Marianne Ornelas had pioneered her course in the beauty business as a sought-after stylist and educator when an injured rotator cuff threw her off track.

Without full mobility she had to look deeper into how she could serve her clients. She found it with a needle and ink.

For the last five years she has led permanent cosmetics as owner of Ink Institute, located in downtown’s Die Brücke Building.

Known for its menu of permanent make services that include eyeliner, lips and, most famously, eyebrows, the work now expands to encompass scars, stretch marks and work for mastectomy patients.

Recently returned from an international training in Haywards Heath, 36 miles south of London, Ornelas rolls out her new medical tattooing services with free areola restoration tattooing during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I wanted to help people more,” she said. “That’s where the medical tattoing came in.”

Her studio at 38 E. Main St. is staffed with a team of five people offering a full slate: permanent makeup, traditional tattoos and piercings.

Ornelas has spent about half her time providing the makeup services and the other half teaching others how to do it and launch their own businesses through an intensive education program she offers.

Ink Institute becomes Walla Walla’s exclusive spot for pigmentation for clients in need of scar correction, scar camouflage, stretch mark covering, micropigmentation for cleft lips and nipple and areola tattooing.

The work takes beauty to another level, Ornelas said.

In her training overseas, the clients were sometimes people who’d experienced serious tragedy. One woman had been abducted, held in captivity and tortured. She had burns all over her face and body and was missing the tops of her fingers.

Working on her scars was transformative in a different kind of way than traditional beauty treatments. It was a restorative path through trauma, Ornelas said.

“They just want to feel like themselves again,” she said.

Ornelas has long been known for her techniques in helping clients present their best selves. But she has never considered herself an artist.

“I never in a million years thought I would be a tattoo artist,” she marveled.

Working on areola creation where none exists is less about static drawings and perfect shapes and more about use of pigmentation and details, such as freckling and multi-dimensional shading.

Most such services are covered through insurance, she said. The process includes an assessment ahead of time. The process of tattooing an areola, for instance, takes about an hour and a half, including numbing, in a sterile environment.

Ornelas’ professional roots are in traditional cosmetology. She got her start in the industry in 2003. In 2009, at 24, she launched her own training program, Hairtech Beauty Academy. The private program offered training in an intensive 11-month cycle for those entering the business.

Ornelas eventually closed the program and moved to Spokane, where she taught for a year, training students through the community college system.

Returning to Walla Walla and the industry was more complicated because of the rotator cuff injury. But she found her future in the burgeoning trend of eyebrow artistry, through tinting, feathering, fusion brows and more.

“It was all you saw on Instagram,” she quipped.

Five years later, her steady hand moves onto the next thing. One that reframes beauty by restoring identity to her clients. She intends to travel one day a month to the Tri-Cities to offer her work there and said she would travel all over the region for those with a need for medical tattooing.

“It’s kind of snowballed into doing more,” she said.

“It’s really something I want to do to help.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.