Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Tattoo Artist and Outdoor Educator

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Amy Borch

Job: Tattoo Artist and Outdoor Educator


Editor’s note:

Amy and I met at Rumney, NH, while on a trip that was my first ever paid writing assignment. They (being Amy and Jared) were mindfully enjoying the peace and solitude of early evening climbing on a mid-week day. Then I showed up. I began by badgering them, asking if I could take photos as they climbed. But they were friendly and gracious to my intrusion. We got to talking, told bad jokes, solo’d Clip a Dee Doo Dah, then had beers by the Baker River.

Amy has had a varied and exploratory life, full of arting and climbing. Hope you enjoy her perspective!

Amy also doubles (triples, quadruples?) as performer at the award-winning Ice Castles. Photo courtesy of Patrick Sarson.


1) What do you do?

I currently juggle the arts of tattooing and outdoor educator/guide.

About a year and a half ago I decided to commit to a career as a tattoo artist.

When I’m not making income through art, I work my other passion in the outdoor industry. I serve as a guide, trainer and course director for outdoor organizations. 


2) How did you learn about outdoor education and tattooing?

Outdoor Educator: I began to learn what it meant to be an outdoor educator six years ago when I began as an intern for the Mid-Atlantic Outward Bound. I decided to use creativity to explore group dynamics, facilitate challenge, and connect the public to outdoor spaces through the skill sets of climbing, backpacking, and sea kayaking.

Tattooing: I’ve known since I was fourteen years old that I wanted to be a tattoo artist. I had a friend who made a tattoo machine from scratch out of a toy car motor, pen ink, and a sewing needle and asked me to “draw on him.” I suppose that’s what originally put the idea in my head.


“I pursue careers where I feel like I have the highest yield of positive impact on people.”


3) What are some of the perks of the job?

I love what I do every single day.

Outdoor Ed: My office is enviable. I have had the pleasure and privilege of spending weeks at a time working and living in places such as Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Sequoia Kings Canyon, etc.

The experiences of living with groups in the wilderness are incredibly impactful, but mostly indescribable. 

Tattooing: I get to be creative and meet rad people.

“Fox hobbit. This was so fun!” Photo courtesy of Amy.


4) What are some of the challenges?

The challenges are:

WORK
LIFE
BALANCE

(Editor’s Note: Amy’s emphasis)

Outdoor Ed: Working long format courses for several weeks/months at a time in the wilderness can stress relationships outside of the outdoor industry. It can even be difficult to connect to cultural events if they occurred while you were away for a month and a half, unplugged from wifi, phones and television.

The world doesn’t wait to change while you’re blissed out in the mountains.

Tattooing: Tattooing has humbled me because of how incredibly harsh it can be on the body. Transitioning between careers where I am constantly hiking/climbing/paddling/moving to sitting still for hours is cruxy.


“Success is not an accident, and failure is the most effective facilitator of discovery. So set a goal and go for it.”


5) What motivated you to pursue these paths?

I pursue careers where I feel like I have the highest yield of positive impact on people.

My role in facilitation, or “activating space” for someone else to experience a little bit of magic, is the reason why I love my careers. 

Outdoor Ed: I enjoy observing people open to new ways of thinking. Working outdoors with youth and adult groups provides space for people to empower themselves.

When someone tries something new, whether it be a social role (such as leadership/followership) or takes appropriate risks (navigates off-trail/asks for help), this person creates a “schema” for themselves. And this schema, or conceptual framework for how they navigate an experience, can later be transferred to life at home. This process of thought-work is very compatible with the outdoor classroom.

Tattooing: The art of tattooing allows people access and permission to explore ideas. Many people come in without the words to express memories or thoughts they want, or sometimes need, to process.

I know something really cool has happened in the studio when people come back to me and tell me that the tattoo has allowed them to access the feelings or closure they were having trouble finding when we first spoke about the idea. 

“More than just create an image, I try my best to listen, ask curious questions and facilitate story telling through artistic process… Through intentional conversations we were able to collect the information necessary for this piece. I am so fortunate to be able to work in a field that allows me to build connections and share meaning with others in this way.” Photo courtesy of Amy.


6) How has your life changed since you started these jobs?

Outdoor Ed: My ability to give and receive feedback based on personal growth and technical performance has enabled me to take career risks and connect with people in ways I previously did not have the capacity for.

Tattooing: The ability to reconnect with friends/family, think about the future, and pursue making a livelihood from creating.


7) How do these jobs allow you to travel and climb?

Outdoor Ed: This can provide a great opportunity for climbing/traveling when there are contract agreements. Contracts bind people for a certain number of courses or days of expected work, and the rest of the time is free to make climbing trips! 

Tattooing: Build a mutually respectful relationship with your mentor or shop owner and prioritize communication. Make every moment in the shop count and pour your heart into your art, treat your clients well.


8) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

Outdoor Ed: 

Typical month:

  • 2-3 days prep
  • 14-30 days in [insert name of epic course location]
  • 2 days debrief
  • CLIMB YOUR FACE OFF UNTIL NEXT COURSE
  • Repeat

“El Cap sticking its Nose out. View from the last pitch of East Buttress on Middle Cathedral.” Photo courtesy of Amy.


Tattooing: 

Typical week:

  • Basecamp: New England!
  • Work 4 days a week. Occasionally glance at large El Cap route map in studio to stay motivated
  • Stay fit around Cathedral Ledge, Cannon, Rumney and occasional Maine trip 


9) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

Outdoor Ed: Open up a Roth IRA and make a retirement plan as soon as possible. We don’t do this gig for the money!

Tattooing: Learn the body mechanics of sitting or overuse of certain muscle groups can creep into climbing and tattoo performance in unpleasant ways! 


10) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

Success is not an accident, and failure is the most effective facilitator of discovery. So set a goal and go for it.

Thanks, Amy!

“Endless starry nights to white noise and city lights. It feels like different worlds. But I dream of one world, connected.” Photo courtesy of Amy.


You can see more of Amy’s tattoo artistry on instagram: @amy.wildhand



Feature photo courtesy of Adam Nawrot

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