Over the next few years, McNiel would give other kids at her high school some of these hand-poked tattoos, before she started going into a real tattoo shop at age 16. From there, McNiel began her journey to becoming a professional tattooer and never looked back.
"I got three tattoos from the shop when I was 16 just because I didn't get carded," McNiel says. "The guy assumed I was 18, so he offered me a job as the counter girl. I told him I was in college since I couldn't come in until after 3 because of school."
McNiel then took a job at a different shop as a piercer, which never really interested her but paid a whole lot better than being a counter girl. By 24, McNiel had two young children and decided to learn to tattoo.
"The place I was at already had an apprentice, so it wasn't a real apprenticeship, but I'd already been in shops for so long that I knew how to do all the other stuff," McNiel says. "I just needed someone there to answer my questions and show me how to tattoo."
In 2004, McNiel and her husband at the time moved to Arizona to get a fresh start. Though she hadn't technically been an apprentice yet, McNiel already had done enough work in Washington to consider herself "almost a tattooer," which she may have embellished a bit to land her first tattooing gig.
"I said I had done an apprenticeship to get a job at this little spot in Scottsdale. It wasn't a good shop, though, really just another moneymaker for the guy who owned it and the bar next door," McNiel says. "It was perfect for me because it was mainly tourists, so it was small tattoos on people I never had to see again."
Six months later, McNiel was the manager and ready to move on to a better shop where she could improve her skills. McNiel got a job at a more legitimate shop in Scottsdale, where she met some of the artists who would become her friends and coworkers for the next decade.
After over three years in Scottsdale, McNiel began working at Love and Hate Tattoo & Piercing, where she worked for another couple of years before buying it along with her coworker, Danny Ross.
Since purchasing Love and Hate in 2009, McNiel's "straight-up old-school" traditional American tattoos have garnered national awards and attention at events such as the Ink-N-Iron Festival on the Queen Mary in Long Beach and the Arizona Tattoo Expo, where McNiel is one of few artists to win the "whole chicken" (first, second, and third place awards).
McNiel believes her success is due to her desire to keep her designs clean and simple, just as they would've been in the early days of tattooing.
"Sometimes you see people pull out like 18 colors to do a traditional tattoo," McNiel says. "Back in the day, they had five colors including black. I like the stuff that ages well, bold crisp lines and bright colors."
Though McNiel may only use a handful of colors, she believes that the ones she does use are part of what sets her work apart from some others.
"The green I use on my leaves, slime green, is really bright, and I use a heavy black," McNiel says. "Some girls have trouble committing to such bright colors and heavy blacks, but I don't want it to look like it was done by a girl."