of people stuck in this middle ground with their cultural identity, and that's where I fit in because I have this very rich Newfoundland culture on one side and this rich Inuit culture on the other side. So I find it's very important and it definitely, I think, shows in a lot of my work."

Coffey aims to find a permanent space in St. John's for her tattoo studio — in the meantime, you can get on her waiting list here.

Filmmaker Latonia Hartery made this episode of Art Hurts with Duncan De Young on camera, Mark Neary on sound and co-editor Aaron Elliott.

Stream Art Hurts now on CBC Gem.


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.