For anyone on the fence about making a drastic life change, the story of Nessie Blaze may serve as some inspiration.
Born and raised in Bristol Borough, Blaze had dreams of being a tattoo artist, painter, model and musician. But turning those dreams into reality was a feat too large to be accomplished in her small town. In 2013, with only $300 to her name, Blaze took the chance of a lifetime — she moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue her craft.
It was a massive risk, but one that’s paying off better than Blaze ever imagined. On Aug. 14, the 28-year-old became a household name to millions when she appeared on the VH1 series premiere of Black Ink Crew Compton.
Blaze is a main cast member on the reality show, which chronicles Danny “KP” Kilpatrick as he heads up IAM Compton, the city’s first-ever tattoo shop.
“It’s basically the ups and downs, the highs and lows of the tattoo world, working at a tattoo shop, and working with different personalities and egos,” Blaze explained. “People with different goals going for different things, working in the same space. They just cover our lives, in and out, even the bad stuff.”
The Black Ink Crew franchise, according to Blaze, has existed for nearly a decade, with other series including Black Ink Crew New York and Black Ink Crew Chicago. The purpose behind the latest edition is to not only show off Compton’s rich cultural history, but prove the city is more than its reputation.
“In our show, it’s a little different because we all do music, art and tattoos. Some of the other franchises, they just do tattoos. But we all paint, we do music. I’m also a lyricist. I do murals. Everybody is multi-talented on our cast,” Blaze said. “It’s definitely a new dynamic.”
Admittedly, being mic’d up and having a film crew follow her every move for 12 hours a day was an adjustment for Blaze. Still, the cameras didn’t deter the artist from being her true self. Basically, what viewers see on TV is what they’d get in real life.
“I feel like I’m pretty comfortable and confident with who I am, my flaws. So I don’t mind. I’m not really embarrassed by too much. I’m going to tell you how I feel. I’m going to speak my mind. If you don’t like it, you’re not for me, I’m not for you and that’s OK,” she said. “I’m not going to change who I am or try to appeal to any certain person.”
This “what you see is what you get” personality is due largely to Blaze’s far-from-easy journey to success, a bumpy road that shaped her into the strong, resilient woman seen today.
A graduate of St. Mark Catholic School and Bucks County Technical High School, Blaze had plans to pursue a career as a lawyer after receiving a full scholarship to Penn State University. But one year into her studies, she realized tattooing, an art form she had recently picked up, made her happier. Blaze dropped out of school and began waitressing at King George II Inn to earn some money while honing her talents. All the while, Blaze – and her employer – had a gut instinct that she was destined for more.
“I asked to take a week off work so that I could go visit L.A. and just see what it’s like. And when I came back, Mary [DeMenczuk], the owner, she was taking me off the schedule,” Blaze reflected.
At first, Blaze was taken aback…until the owner explained herself. DeMenczuk secretly hoped Blaze decided to stay on the West Coast and chase her dreams. She knew Blaze was meant for bigger things than serving food.
“That kind of set the tone for me. I saved up $300 and then I moved to L.A. about three months after that,” Blaze said. “It was so hard. It was very hard. Everything was so expensive and I didn’t know anyone. I was trying to do anything to make money. And then my tattoo equipment got lost in the mail, and so for two weeks, I basically had to let my ex take care of me. I’m really independent, so that just bothered me altogether.”
After some time (and finally tracking down her equipment), things started to look up. Blaze began doing inexpensive tattoos for people while landing promo modeling gigs on the side.
“I never worked a real job since I got out here, so it was a constant struggle for the first two years,” Blaze said. “It taught me how to be more resilient, that I have what it takes to make money to survive on my own without having to work for someone.”
Though Blaze was diligently fighting to make a name for herself, one phone call immediately accomplished that. Out of the blue one day, her friend Lemeir Mitchell, a Philadelphia native and cast member on Black Ink Crew Compton, called Blaze, inviting her to be a part of the series.
With her face and art now appearing on TV screens across the country every Wednesday night at 10 p.m., Blaze said she hopes her struggles and success serve as hope for others with big aspirations.
“I was determined to make it work just so I could go back and tell people that they could do that too,” she said. “I hope everybody chases their dreams. Everyone who has talent that’s at home and thinks they can’t do it, really, if I can do it then anybody can do it. I had no plans. I had no money. I didn’t cheat my way in. I didn’t have any extra bulk money to depend on, and I never even worked a regular job here. So if you really are determined and you put everything into what you’re doing, you can be successful in whatever you choose to do.” ••
Keep up with Blaze at facebook.com/NessieBlaze
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org