A dream is a wish your heart makes … and if you dream big enough, you might just be lucky enough to get tattooed by Miss Mae La Roux.
As colorful in life as the designs she emblazons on the skin of Disney fanatics across America, Miss Mae is one of the most talented and in-demand creators of original, permanent artwork immortalizing the Happiest Place on Earth.
When she’s not working out of her studio, The Painted Lady, in Visalia, California, Miss Mae travels the country, collaborating with customers fortunate enough to get a booking and periodically accepting design “pitches” from eager would-be clients.
After a trip to Disneyland helped her reclaim her lost childhood, Miss Mae decided to devote herself to doing what she loves, specializing almost exclusively in Disney-inspired tattoos, with occasional exceptions to the rule. She views her art as a joyful service, bringing “positivity” to people’s lives.
I had the honor of speaking with Miss Mae before she embarked on a trip to Orlando, where she’ll mix tattoo business and pleasure (in the form of nightly Disney jaunts). With her devotion to Walt and her love of vintage fashion and tiki bars, she’s as fascinating as you would expect, and the pictures of her exquisite, playful tattoos speak for themselves.
(You can check out even more of them and follow Miss Mae’s adventures on Instagram.)
You’re a tattoo artist who specializes in Disney designs. How and when did your love of Disney begin?
Although I grew up with Disney, I didn’t have a passion for it until I went to Disneyland about six years ago. For me, Disney is not so much about the movies and characters, but about the park, Walt himself and the artistic forces that created Disneyland’s majesty.
As a very young child, life was filled with unusual hardships and traumas. I was also very sexualized as a child, by an oppressive father, which forced me to age much faster than I should have, causing me to lose my innocence far too early. There is large part of my life that I cannot remember. Truly, blocked from my memory completely as if they never existed.
My first visit to Disneyland, throughout the day I found myself with tears running down my cheeks, because for the first time in many years, I began to rediscover childhood and adolescent memories that had been long lost. I quite literally forgot that so many of these characters and ideas had EVER existed. It was painful to walk through the park, realizing how much had been taken from me, recalling the anguish of the things that I had experienced.
But I was also in a state of elation and comfort I had not known before, as I was released from the burdens of my sadness by the gift of my returned youth. It brings tangible tears to my eyes in this very moment as I recall it, and share it with you. It affects me still every moment that I am in and outside of the park.
Disneyland, Walt and its creative artists gave me back my joy, my memories and my life. But more importantly, it gave me back my purity. In my mind, that’s the most precious thing we could ever maintain. In a life and world tormented by stress, negativity and hate, it is the one place I can claim solely as my paradise. The one true place that the delicacy of my heart and soul can live on, untainted and through the eyes of the pure of heart.
That is why, as a Disney tattoo artist, I have made it my life’s work to serve others, and to try to spread that joy into their lives. It is my greatest honor and blessing to play a role in immortalizing these precious memories in the lives of so many people who share the same love as I. My life has been enriched hundreds of times over through the experiences I share with them.
I can think of no other magic in this world than the magic that Walt has given me. I am forever in his debt.
When and why did you decide you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
I started my apprenticeship when I was 20. I was always an artist, and it was a natural bridge between my skills and a career. I’ve always been involved in some sort of service, be it community or customer. I knew that I would love serving others in this way. Like most people, I’ve dealt with my own baggage and body image issues and know the importance of self-care and healing. To be able to play a role in the lives of other in this way is tremendously humbling and satisfying.
Do you remember the first tattoo you did?
Yep! It was on myself. Many apprentices have to do their first tattoo on themselves. You learn real quick how not to hurt people!
How would you describe your style? What are some of your influences?
I don’t think there’s a particular tattoo genre to describe what I do. I was taught traditional styles but my realism and fine art background melded into its own creature. Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha is a huge influence on my style in linework and shading. I would say “Sleeping Beauty” artist Eyvind Earle is my main inspiration as far as Disney artists are concerned on a conceptual level.
Why did you decide to focus almost exclusively on Disney-inspired designs?
Simply put, because of the joy it brings and, oftentimes, healing. I lead a pretty stressful life and carry a bit of mental baggage daily. It’s easy to get dragged down by it. I chose to immerse myself in things that make me happy. Things that make other people smile and giggle. I’m not a perfect person, but I want to do all I can to bring positivity into other people’s lives.
Your designs aren’t necessarily straightforward Disney images. They’re very original and creative and detailed and sometimes they’re mashups of two different properties. Where do you get your inspiration for designs?
It’s honestly just a gut thing. When you live and bleed something, it’s just a part of you, like breathing. It’s important to have something special to offer. Anyone can copy Disney characters all day long, but an artist should bring something exciting and fresh to the table to set themselves apart. And really, ultimately the clients are what inspire each piece. They have certain things they want to include and say, and I find a way to strengthen that and pull it together into a cohesive piece. I take all my knowledge and love for Disney and just let imagination take the wheel.
What are some of your favorite designs that you’ve done so far?
It’s cliche, but honestly there’s no way to answer that. I do what I love every day. There’s not a single day I do something I don’t want to.
I understand you are open to other designs besides Disney if they fit your style and interests. When have you made exceptions?
Generally when it’s something nostalgic. Especially things from the ’50s-’60s. Or ’80s-’90s animated pop culture.
You’re a traveling tattoo artist who visits different locales and announces when you have openings for work. Tell me how you arrived at this approach.
I know there are people all over the world with Disney tattoo dreams and I feel compelled to bring as much magic as I can to those who can’t so easily travel to me. I have a strong wanderlust spirit, so it enables me to also fulfill that and live an exciting and eventful life. I’m a big tiki enthusiast and I actually base many of the cities I visit on where the tiki bars are located. You think I’m kidding — I’m not!
You sometimes accept “tattoo pitches.” What does that entail?
I exclusively accept pitches or submissions when I open my appointment book for a period of time. Clients are able on a set date to send their tattoo idea as a submission. I go over all the submissions I receive and select which ideas/clients are the best fit for the time I have available. Sadly, I’m not able to get every client in each book opening, but when people are patient and try again, I always try to take that into consideration and do what I can to get them in.
How much do you collaborate with clients and how much do you go with your own creative vision or instincts?
The entire tattoo process is a collaboration. I’m taking their ideas or wishes and creating something special and unique to them. There wouldn’t be a design at all of it weren’t for them. It’s important to me to understand who they are and what they are trying to say with their tattoo. The one-on-one consultation process is very important to me and designing a perfect piece. Tattooing is a very spiritual experience for me. But, with that said, most clients have about 25% of the idea usually, and I try to take it to the next level and create something more than what they could have imagined.
What’s it like being a woman in the tattoo industry? Have you found it to be welcoming?
The tattoo industry is different than it was 13 years ago when I started. But even more different 10 years before I started. When I began it wasn’t as common to be a woman. And although it was growing, tattooing wasn’t as oversaturated as it is now. There was barely TV shows, kids didn’t grow up dreaming to be a tattooer one day.
But I got in when things were shifting and women were more welcomed. It’s never hurt my career. In fact, it’s always helped. The girls felt comfortable with the girl, and the guys wanted the girl. I also feel like I offered a certain level of compassion and sensitivity that some men didn’t offer at the time.
How often do you visit the Disney theme parks?
It’s irregular. I’m constantly busy working and book further out, so it’s hard to plan unless I get last-minute time off. It could be five times in a month or I can go a couple months with no visit. I tattoo in Florida every year and stay for about three weeks, going mostly every night after work. And stay five days just for fun.
You seem very interested in vintage Disney and Disney history. What speaks to you about the theme parks’ past?
My love for vintage Disney comes from my lifelong love of mid-century in general. It’s a natural connection. So much of Disney’s most important history can be found through the ’30s-’60s, my favorite era being the ’50s, of course, when the park was created. Walt’s spirit lives there. When I’m there I feel enveloped in that time.
You have a striking vintage personal fashion style. What do you enjoy about this means of self-expression?
I suppose it’s the feeling of being comfortable in your own skin. Those of us passionate about vintage fashion often feel like we are not of this time and spiritually from another, earlier era. When we put on our vintage pieces, we get to celebrate that … fabulously!
Tell me about your own tattoos. I know you have one of Walt Disney. What else?
I also have a mid-century-inspired Mickey/castle inside my arm in the same style as my Walt. Other than that, I have lots of old stuff, a sleeve of Michigan-inspired nature, which is my home state. It has lots of imagery of autumn leaves, a doe, peacock, apple blossoms, red-breasted robin. Seasonal stuff.
You mentioned that one of your passions in life is tiki bars. How did this start? How many tiki bars have you visited?
Tiki culture is directly linked to mid-century history. It originated as early as the ’20s and really grew as a popular form of escapism in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s an amazing ambiance I enjoy so much. “Tikiphiles,” as we call ourselves, are fun people and there’s a wonderful sense of comradery at tiki bars and social gatherings.
Visiting tiki bars is basically my hobby. I quite literally base most of my tattoo tour on where the tiki bars are. There’s a website called critiki.com that tells us where all the tiki bars around the world are. There, you can track all the places you’ve been, read and create reviews, rate establishments and post photos. So far, I have visited 37 locations across the U.S., including Hawaii … and counting!
So is the Enchanted Tiki Room you’re favorite Disney attraction?
Although I LOVE the Tiki Room, I don’t know if it’s my absolute favorite. I just love being at the park in general. Could literally not set foot on any ride and have the best day. It’s like a huge sigh of relief to be there. The Tiki Room is so important to Disneyland and Walt’s history, as it was one of the last attractions Walt had his hand in creating and set standards in audio-animatronic technology. And it’s just so wholesome and fun!
Apparently, there is a Tiki Day at Disneyland. I had no idea! Tell me about that.
It’s an unofficial themed day at the park where fellow tiki lovers can gather, dressed in our best tiki/Hawaiian wares and just have a great time. There’s meetups at different locations throughout the park so we can enjoy attractions together.
I hear you’re pretty obsessed with Dole Whips. (But who isn’t, right?)
If I’m obsessed with any Dole Whip, it’s the rum Dole Whip at Trader Sam’s in Florida. Yup. I said it. RUM. Not only is the Whip itself made with rum, but they put a float of rum on top, too. You can now get it at the Disneyland hotel, but the Florida one is just better.
What’s left on your Disney bucket list?
Obviously, I’d love to see all the parks, especially in Asia. And I won’t lie, having artwork hanging for sale for Disney would be a thrill. But I sure don’t feel any lack of joy and pride in what I’m doing now. I couldn’t ask for much more. I’ve surpassed my wildest dreams already. Every day is truly a new and unexpected adventure. It makes living life feel like a privilege as opposed to expecting it to present things to you. It makes you very grateful.
It seems in recent years, fans have embraced Disney as inspiration for self-expression through fashion and style (ie., Disneybounding, custom ears, themed dress-up days, tattoos, etc.)? Why do you think this is?
People, especially in real nerd culture and fandoms, will put a lot of money and time into their hobbies. And the generation that is really into Disney and having these hobbies came from the late ’80s-’90s. And now that they are older, they all have jobs and the means to really enjoy their passions. More importantly, we are living in a time when it’s ok to let your freak flag fly. It’s cool to be a little nerdy and being different is embraced. It makes sense, right?
Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking about getting a Disney tattoo?
Do your research on proper artists that specialize in the style you want. Be patient. Be willing to travel. Be willing to invest financially. IT’S ON YOU FOREVER. Treat it as you would any surgery or plastic surgery. Do it right the first time!