I’m sitting on an open-air patio in East Los Angeles, a spread of postcard-sized, abstract paintings laid out before me. Across the low table sits a young woman with kind eyes and a gentle, old-soul vibe. She's about to offer me some advice that she claims to be downloading from the cosmos.
“You have the power to make anything you want out of this life—the struggle and fear you’re perceiving are a made-up record,” she tells me. “Once you take the leap, everything will come into harmony. You’ve just got to allow it to happen.”
This kind of metaphysical therapy is becoming more common—especially in LA, during an era when shamans are the new shrinks and bar-hopping is being replaced by sound baths and breathwork circles. But what makes this particular experience different is that I plan on leaving with a permanent reminder—like, etched-into-my-body indelible—of the messages I’ve received today.
"What I’m doing is almost like a secret language in images that no one will really understand, except for the wearer."
Yep, I’m in the midst of an intuitive tattoo session with Justine Serebrin, a gifted medium and art-school graduate who combined both of her talents into one unconventional career path. After tapping into her client’s energy via a card reading, she says she’s able to channel a unique design that symbolizes what that person most needs to call into his or her life. (An appointment with the intuit costs $150, plus $200 per hour for the inking itself, which takes about 90 minutes on average.)
I was drawn to Serebrin’s work because I’ve wanted a tattoo since I was a teenager, but every design I’ve considered either seemed too literal and obvious—like the fleur-de-lis I thankfully did not ink on my lower back while studying in Paris—or totally insignificant. (That feather that I came this close to getting on my side ribs? It'd look cute with a drop-armhole tank top but would be ultimately meaningless for me.)
The artist confirms this is a big reason why her work's become so popular since she opened her Eagle Rock studio, Earth Altar, last September. “Tattooing used to be this ancient spiritual practice, but now we pick something off of Pinterest,” she says. “What I’m doing is almost like a secret language in images that no one will really understand, except for the wearer.”
What’s more, Serebrin doesn’t just consider herself an artist—she also sees herself as a healer. She bathes her ink bottles under the full moon, attaches crystals to the ends of her needles, and performs reiki while she’s doing the actual tattoo work. “It’s a type of energy healing,” she says. “[This process] brings up the subconscious things people need in order to transform into a better version of themselves.”
Okay, so that all sounds totally magical. But what if the reading doesn’t resonate with me? What if I don’t like the design she creates? And if I do, will I regret it in a few weeks once the novelty’s worn off? I was still mulling these questions over in my mind when Serebrin reached for the first card from her deck.
Here's what happened during my intuitive tattoo session.
What's in my cards?
As I’m sitting there listening to Serebrin interpret my cards, I’m clutching a citrus blossom aura quartz—a stone that I selected at random before the reading began. It'll eventually be tied to my tattoo needle. As the breeze blows through my hair, I can still smell the cleansing sage that the artist burned at the beginning of the session. My thoughts are on the intention she asked me to choose before we started.
Serebrin doesn’t know it at this point, but my goal is to find a symbol that’ll give me a feeling of strength and courage when I look at it—something that'll boost my energy on days when I’m feeling less-than-amazing, which is more often than I’d like to admit. I’m a few weeks away from my 35th birthday, and pretty much every area of my life has been feeling stagnant lately. I know I need to shake things up in a major way, but I’m holding back out of fear and lack of confidence. This is why Serebrin’s message—that I can basically have or be anything I want, if I just get out of my own way—is hitting me so hard right now.
My goal is to find a symbol that’ll give me a feeling of strength and courage when I look at it.
“In regards to a tattoo, I’m seeing something non-linear, something that feels expansive,” she says. “When I was meditating before we started, I kept seeing Kundalini energy moving up from your root, which relates to that creative life force—and I was also sensing you want something on your wrist.”
She’s right on every level. For one thing, this is the second time in a week that a healer’s advised me to try diverging from my type-A, “linear” MO. I’m also a pretty devoted Kundalini yogi, and I have, indeed, always figured my first tattoo would be on my wrist.
The intuitive tattoo design process
Intrigued, I follow Serebrin back inside the studio—which is full of green plants, crystals, and textiles from far-away places—where she’ll create a mock-up of my design. “This is the part that really gets channeled through me,” she says as she begins to draw on my wrist with a pen. “I’m just allowing it to happen intuitively, and as I’m doing it, I’m getting words or reminders of what we talked about.”
I’m almost afraid to look at the design when she’s done five minutes later. When I do, I’m a little bit shocked—it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and it’s so...me. I can’t help but feel like it’s always been a part of my body and that she’s somehow excavated it from beneath my skin, like an archaeologist uncovering fossils from the earth.
“I’m just allowing it to happen intuitively, and as I’m doing it, I’m getting words or reminders of what we talked about."
As Serebrin explains the symbolism behind the sketch, I feel even more connected to it. “What first came out was this spiral design,” she says, alluding to the Kundalini energy we discussed outside. “It branches out into roots and vines, these different pathways, that are growing and blossoming out. It feels like you can go down any path. And it’s all reaching up toward the cosmos, which you have complete access to in order to find what your divine calling is.”
The initial design’s a little big for my liking, so I have Serebrin scale it down to about two inches in length. I also ask her to create a version for the inside of my bicep, but ultimately, the smaller one on my wrist is speaking to me the loudest. I’ve pretty much already decided that I want to make it official, but decide to hang out with it for a few days first.
Though I told myself I wouldn’t rush into something so irreversible, I’m back in Serebrin’s chair the next day, squeezing the life out of my boyfriend’s hand and wondering why the numbing cream on my arm doesn’t seem to be working. But when it’s all over and I see my tattoo, the pain instantly subsides—it’s even more beautiful than the temporary version, rendered in Serebrin’s ultra-delicate, single-needle style.
Though I told myself I wouldn’t rush into something so irreversible, I’m back in Serebrin’s chair the next day.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m still just as in love with the motif as I was on the first day, if not more. It completely fulfills the intention I set—when I look at it I feel powerful, supported, and limitless. And that’s the whole idea, according to Serebrin. “It’s a totem that you can use as a little reminder,” she says. “Whenever you’re feeling low-energy or disconnected, know you have this part of you that you can tap into on the road to becoming the best version of yourself.” Kind of like carrying a fully-charged crystal around with you—no bra required.
If you're afraid of needles or not looking for any fresh ink, you can still experience Serebrin's healing practices through an intuitive reading—no tattoo required. Those in LA can book an appointment or stop by Earth Altar for a session at a summer solstice party June 23–25.
It turns out your hands have their own chakras—so if you've ever thought about getting a finger tat, be sure to read this first. And if ink's not your thing, you could opt for a high-vibe healing amulet instead.
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