By Stacey Gregory
Tucson native Lisa Cardenas is best known around town as an award-winning tattoo artist, yet there’s more to the successful business owner. She’s a self-proclaimed art nerd and hardcore crafter who values social justice and elevates other artists.
Her journey to tattooing started through art. Growing up, she took art classes in school, with a dream as a teen to be an animator. She got her degree at The University of Arizona and moved out to LA, where she discovered a lifestyle that wasn’t quite right for her. So she returned to Tucson and started tattooing in 2008.
“I started tattooing because I really missed my desert home and it seemed like that was the only serious art career I could pursue in Tucson,” she said. “I landed an apprenticeship at Red Sky Studio and realized quickly that this was a very fulfilling art career.”
In her third year of tattooing, Cardenas opened Haunted Hands Studio, a small shop downtown, working solo before moving to the Metal Arts Village on Fort Lowell and Dodge. Here, she found someone to share the space with and realized she wanted to work with other artists again.
“I realized I missed working with other tattoo artists, so that was when I started hiring a couple more people,” said Cardenas. “I eventually found this place and set it up so that I could have resident artists and have room for guest artists.”
Cardenas signed the lease on her current space at 6th and 6th right when the pandemic began. While the timing was not ideal, she used it to transition, tattooing at the Metal Arts Village while she created the perfect space adorned with her personal touches.
“I wanted to create a unique space that didn’t feel like an average tattoo shop,” she said.
The two-story space features a desertscape wall mural she painted that ascends to the second floor–the sun on the mural is a vintage light fixture she made. The front desk she crafted from a bowling lane and some scrap wood, and hanging overhead is an impressive vintage lamp chandelier she built over six months while the world shut down.
“I collect vintage lamps at estate sales. I knew I wanted to hang them up there; I just didn’t know how,” said Cardenas. “I found a table, flipped it upside down, and wired everything together. It took four people to hoist it up there. Then I hung all the lamps and wired it together myself.”
Haunted Hands Studio has four artist booths plus a guest artist booth. There’s also a boutique-style shop on the first floor where local Tucson creators can sell their wares, including macrame, candles, jewelry, t-shirts, paintings, and illustrations. Many of the wares feature strong women-empowerment messages, something Cardenas feels especially proud of.
“We want to be an ally to any marginalized community. Artists see those sides of society and sympathize, whether because we’re part of it or just want to support our fellow weirdos,” she said. “I want to do my part, and I feel being a woman helps with that. I feel strength in that. It inspires me to do more, and it permeates my artwork. The fact that it speaks to other people and helps other people feel empowered; that’s a really big deal for me.”
Haunted Hands is open by appointment only, and Cardenas has plans to open the studio for shopping and hopes to host curated art exhibits.