A woman from western PEI.

FORTUNE COVE, PEI — Ask Karen MacPhee how many tattoos she’s acquired over the years, and she laughs and admits she has no idea.

“I’ve lost count,” said the Fortune Cove resident.

Although MacPhee, 53, is now a tattoo enthusiast, she wasn’t always. She has always enjoyed them, but her collection took a long time to get started.

She got her first tattoo – a blue panther on her shoulder – in her late twenties.

Getting some ink was something she had on her mind for several years before, as tattoos had started to grow in popularity. She had no work of art in mind; she chose the panther while she was in the living room for her date.

“Everyone told me that once you have one, you’ll come back for more,” she said. “But I went there a long time before coming back.”

Fortune Cove's Karen MacPhee has followed Inked magazine's cover girl contest for the past few years.  This year, she decided to enter it, curious to see how far she could go.  - Contributed
Fortune Cove’s Karen MacPhee has followed Inked magazine’s cover girl contest for the past few years. This year, she decided to enter it, curious to see how far she could go. – Contributed

It wasn’t until 2012, more than a decade after her first, that she returned for her second – a horse on her ankle, inspired by her friends who got their own ankle tattoos.

A few years later, MacPhee’s passion exploded and monthly tattoo appointments became routine. his first two tattoos have been hidden for a long time.

“My goal is to stop needing a tan,” she jokes.

love of art

Although MacPhee has had tattoos for over two decades, the reason she got them has changed over the years.

When she was younger it was “just a tattoo”, something quick to decorate the skin. Today, however, she considers it an art form.

Fortune Cove resident Karen MacPhee, 53, loves the meaning and expression behind the tattoos.  Although she got her first tattoo more than two decades ago, her passion started growing in 2012 and she has never looked back.  - Contributed
Fortune Cove resident Karen MacPhee, 53, loves the meaning and expression behind the tattoos. Although she got her first tattoo more than two decades ago, her passion started growing in 2012 and she has never looked back. – Contributed

“It makes a lot more sense. The artwork is all the greater now,” said MacPhee, who strives for originality in all of her pieces.

When planning her new tattoos, MacPhee wants them to be as consistent as possible with her existing tattoos and always plans a tattoo or two in advance.

Skulls are a common theme throughout his art, including a horse skull on his leg. She has Nightmare Before Christmas-themed ink and a Halloween-centric headline – her favorite day of the year.

“I have a Ouija board and bats and spiders and all that stuff.”

In addition to the spooky, MacPhee also made room for art of more sentimental origins.

On his back there is a guardian angel. She has chronometers indicating the time of birth of her children and, on her side, a butterfly for each of her children.

In 2016, shortly after going full throttle with her tattoos, MacPhee was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Over the past ten years of regularly getting new tattoos, Karen MacPhee has lost track of how many she's accumulated and she doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.  - Contributed
Over the past ten years of regularly getting new tattoos, Karen MacPhee has lost track of how many she’s accumulated and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. – Contributed

A self-proclaimed ‘live for today’ person, she took the news well and now has a pink ribbon and butterfly to celebrate her survival.

MacPhee’s most significant tattoo, however, is his father’s heartbeat. He died in December 2021, hours before one of MacPhee’s tattoo appointments.

“I kinda hummed and asked if I should go, and I thought, well, tattoos are kind of like stress relief for me,” she said. “Tattoo therapy.”

show the world

After years of following Inked Magazine’s cover girl contest, MacPhee took the plunge and entered the contest herself.

If she won, she would make the cover of the magazine and take home $25,000.

She was curious to see how far she could go, especially when competing against women younger than herself, as well as corporate-sponsored professional models.

Competing since mid-January, MacPhee finished second in her pool in the quarter-finals.

“I’m just amazed,” MacPhee said. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would do as well as I did.”

After two months of competing against other cover girl hopefuls in the Inked Magazine contest, Karen MacPhee finished second in her group in the quarter-finals.  Seeing all the support she got and how far she went, MacPhee said, was amazing.  - Contributed
After two months of competing against other cover girl hopefuls in the Inked Magazine contest, Karen MacPhee finished second in her group in the quarter-finals. Seeing all the support she got and how far she went, MacPhee said, was amazing. – Contributed

Mel Gregory, MacPhee’s ex-husband, had always supported her tattoos. When she entered the pageant, Gregory was eager to support her; he worked on her posters and videos and posted them on social media, encouraging people to vote for her.

One of the biggest obstacles, Gregory said, was people’s lack of familiarity with the contest.

“Most people here have never really heard of it, it was kind of new to them,” he said. “It took a little while for people to get the hang of it, but once they did, it was amazing the support she got. It was amazing.

Like MacPhee, Gregory was surprised MacPhee got as far as she did, but he can’t help but be proud.

“It’s pretty amazing for a girl here in PEI,” he said.

Although she didn’t win this year, MacPhee is keen to try again in 2023, seeing how far she can go a second time.

She is unsure, however, what she would do with the prize money, if she were to win, but said “it would be really awesome to do it”.


Kristin Gardiner is a rural reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.

Twitter.com/KristinGardiner

Amanda P. Whitten