Charlyn Quirino Vega had a grand dream: to open a tattoo and piercing shop in the San Fernando Valley that felt safe and welcoming to everyone. After many long days and even longer nights—she made that dream come true by opening the doors to Queens of Needles.
Before opening up her Northridge shop, Kirino Vega—also known by her artist name Puny Rose—was a graffiti artist. Born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles, Kirino Vega moved to the San Fernando Valley when she was 14. Now, whenever people ask about her hometown, she warmly responds “Northridge.” That’s where she’s lived most of her life, and that’s where she set up her shop.
Kirino Vega is a classic example of what it means to be proud of being from the San Fernando Valley. She’s not shy to share her roots, and she’s not scared of setting roots here herself. As an immigrant herself, we can see our parents in her. And as a millennial with parents born in another country, we can see ourselves in her, too.
Below, we share snippets of our conversation with the visionary—all done while she was tattooing a long-time client whose artist she’s been since she was practicing in her apartment.
Queens of Needles owner Charlyn Quirino Vega talks past lives and growing up in the Valley
|Photo: Natalie Arroyo Camacho
|Photo: Natalie Arroyo Camacho
Viva the Valley: Walk me through your journey a little bit. How did you get into graffiti?
Charlyn Quirino Vega: I think I got into graffiti because of where I went to middle school, Sepulveda Middle School. One day my homie, at like 10 p.m., was like, “Oh let’s kick it.” We were 14. (laughs)
I was, like, “Where are we going? What are we doing?” And he goes, “We’re gonna tag, duh. What do you think?” And I was like, “Alright. I’m down.” Then he was like, “Well, you don’t have a name,” and he kinda just called me Puny. Again, I was like, “Alright. I’m down. That’d be a cool name.”
Yeah. It is a cool name. And where did the “Rose” come from?
That’s honestly a tattoo name. It wasn’t my tagger name. I was like, “Okay—it’s gonna sound really stripper-ish, but we’re gonna put Puny Rose.” And that’s because I liked doing roses at the beginning of my tattoo career. But now I’m over here doing anything else but roses.
That was actually the second part of my question. How did graffiti turn into tattooing?
I don’t currently do graf, unless I’m traveling somewhere outside of LA or the US—but not around here. I have kids; I’m not trying to do that anymore. (laugh) When I started tattooing, it stemmed from graf. I had homies who were tattooing and doing graf—so, in that sense, it was kind of the same. It starts with lettering, so I started doing names as a tattoo artist.
I wanted to make art and make people feel like a bad bitch, honestly.Charlyn Quirino Vega, owner of Queens of Needles
I was like, “If I could do this with a spray can, I could do this with a machine.” And sure enough, I was able to do it. But the transition wasn’t about doing one versus the other—I was doing both at the same time. Then I slowly phased out the graffiti, mostly because I became a mom and I had a lot more to lose than a regular teenager. All I wanted was an outlet of creativity. I wanted to make art and make people feel like a bad bitch, honestly.
Now, onto Queens of Needles. Was it always the goal to open a tattoo and piercings shop and have only women working there?
The mission has always been to create a safe space for everybody. The reason why I took an all-female approach is because when you’re down, when you’re crying, who do you run to? Your mom, most of the time, right? For us, it’s more of a nurture thing.
Plus, I love women and working with them—whether it’s in the shop now or in my past office jobs. And my family is dominated by women, so I’ve always been surrounded by them. I’ve always dreamt of an all-female shop, but the number-one goal was always safety and making people feel like they could come in here. Tattooing is a male-dominated industry, and we’re trying to break that by one-upping them. (laughs)
Admittedly, I’m also interested in exploring the lifestyle component of tattooing. As I sit in front of you guys, y’all don’t have just one tiny tattoo—you have a bunch. And they all presumably have a special significance. With all that said, what does tattooing mean to you?
For me, tattoos are art pieces that help you express who you are. They also make you look however you want to look—like a badass or whatever you want to look like. It’s also a conversation starter. Like, when someone sees your piece, they’ll ask about it and you can explain, “Oh, yeah. That’s for my grandma or for my dog.” Or you can say, “I just got this one because I like Wu-Tang. That’s a conversation we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have tattoos.
When did you get your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo from a homie when I was 16.
Was it from, like, a stick and poke?
Not at all. You gotta remember, I was a graf artist. I was kicking it with older people, so it was a machine. I think he tatted me in his room, on the back of my ear. It was the Pisces sign and it was very lowkey because I wasn’t trying to show my mom, you know?
I do know. And what’s your most recent tattoo?
My most recent tattoo, funny enough—I got “L.A.” with the laughing mask from that “Smile now, cry later” design. I want to say, compared to my first one, it’s kind of like a full circle because my second tattoo was also an L.A., but I got that covered up. Getting L.A. again now, like I said, it’s a full circle.
To book a tattoo or piercing appointment at the all-women shop, visit the Queens of Needles booking calendar.