On Cassandra Clark’s lower right arm, a vivid blue, green and purple parrot fish swims amid a sea of coral. The tattoo, the first of many marine creatures now decorating her body, captures a moment still colorfully poignant in Clark’s memory: her first time snorkeling in the Florida Keys.
“This fish caught my attention because it was so colorful, and I’m such a colorful person,” Clark said. “My artwork is colorful. I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’”
Back on the dive boat, she pulled out a pen and doodled an underwater scene on her hand to try to capture every shadow, color and fish from memory. The next day, she returned to the reef.
Clark, who has now completed well over 500 dives and is a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, remembers this moment as one in a cascade of events that led her to open Jellyfish Daydreams, a tattoo shop and art gallery, in Tavernier.
As a young girl, Clark grew up on food stamps in a small house in upstate New York. It was a childhood, she described, with a lot of “no’s,” but she still pursued her dreams. Clark began tattooing in 2006, received a bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing from the College of Saint Rose, and opened her own shop in New York in 2012.
“I have a lot of daydreams. But what do I do? I follow them,” Clark said. “My saying used to be hard work and determination equals success, and that you can do anything that you put your mind to. Everything that I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve accomplished.”
Her first trip to the Keys was the catalyst to many others, always drawn back by her newfound love of reefs and a recurring guest spot at Paradise Tattoo in Key West. She soon knew that she wanted to call the Keys home, and, in 2015, Clark set a five-year goal to see the dream fulfilled. In the meantime, she drove from New York several times a year to tattoo for a few weeks in Key West and work on her diving certifications for a few more weeks at Key Dives.
The vibrant colors and energy of sea life in the Keys captivated Clark, and soon that sea life began to work its way into her artwork and her business.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, her tattoo business in New York slowed to a standstill, so she began to make suncatchers, a decoration she used to make with her grandmother, to pay the bills. Around the same time down in the Keys, Michael Goldberg at Key Dives co-founded I.CARE, a local organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs. Wanting to support the cause even from far away, Clark began to donate 10% of her sales to I.CARE.
But it didn’t feel like enough. Not one to let dreams defer, in August of 2020, despite the pandemic, she, her fiancé and his two children, moved to the Keys. She began tattooing at South of Heaven in Key Largo, and participated in every coral plant she could with I.CARE, still donating 10% of her sales.
But the dream was to own her own shop, a unique shop – one full of color and one completely environmentally friendly. After several months of slogging through business loans, rent prices, and restrictions on tattoo shops, she opened Jellyfish Daydreams in July 2022.
Now a scene similarly vibrant to the one that exists on her arm exists inside the shop. The vividly tattooed, cheerful-toned, blond-haired, big-smiled, business-minded Clark crafts tattoos as electronic music fills her white-floored, blue-walled store covered in marine-themed artwork in a splattering of hues.
Her customers come locally and from afar for her tattoos that range from geometric, psychedelic and cover ups to oceanic illustrative and watercolor. Many come during their Florida vacations looking to get something ocean themed, which provides the perfect segue to discuss the reefs Clark has come to love and the ways to protect them.
“There are people that have walked in here not knowing anything about our reefs, not knowing anything about the pollution,” Clark said. “And they sit here, and I’ll tell them this and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to make me cry.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t mean to make you cry. But I mean to educate you so you can make better choices from here on out.’”
Nearly everything in the store, from the toilet paper to the rugs, is eco-friendly. She buys her plant-based razors and compostable rinse cups tattoo supplies from Good Judy, a Canadian tattoo supply company. She continues to donate 10% of her sales now to a plethora of organizations, including I.CARE, REEF, Mote Marine Laboratory, the Turtle Hospital and Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. She estimates that she has donated over $8,000.
The vision, however, is to create a spot not only for the tattoo-seeker. The walls are covered in artwork from local artists, including Mike Papish’s ocean photography, Clark’s suncatchers, candles, paintings and more. Clark holds many art classes and events at Jellyfish Daydreams, including paint nights with Painting with Maria.
“I want all kinds of people to come in here and see it as an art gallery, a place where you can get unique gifts that are not made in China, that are handmade by local artists that are quality,” Clark said. “I want people to not be afraid to walk in here because of the word tattoo. I’m trying to break that stigma.”
Like the parrotfish that captured her eye, Clark, her artwork, the shop – it can all be described by one word – colorful.
“I just like color,” Clark said. “It’s just me. It’s like my soul is colorful. And everything I do is just a rainbow. It just happens to be who I am. I can’t be black and gray.”
Jellyfish Daydream is open from noon to 6 p.m. every Tuesday through Saturday at 91865 Overseas Highway Tavernier, FL 33070. Visit tattoosbycassandra.com or jellyfishdaydreams.com for more information on appointments and rates.
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