After graduating from Washougal High School, Shonna Roberts went to college, worked as a hazardous materials specialist and sales and marketing representative, married and had a child. On paper, at least, her life was good. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to re-think some things.
“I think that I became one of those people you read about in the newspaper, the ‘COVID migrators,'” she said. “I had some time to reflect on, ‘What am I doing? What is this job that I’m doing? What mark am I leaving? Am I making a difference?’ That sort of thing.”
She eventually found a way to leave that mark — quite literally.
Roberts opened her first business, Omnis Ink, a paramedical tattooing studio specializing in areola tattoos, scar camouflage and revision, stretch mark camouflage and radiation markers, in September. The studio is located at 911 Main St. in downtown Vancouver.
“It’s everything I was looking for when I (became) one of the ‘COVID migrators,'” said Roberts, who lives in Hockinson but frequently travels to Washougal to visit her parents and other family members. “I was at midlife, looking at, ‘What am I doing? What is my impact?’ This is it. I found it, and it makes me feel wonderful. Once I learned the areolas and tattooed my first one, I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do. I’m good at it. This is impactful. I’m making a difference.'”
Roberts started to think about becoming a paramedical tattooer after a conversation with her friend Lina Anderson, the owner of Daela Cosmetics in Portland, earlier this year. During the next several months, she worked on her own and with Anderson to log the required amount of hours for certification.
“Shonna came to me and wanted to change what she was doing,” Anderson said. “She wanted to help people and offer a treatment that changes lives. I was proud to train Shonna and share my technique with her. I’m often asked, ‘Are you nervous about training those who will compete with you?’ There are so many people in Washington and Oregon that need our help to recreate nipples and areolas, cover scars and help them to feel confident again, (and) there is plenty of room in the industry for us to grow and help each other to be successful.”
Anderson quickly realized that Roberts is “naturally gifted.”
“Shonna will be amazing (at this),” Anderson said. “She has a natural way with people and works so hard to make a difference in each person’s life. When she started tattooing with me, I saw that she quickly would have a successful career in paramedical tattoo. Shonna’s amazing attention to detail and passion for what she does make her the best.”
Aerola tattoos are placed on the chest or breast area where an areola once existed and are popular with breast cancer survivors, transgender men, nonbinary people and people who have undergone a breast lift or augmentation surgery.
“It’s definitely the last stop,” Roberts said. “It’s after you’ve gone through all your surgeries — the finishing touch. The placement, size, and pigment colors of the 3D tattoo are tailored to each person to ensure the design is complementary. It’s a great option for people nearing the end of their breast reconstruction journey, but the procedure is beneficial for many others as well.”
Roberts is also proud of the fact that she offers advanced scar and stretch-mark removal services, which she believes aren’t available anywhere else in the Portland metropolitan area.
“(We can camouflage) burns, skin grafts, chemo ports, self-harm, surgical, injury — basically, just about any scar,” she said. “If someone received a scar from a traumatic event, it could be a reminder of the negative experience. For people who don’t want that daily reminder, scar camouflage can disguise it. (Camouflage) can be very, very healing — even for weight loss, too. When somebody goes through a massive weight loss journey, they’re no doubt going to be left with a lot of stretch marks. We see stretch marks and think, ‘Oh, that’s cosmetic.’ Well, not always. That can be part of a journey, too. Those (marks) can be camouflage-tattooed away the same as a scar. They’re basically small scars on your body.”
Roberts offers several more services that aren’t even listed on her website just yet.
“Vitiligo, if it’s not active, can be tattooed away to match the skin tone,” she said. “I can tattoo a missing fingernail or toenail back on. Oftentimes when somebody has done a ‘mommy makeover,’ sometimes they’re left with just the remnant of a belly button, and so that can be (reshaped) and made to look more natural.”
Roberts hopes to offer a “safe and welcoming space for anyone seeking to heal through the art of tattoos.”
“I have a very small, private, single-bed studio, and work one-on-one,” she said. “I tell people, ‘We can talk, or you can put in your earbuds and not talk. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.’ I have my own stories to share, too, and I think that that helps to put people at ease. What I found interesting is a lot of people who come to me, I’m their first tattoo, so sometimes they’re a little nervous about the pain, which is very minimal. (I provide a) warm, comfortable, hopefully pain-free space for everyone.”
Roberts has learned that her services impact different people in different ways.
“If it’s a breast cancer patient, a lot of times (the tattooing) really marks the end of that chapter in their lives,” she said. “Weight loss, on the outside, may be viewed as more of a cosmetic procedure, so they feel good, look good. But it just depends on what that journey was like for them. I think the impact is different for everyone. For me, the impact is the same, whether it’s a mastectomy, a transgender patient or scar camouflage. I know that I feel good because I’m making a positive impact on them.”
Roberts has a personal connection to her business as well. She was in a “pretty bad” car accident when she was a high-school student in the mid-1990s that left her with a broken back, internal organ damage and “quite a few scars.”
“I didn’t know (camouflage) was even an option (after the accident), which meant I could heal emotionally and mentally, but couldn’t make the physical progress I wanted,” she said. “(The accident) is kind of what sent me on the ‘scar path.’ On my website, there’s an image of an abdominal scar. That’s mine. That was the first scar that I treated. I looked into the mirror and went to town. I want everyone to experience the complete healing I did.”