Voices of the Bay: Aly Cat Sunshine

A Warren tattoo studio owner’s journey to creating lasting art

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Aly Cat Sunshine’s deep appreciation for observing and rendering nature in her art stems from living for six years on and off a sailboat moored in the Warren harbor. When she discovered a commercial rental in Middletown with panoramic views of the beach, she knew it would be the perfect spot to open her own tattoo business, aptly named Secret Beach Tattoo. A 2006 Mount Hope High School graduate, Sunshine (then known as Aly Rego) began her journey to becoming a licensed tattoo artist when she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sculpture from Massachusetts College of Art. She worked in related arts fields for a while, but after spending a year caring for a 25-year-old friend who had been diagnosed with ALS, the unpredictability of life motivated her to make her dream of becoming a tattoo artist a reality. She landed an apprenticeship at a local tattoo parlor, where for six years she learned the craft while juggling other jobs. Sunshine took the leap and started her own business last December. No longer living on the water, the now Warren homeowner and newlywed harbors a deep appreciation for running hot water. She also recently made her tattoo artist moniker official and Aly Cat Sunshine became her legal name. SecretBeachTattoo.com 

NURTURING THE DREAM: When I was kid, there was a show called The Adventures of Pete & Pete on Nickelodeon. One of the characters was around age 10 and got a tattoo on his arm. I was obsessed with it. I got my first tattoo at age 19. Life is epically chaotic and short and you have to find your happiness and joy even though sad things happen. When I was caring for my friend with ALS, I decided I needed to do my tattoos. It would be my therapy to get through that time in my life.    

TATTOO 101: In Rhode Island, the health department is in charge of regulating the tattoo business. You have to work for a licensed tattoo artist who is a mentor and who will take you on. You need to prove that you are dedicated and have the art skills to make it. The first 10-20  tattoos you do are possibly free. I was working at The Beehive Cafe at the time, and I had a lot of coworkers who said “sure” to getting a tattoo. My first was a slice of veggie pizza on a foodie friend. 

INSPIRATION: The first rental space place I looked at was the most beautiful spot. It’s a second-story space with giant windows overlooking the reservoir, Cliff Walk, and First Beach. I see blue herons, bald eagles, and osprey. It feels like you are on a ship. It was the sign I needed that it was time to go for it and open my business. Being in that space has been so powerful, watching the wildlife while I work. My clients love it, too.

DRAW, DRAW, DRAW: In studying sculpture, there was a high emphasis on drawing. If you can’t draw the sculpture, how can you expect to make it? You need to get the idea out of your brain onto paper and then into a 3D object, which I always found interesting. I think building your portfolio, really becoming an artist first and having lots of experiences, like working for my friend, made me stronger because the work is hard. 

THE STORIES: As a tattoo artist, you get to hear the stories behind the tattoos – things you would never imagine. I can get emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted at the end of the day if it’s a heavy one. I am a wall that you can talk to, and I transfer the energy into the tattoo; that’s the healing part. 

AN ARTIST VILLAGE: The Mount Hope High School art department was beyond helpful for me. Teachers Kerri Sloat and Mrs. Mullin told me I had what it takes to go to art school and told me how to apply. They were amazing. I couldn’t imagine high school without them. It’s amazing that now I get to do what I love. 

Know someone who might be a good fit for Voices of the Bay? Email Nina at YourHomeWithNina@gmail.com

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