Category: Careers

Support the Cause: STAPAW

We chat to non-profit organisation STAPAW, who work to help companies change hiring and dress code policies to allow tattoos, piercings and body mods, to find out more about what they’re fighting for and how you can get involved…

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What is STAPAW, when was it founded? We’re a non-profit that started from a social media flash gathering to help save a girl’s job who had tattoos and piercings. Today we’re an international merit-based employment advocacy group. The name STAPAW stands for Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work. Since then, it’s evolved into a movement that works to get companies to change their hiring and dress code policies to allow tattoos and piercings at work, as well as other things like coloured hair, unusual hair styles, stretched ears and beards. The goal isn’t to get companies to hire staff with tattoos or piercings, because people with tattoos and piercings don’t necessarily make great workers. What makes someone a great worker is their experience, education, skills, work ethic and qualifications, and our goal is to make the employment process based on this instead of looks.

What inspired you to create it? After STAPAW saved a close friend’s managerial job over the holidays, people started popping up all over with similar stories asking for help. STAPAW continued to have a social media presence, but didn’t become an actual organisation until a few months later. A few months after the initial Facebook page was made, PetSmart made a public announcement that they changed their hiring and dress code to allow visible tattoos and piercings because of consumer feedback. It was then that STAPAW realised the tangible impact that could be made by helping employers see they have the public support to have the freedom to base the hiring process off of qualifications instead of looks.

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What message do you want to share, what do you hope to achieve? You don’t need to have tattoos or piercings to support the piercing and tattoo acceptance in the workplace movement. We’re a movement of consumers stating that we don’t mind purchasing products or services from businesses that hire staff based on merit – in fact we support it! Our petitions go to companies on an individual basis, and we petition companies to have the freedom to hire based on qualifications instead of looks. Legislative change tramples on the rights of the business owner. We believe change through education is the answer. Change hearts not laws. If you have tattoos or piercings, whether you make a conscious effort to or not, you represent people with tattoos and piercings every day by your actions. Do not be a good worker, be the best worker. Demand respect by your actions, not your words.

How can people get involved? People can visit www.stapaw.com and sign up to become a volunteer and join to help promote the cause. Local businesses and tattoo shops can also carry STAPAW petitions.

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What things/stories/news can people expect to see from you? We constantly have interactive content where we ask followers to call or email cities, employers, universities or city councils that pass restrictive bans on tattoos or piercings. We have new petitions, new statistics and breaking stories on our social media and our website. Recently we ran the shocking story on Iran imprisoning and beating tattoo artists and putting a Sharia Law ban on all tattooing. We also broke the touching story about the boy with cancer whose dad got the son’s cancer scar tattooed to boost his son’s self-esteem. It always varies.

What would you say to an employer who doesn’t allow tattoos or piercings? This is a link answering the top 10 reasons employers don’t allow tattoos or piercings at work www.stapaw.com/tattoos-and-piercings-in-the-workplace . Whether you own a business, or you’re an employee, this is a must read!

Have your tattoos and piercings affected how you’ve been treated in the work place? Let us know on Instagram @thingsandink!

Interview with China’s “First Lady of Tattoo” Zhuo Dan Ting

We chat to 34-year-old Zhuo Dan Ting, China’s “First Lady of Tattoo” who owns Shanghai Tattoo in Shanghai, China, about what inspires her, how tattoos have changed how she sees her body and what her title means to her…

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How long have you been tattooing? I have been tattooing for 15 years now.

How long have you owned your shop? I have owned my shop for a total of 13 years, with nearly three of those years being in Harbin, China. The shop was originally called “Wenyifuxing” 纹艺复兴, but after moving to Shanghai, I remained the shop to Shanghai Tattoo 纹艺复兴.

How did you start? I have always have been doing art. It was when I got my first tattoo when I was 17 was that I fell in love with tattoos and I knew this was going to be my trade. It wasn’t easy though, back in those days in Harbin, China, you couldn’t  just go and be an apprentice under someone, there were’t many shops. So I took it upon myself to travel around to different cities in China where there were more opportunities for me to learn how to tattoo.

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How does it feel being called the “First Lady of Tattoo”? I feel old! It is a great honour to have set the bar for the female tattooists here in China as well as female business owners. It’s kinda crazy that only 15 years ago it was frowned upon for a woman to be independent in my country. I’m so glad that I was able to break out of that and do my own thing and be successful at it!

What obstacles have you faced and overcome on your journey to becoming a tattoo artist? In the old times, when I was getting started, tattoos were looked down on and people were not very supportive. People would always ask what about your future? What do your parents think about what you’re doing? Other obstacles were simply trying to get better, learning from somebody else and improving. I had to travel and do my own research to learn the art of tattooing. Putting beautiful quality tattoos on people for life, felt like my destiny – I had no choice.

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Do you have a background in art? I’ve always been involved with art. My father was an artist too, and a art teacher. He started teaching me art when I was five years old, every night I would draw on the kitchen floor with him. This eventually evolved to paper and canvas, then art college and university.

What drew you to the tattoo world? I’ve always liked tattoos, and was drawn to them through a sort of obsession. It was when I got my first tattoo at age 17 that I knew this was it. I had to do it, and not only create tattoos but be the best tattooer What an amazing way to express your art, I absolutely love tattoos and couldn’t live without them.

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Can you tell us about the tattoo scene and culture in China? The tattoo scene is improving, especially these past five  years, as tattoos are getting more popular. For example when I started tattooing here in Shanghai, there were a handful of shops now there are hundreds – I can’t even count them! The tattoo scene and culture is really taking off, I only wish more people would take the time to investigate what a good tattoo shop is and isn’t. People are always wanting to save money and go to a scratcher. Overall though tattoos are being more and more accepted in China, it’s pretty awesome.

How do people view women with tattoos? People’s attitudes are getting better, they’re seen as cool. Before this it was pretty brutal, people would always ask how are you ever going to get married? (This being top priority in Chinese culture) How are you ever going to find man to take care of you with those tattoos? Most of the time it’s still like this but I’m married to a wonderful man, so I don’t listen to that shit anymore and we take care of each other.

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What kind of reactions do you receive? Reactions to my tattoos, green hair and clothes are pretty crazy! People stop dead in their tracks everyday and just stare! I’ve seen people almost get into serious accidents as they freak out when looking at me. I’m pretty much blowing their minds! Pretty funny, the closets people live in, and how they freak out when they see someone that doesn’t appear the same as everyone else here in China. The further you go out of the cities the more people freak out too – like they seen a ghost, alien or something. They just stare at you with no shame in total disbelief!

Have tattoos changed how you see your body, and how you feel about it? Yeah I feel good,  as there’s no blank skin. My tattoos are like armour for me, without them I would feel naked, bland and not like me.

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What do you like to tattoo and draw? I like to draw creepy different styles, snakes with legs and such. With my tattooing I like to focus on black and grey realism. I would love to do more large pieces including backs – the bigger the better! I love a good challenge.

What inspires you? Anything different or creative I suppose – movies, things on the internet and randomness. Walking down the crazy streets of Shanghai can be pretty inspiring!

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Do you have any guest spots or conventions planned? Yes actually I’m doing the Frankfurt Tattoo Convention this year in April, also I will be heading to Malmo, Sweden, guest spotting at my friend’s shop Malort. Hopefully Oslo in Norway too, but I’m still working out all the details. I’ll be heading to California as well to Sacramento, Bay Area possibly Portland, Oregon later in the year, around November, December. I will have more details later this year!

Can you tell us about your own tattoos? I have a lot of tattoos, around eight that I have done myself. Most of them are now covered up but still there to remind me of my beginning days. I love all my tattoos they all tell my stories, and I’m continuing to build my own canvas.

Careers: Tattooed Retail Manager

We chat to 33-year-old Natasha Janzemin, Retail Manager for MAC Cosmetics based in London, about her love for cosmetics, the freedom she has at work to explore her creativity through her style and tattoos…

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How old were you when you got your first tattoo? I was 17 when I got my first tattoo at a shop in Fulham. I went on my lunch break from college and got a compass star, naturally on the lower spine!

What drew you to tattoos, did anyone influence you? For as long as I can remember I have loved alternative styling and the darker styles of fashion and lifestyle. I saw Cher in her ‘If I could turn back time’ video with her mesh body stocking and the tattoo on her behind and it definitely gave me food for thought! Also, my grandad had a few tattoos, I was so intrigued as a child by them. The twist is that he was Iranian so having them was very rare. He had his hands tattooed and his forearms and I just loved them. He had a heart with a serrated edge surrounding it on his hand which I always remember.

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Can you tell us about some your tattoos? I tend to have work done based on my mood like my Danielle Rose piece of a woman putting her red lipstick on. It’s a very feminine and dark, all rolled into one. Or when I researching and really immersing myself in John Willie imagery I had my bullet bra tattoo done and when I had green hair, I saw a flash piece for Halloween of a green haired witch on broomstick years ago by the lovely rose Whitaker which I had to have! This has cemented a firm friendship between us! Also my ornate dagger between my breasts on my sternum done by the insanely talented Clara Sinclair, combining again softness with an edge. Right now, I’m in to a lot of esoterica and also medieval oddities. I recently have a mace on my arm as well as creepy doorway, almost something you would see Nosforatu peeking out off! The next one I have planned is the hanging man tarot card. Adam ruff at parliament always gets it right!

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How did you get into your current role? Working for MAC has been and continues to be an amazing journey! I worked damn hard to get where I am coupled with respecting my colleagues and customers alike. I started as a supervisor and worked my up to my current role as retail manager of my Camden store. Working for a brand where you can be yourself, where actually, being yourself is celebrated is an amazing feeling to have! You do your best work when you’re being yourself!

Did you have to study or get any qualifications or have you worked your way up? I’ve worked in retail management for years. Since I was 17 I’ve been running stores and I’ve worked in a fair few brands for the past 16 years. I’ve always loved cosmetics, in fact been obsessed with them and creating and executing looks! I believe in hard work and that’s exactly what I’ve done to grow in my retail career. I’ve never trained in retail management but just got stuck in and learned from my mistakes and moved forward.

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What is a typical day like? A typical day for me is never the same twice! I have a great team of people I work with who all bring a lot of fun, creativity and personality to my everyday working life. I do the normal setting up of the store, organising and then see where I’m needed. I may be office based some days or on others, working the floor with my team, interacting and making customers happy through make up and having a good time with each other. It’s amazing to work with such a talented bunch of individuals and so great to be able to create looks and introduce products to our customers to make them feel amazing!

How do you dress for work? Do you show off your tattoos? How would you describe your style? For work we have an all black dress code which is great for me! I dress how I feel for the day. My tattoos are exposed depending on the weather really.  It’s great working for a company who don’t see tattoos as a barrier to executing your job successfully. I wear black all the time and I alternate between Doc Martens and Vans for my feet. Some would say slightly goth but I just dress in what I feel comfortable in!

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Do you find in retail people react more to your tattoos? I find that people are definitely drawn to me because of my tattoos. Where I work in Camden, a lot of tourists come in and ask about them. I think a lot of people are intrigued about body art if they haven’t got anything and working in retail makes it more accessible for them to ask questions rather than someone they may see on the street.

Do you have any advice to other people considering their careers when getting tattooed? The only advice I could give is maybe to start getting pieces in areas where you can cover them until you decide on a career. Unfortunately some career paths will be obstructed by visible work, although I do feel more and more leniency is being displayed in more traditional careers nowadays for visible work . Now I have a career with a great brand who accept and celebrate art and individuality, if I took the plunge and got something more visible it wouldn’t be a problem but just add to the diversity in image we have here!

Crafters and the ink on their skin

Ahead of Sunday’s BUST Craftacular in London’s East End, our editor Alice Snape interviews three vendors about their creations, why they love crafting and the ink they wear on their skin. With over 70 independent designer-makers featuring at ‘London’s coolest craft fair’ (Time Out) we knew there had to be some awesome tattooed folk in there too.

Sarah Corbett, 32, Founding Director, Craftivist Collective, London based, works worldwide.

sarah“All of my tattoos help me on my journey to be the best version of myself. They are a mix of craft related tattoos, nature and music. I have scissors to remind me to help shape the future, thread to encourage me to thread my values through all that I do and jigsaw pieces to remind me to see where I can be part of a positive world and where it’s best to prioritise my time and energy. I also have Bjork ducks because she is such an inspiring innovator, quotes like ‘tough mind tender heart’ which is a Martin Luther King quote and reminds me to always be kind to people but always work as strategically as possible too and never get complacent. They might look fun to viewers but they all have big meanings for me and some of those meanings I keep secret.

“There are so many links between crafts and tattoos! Handicrafts are naturally a slow process and so is tattooing because you need to work carefully and often with courage. The physical results of both are permanent so people really take ownership of their tattoos or completed craft object because so much love and care has gone into them. They are both often very personal for the creators and intimate things to do.”

“I call myself a “craftivist”, which is someone who uses craft (mostly handicrafts) as a tool to deliver activism. Protesting against systems and structures of injustice using objects to help do in different ways from encouraging us to be the change we wish to see in the world, giving gifts to power holders to become critical friends rather than aggressive enemies and work together to leave small pieces of provocative street art to provoke passersby on particular injustice issues.

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“I started creating my own craftivism projects with my ‘gentle protest’ approach in 2008. Within a few months people asked to join me in my projects and the Collective was born as a small group of people in the British Library cafe meeting up monthly in London. Now groups and individuals around the world take part in our projects and use our DIY kits and tools. I will be at BUST Craftacular with some of our lovely craftivists from the collective in our ‘Craftivism corner’ where you can join us anytime 11am-5pm to rest and take part in some slow, gentle, positive activism alone or with friends. Every single one of us has gifts and talents we can use to be the change we wish to see in the world and our activity area hopes to help remind us of that. We will also have our own stall with other craftivism projects and tools people can buy and be inspired and empowered by.”

Check out how you can become a Craftivist at their BUST Craftacular workshops here craftivist-collective.com

Lucian, 29, Cambridge, artist, Vapvla leatherworker and Real Wizard

lucian-profile“All my tattoos are artwork that I’ve drawn up myself specifically for my body and its shape. I endeavour to portray, through my tattoos, inner workings of my mind, creative process and spirituality that would otherwise be invisible. These days, I am sufficiently covered that I think I could explain my religion just by rotating, naked and silent, before an audience – but I’m not finished yet! I had my first tattoo – my favourite David Bowie lyric – when I was 22. I wanted it to encompass as much of my hidden self as possible just in case I hated the process and wouldn’t want another. It turned out to be completely fine. People have said that I must be addicted – but when I receive a tattoo, the whole process – from idea genesis, to body painting, to drawing up, to needle, to clingfilm, to healing – leaves me with such an immediate positive effect upon my self esteem that I see no real reason to stop!

“I will be at BUST Craftacular with my exciting “new” endeavour – my leather company VAPVLA, which I founded last year. I love harnesses and leather, but always found the world of harnessry disappointing in that it assumes that, if you want to wear a harness, you must be either a cis woman who wants to appear vulnerable or a cis man who wants to appear powerful. Drawing lines across the body with a hard, restrictive (but supple) material like leather (or our vegan-friendly heavy vinyl) is inherently a neutral action. Bodies are wildly variable, much like gender and power presentation. I didn’t want to be prescriptive. I like to think our harnesses will do anything, or nothing, for anyone. The name, VAPVLA, is a stylisation of the name of a Goetic demon that I came across in 2014 when I produced an illustrated edition of the Ars Goetia – a demonology grimoire from the 17th century.

“My future plans are to render my body both more explanatory of my inner self and more baffling through tattooing and surgery, and to be number one in What Wizard! magazine, should such a thing exist.”

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VAPVLA is available at etsy.com/shop/vapvla, and Lucian’s artwork is available through misterlucian.bigcartel.com and you can buy in person at BUST Craftacular of course too!

Ella Masters, 28, Freelance illustrator

ella-masters-portrait-ink“My first tattoo was of a swallow and stars with music notes on my left wrist, I’ve also got a siren’s head on my thigh that I got at Brighton Tattoo Convention on a whim a few years ago. I have a large skull and kewpie on the back of my right arm done by Hugh Sheldon – I love his work. I recently got two that mean the world to me. I had a sentence tattooed near my heart on my side, it’s for my mum, we lost her suddenly and it’s been devastating, but we had a strong bond. I have “always be by your side” and, just last week, I got the Joy Division lyrics “love will tear us apart” in a heart. It’s by Luke Jinks, he took my illustration and did his own twist on it, which I’m in love with. I have eight hand poked tattoos on my ankles, which I did myself, and seven others dotted around my body, they all mean a little something, a moment I want to remember. I feel more me the more tattoos I get.

“I find inspiration in most places, and I love nature. I trained as a fine artist so I carry my sketchbook wherever I go. I will be doing live portraits of customers at BUST Craftacular! And I can’t wait to draw you all, so come see me!

“As far as the future goes, I’m hoping to just keep creating art, I’m currently writing and illustrating my own book about life, dating, tattoos and loss – a real mix of things. I’m working with some great companies at the moment illustrating for them and just creating great commissions for people. My blog is doing really well and collaborating with some big brands has given me a real boost, so hopefully just going with whatever feels right.”

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Visit ellamasters.co.uk and for a chance to be drawn by Ella, tattoos and all, visit her stall on Sunday at BUST Craftacular

Careers: Tattooed Licensing and Marketing Director

We chat to 33-year-old Grace Pantony, Licensing and Marketing Director for Marshall Amplification, based in Milton Keynes, about developing Marshall as a lifestyle brand, her tattoos and of course love for music…

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How old were you when you got your first tattoo? I got my first tattoo, when I was 18. I had a big tribal piece on my back. I am now in the process of having this covered up.

What drew you to tattoos, did anyone influence you? At the age of 14 I really got into heavy music, and tattoos came along with this culture. I listened to a lot of metal music and was adamant as soon as I was old enough I was going to get some tribal like my idol Kerry King of Slayer! Also, my dad had always been into tattoos and was covered himself, so it was something I grew up with and never thought anything of, other than I wanted one as soon as I could.

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Back (cover up by Ade at Axios)

Can you tell us about some your tattoos? I got my first tattoo when I was 18, this is now in the progress of being covered up by Ade at Axios Tattoo in Hove. Ade’s specialism is Japanese tattooing, and I first came across his work about 15 years ago when he was working in Guildford. I love his style, and have also had a full sleeve and Japanese mask done on my leg done by Ade. I always said I would never get a band tattoo, but have now got four band related tattoos. I don’t regret them at all though and already have another band filler that I want doing at some point.

My current favourite tattoos of mine are my knees done by Elliott Wells at Triple Six Tattoo in Sunderland. I am so in love with the placement, the colour, the design – everything! I never get bored of looking at them. Elliott really has mastered peonies, and I would love to have more work done by him in the future.

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How did you get into your current role? I started at Marshall as a temp after returning from a work placement in Los Angeles with a previous employer. Being really into music it was such a perfect company to work for and I was really happy to get the chance to even temp at the company. Once my temp position ended I was thankfully offered a job within another department, and it has been happily ever after!

Did you have to study or get any qualifications or have you worked your way up? I have worked my way up within Marshall as well as doing study in my spare time. I have studied skills that were identified as specific to the career direction I was looking for but that also benefited Marshall and the position I was in with them.

I have worked really closely with the managing director of the company to develop the Marshall brand within the lifestyle category which is outside our core product. This was a new segment for Marshall, therefore a new department was created. I saw this as a great opportunity so seized this chance and put myself forward to take the bull by the horns and run with the development of this department, it was something I had a huge interest in and also Marshall is a brand I love, so it was a perfect fit.

grace1I was drunk at Leeds festival with my friend and I drew a dinosaur, afterwards we felt it needed to be a tattoo!

What is a typical day like? No day is the same. My job is really varied. Which is what I love the most. I have always been someone that needs a challenge and variety in my work. And this job certainly does that. I am the director for licensed products as well as marketing for the core brand. The role means I am immersed in Marshall in all ways, I live and breathe the brand.

An average day can involve approving a new product off the factory line through to event planning and coordinating. Reviewing counterfeit goods and trademark registrations with IP attorneys to setting up a record label – it’s my dream job! The role has developed so much, and I work with such a great team. We all love the brand and have a huge amount of fun, sometimes it makes you question that what you do is your job! But saying that it is hard work, we all work really, really hard but having a great team makes this a whole lot easier.

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Music Week announcing Marshall launching a record label, of which I sit on the board of directors.

What do you love about your job? I love the variety that no day is the same. That I am challenged every day to push myself and learn more about the industry and products we work with. I am forever learning a new skill, and I love that. And I would be lying if working within music wasn’t a huge part of the love for the job. I get to be around music all day. Listen to it, work with it, and getting to go to gigs for your job – life doesn’t get much better than that! It’s a dream.

How do you dress for work? Do you show off your tattoos? How would you describe your style? I am by far the scruffiest and most casual director at Marshall. My go-to is high waisted jeans, vans and a band or Marshall baseball tee. I am a comfy dresser at work and also you never know when you will be lifting amps, so a skirt and heels really isn’t practical, especially as I can’t walk in them at the best of times. I don’t make a conscience effort to show my tattoos at work, but I certainly don’t hide them, and thankfully have never been expected to.

Before Marshall I worked for the government and hid my tattoos through the interview stage and also until I passed my six month probation, so to say they were shocked when they saw them was an understatement. But I always believe that you should be judged on the standard of your work, not on if you have tattoos. Sadly, I don’t think the government is quite ready for that way of thinking yet. But thankfully Marshall are more than happy with it.

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Marshall always sponsor Movember, and I got a Mo tattooed to be an official Mo’sista

How do people react to your tattoos? I normally get “you didn’t look like the sort of girl to have tattoos” and I am not sure if that is a compliment or an insult so I just ignore it. I live in Milton Keynes, where it is becoming more common to see people with a lot of tattoos but I still think there aren’t that many females who are fairly covered, so whenever I go out I get people asking about them. But it’s always in a positive way. You always get people that only want to know how much you have spent, it still seems to be the most common question. I always find that bizarre, and again ignore it.

In a work capacity, no one has reacted negatively, if anything it is a positive as my arms have been used for marketing campaigns for the brand, so that I do take as a compliment!

Do you have any advice to other people considering their careers when getting tattooed? Regardless of career choice, you should always research what you want and who is the best person to do that. I learnt the hard way and lived with a bad tattoo for far too long.

When it comes to work and tattoos I think honesty is the best policy and also knowing what you want to work in and if tattoos are still a bit of a taboo in that career. I am lucky that I work in music and that tattoos are common place. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it when getting another one. When I got my fingers done, the first person I asked if they had any problems with it before I got it done was my boss. I wouldn’t want to do anything that could jeopardise my job regardless of how tolerant they are of tattooing – so yeah, be honest and run it past them before walking in with your hands done, it softens the blow that way!

Interview with GaldaLou

26-year-old GaldaLou is a retail manager and SuicideGirl  from Leicester, England. We chatted to Galda about how she began modelling, her tattoo collection and how she has learned to love her body…

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When did you first become a SuicideGirl and what inspired you to do so?  I applied in August 2008, shot a few sets that weren’t bought, until early 2009 when I had my first set make Set Of The Day, and was made an actual SuicideGirl. At 15 I came across SuicideGirls. I was all of a sudden exposed to these women who were themselves. They seemed so confident and unafraid of being who they wanted to be, and at 15 I was desperately craving to find my place in the world. I made it my aim even at that young age that I would become one.

How have people reacted to our photos, or decision to become a suicide girl? My friends and family are overwhelmingly supportive. I’ve been with my boyfriend Russ since I was 17, and since the beginning he knew of my hopes to pursue things with SG.  He shot my initial application pictures for me, and even a couple of photo sets right at the beginning. My Mum actually follows me on Instagram and Twitter, she’s that supportive. Everyone at work also knows about my online life, which makes things so easy.

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What advice would you give to someone wanting to become one? Think long and hard about it. Whilst it’s been a huge part of my life for the last eight years, not everyone has such a supportive set of people around them. If you’re on a serious career path for example, being naked on the internet may well reflect badly on you.

Have you always liked your body? Have you always felt confident in yourself? Oh hell no. And I still have days where I hate myself! But you just have to keep in mind that it’s just a day, and tomorrow you’ll feel differently, and that every single person out there feels the same way about themselves. What I have always done is project confidence. It’s a fake it til you make it sort of thing I think.

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You used to follow a shake diet plan,  what motivated you to change your body in this way? Do you think this was a drastic way to do it? It was originally my doctor who put me onto the idea of doing Lighter Life a few years ago as I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and often ladies with PCOS struggle with losing weight due to a chemical imbalance. I lost four and half stone in four months. It was hardcore, the last straw was when I started to lose my hair, because my body didn’t have the energy to grow it anymore. At the time, I lost my identity. I felt completely separate from myself. Sure, the compliments were nice from everyone, but they were complimenting the act of weight loss because it’s what society expects them to do. I’ve put a lot of that original weight back on in those three years since, but now I feel much more comfortable with myself as a whole.

When did you realise you had PCOS? Does it make you see your body differently? I had some unfortunately symptoms at first, like pain and copious amounts of bleeding after sex. I was 20 and I went and saw my doctor about it, and after some investigations was diagnosed with PCOS. It explained recent weight gain, and made me look harder at my body. At first I resented it for being another thing wrong with a body I already didn’t like, and hated the fact it most likely took away my choice to ever get pregnant naturally and easily, and it really took a while for me to get my head around it all. Now, at 26, I’ve realised I’m more than happy collecting cats instead of having a baby, so the only thing I resent is still having to have disgustingly painful periods each month.

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You’ve had breast enlargement surgery, did this influence your decision to start modelling? I started modelling at 18, and didn’t have my breast enlargement until I was 23. I was always a little blinded by my boob hatred, and I found it really hard to look past them and see the good parts of the rest of me.

Have your tattoos helped you to feel more confident? Absolutely. I can’t wait for my legs to be well and truly covered so I no longer have to worry about my thread veins being on display. It’s nice to be able to choose what people see and don’t see about me, but most people’s snap decisions of me are usually based on my tattoos and hair, and I’m fully okay with that.

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What would you say to people who aren’t supportive of the SuicideGirls group? Or who think you share too much on Instagram?  We are all different and that’s glorious and to be celebrated. SG gets a lot of stick sometimes, and some of it’s fair and people’s opinions and some of it’s unfounded gossip, but for me it has provided massive amounts of opportunity, and more importantly, gained me some friends for life.

Do you think tattoos have to have a meaning? No. Whilst some of mine do, actually the vast majority of mine are simply there because I appreciate that tattooer’s artwork. I am practically a walking timeline of Jody Dawber’s work, having one from the beginning of her career, and still being tattooed by her now. I adore her artwork, and her as a person. I’ve other pieces from artists that I adore, but don’t have any deeper meaning other than I love their style.

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All photographs shot by Shannon Swift

Tattoo Apprenticeship: Another Education

Meet Leti Mortimer, she is a tattoo apprentice under Rose Harley at at Vagabond studios in east London. This is her story of how she came to be a tattoo apprentice and the hard graft involved…  

I came to tattooing pretty late on. None of my friends or family had tattoos and as I started to acquire my own small, mostly concealable collection, they were often met with disappointment or shock. The idea of being a tattoo artist never really crossed my mind. I took the expected path of doing a degree (English with Creative Writing) and when I graduated tried out a few things that could put my new qualification to use but nothing stuck.

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Leti with her portfolio…

I have always drawn. My dad put a sketch book and pencil in my hand as soon as I could hold them. I continued to draw through school, my degree and beyond but never thought I could make a career out of something so fun. Then it dawned on me. I started to put some sketches together thinking, I like this. My CV, rather than being the usual slog of boring notes about my education was a compilation of things I had made. I got myself a nice faux leather A3 folder, did a lot of cutting and sticking and set off.

After a bit of searching I was offered a tattoo apprenticeship at a street shop in South London. It did’t last long, and I was sacked after two months. I’d done nothing wrong and the guy invented a reason to get rid of me. There are no real rights for tattoo apprentices so people can take advantage quite easily- I found that out the hard way.

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I approached a few other places with more caution and after about six or so months I came across tattoo artist Rose Harley. In my interview she was very serious and professional, looking carefully through my portfolio. She told me that if I wanted to do the apprenticeship it would be hard work, like doing another degree. She offered me a three-month probation period – four days a week of cleaning, nothing to do with tattoos, for me to prove that I was serious about it, no apprenticeship guaranteed. I quit my job and found something part time, I had to work seven days a week to be able to support myself, it was going to be tough.

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Leti (right) with her mentor Rose.

Two and a half months later, she accepted me as her apprentice. I was over the moon, my life was about to change completely. We had a few drinks to celebrate and she told me we would be like family – that it would be hard work but she would look out for me. And so It began. I continued with cleaning and general apprentice duties and started learning.

Rose and I would go to a local pub one night a week, a sort of evening class, with a focus on a different topic every time – machines, skin, needles, important figures in tattooing, each week building up my knowledge. Her method of teaching suited me perfectly. I would observe her tattooing, she would talk me through each process, I would frantically scribble notes trying to memorise everything she told me. She set me homework each week –drawing, finger exercises, drawing, research, more drawing.

It was a few months before I did my first tattoo. (A little cactus on Rose’s leg) It was a scary moment. When you’re sat with a buzzing machine in one hand and human paper in the other, about to permanently mark them for life, it is a trying experience. And I didn’t take it lightly. It took me a long time and I had to go over some of the lines a bit but I got there. And that was it.

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The first tattoo Leti did on Rose

I continued observing, researching, drawing, cleaning, drawing, tattooing, gradually building up my skill set. I moved studios with Rose as she got a job at the beautiful Vagabond in Bethnal Green where owners Paul Hill (tattooist) and Rebecca Morris (manager and graphic designer) kindly agreed to let me join her. I’ve been lucky enough to continue my apprenticeship there since.

Vagabond sets the bar at a whole new level. Every aspect of the shop is so carefully considered. Each artist has such an extensive knowledge of tattooing and high standard of work. Every tattoo is so well thought out. They really care about tattoos and it’s so apparent in the work that each artist produces. It has proven to be a fantastic environment to be learning in and in addition to the continued support and advice from Rose, I’ve been lucky enough to have help from tattooists Paul, Harry Harvey and Andrew Hulbert. Things really couldn’t have worked out better.

It’s been a pretty mental year and I have loved every day. I am so grateful to Rose for taking me under her wing and being the best mentor. It has definitely been an education like no other. I am on my way to my dream job and I can’t wait to get started.

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A recent tattoo by Leti

Apprentice Love: Jay Rose

We spotted the work of 21-year-old apprentice Jay Rose on Instagram and instantly loved her dark dotwork and floral tattoos. We chatted to Little Jay to find out more about her life as an apprentice at Black Dot Tattoo Studio in Glasgow where she works… 

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Photo by Nik Antonio

How long have you been tattooing? I’ve been an apprentice for just over a year, I did my first tattoo on May 18th 2015.

How did you start? What did you do before?  I’ve always had an interest in tattooing, I was exposed to tattoos my entire childhood. My granddad has some really old traditional style tattoos, I grew up looking at pop eye tattooed across his hand, with old school lettering in a heart for his mum and dad. I think being exposed to tattoos so frequently they drew my attention more towards them. I knew I was going to be heavily tattooed; I just didn’t think I’d be the one doing it!

When I started to properly get tattooed one of the people who tattooed me was Raph Cemo, when I went to get tattooed by him I was a little lost, things weren’t going to plan and I’d lost my vision of what I wanted to be doing. I came out of that tattoo session so empowered (and a little physically drained), knowing what I wanted to do and feeling silly for not realising how obvious it was that I should start tattooing. It wasn’t until a year later, when I had set up a clear path and done a lot of self-development that I met Tom and somehow convinced him to let me be his apprentice.

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Do you have a background in art? My parents brought me up drawing and letting me make creative messes in the house, my mum’s a wonderful artist but she’ll never admit that to anyone. My nan used to paint water colours and I’d draw the flowers in her garden when I was a little girl, I guess that’s where my love for flowers comes from as well. I’ve always been artistic due to the way I was brought up, I studied fine art and photography before starting my degree in painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of Art.

What drew you to the tattoo world? I get tattooed for lots of different reasons, but long story short tattooing is allowing me to create a vessel I feel comfortable in and am proud of. My journey with my body is a continuous one that I work on loving everyday but tattooing has allowed me to externalise the vision I hold for my body, watching that come to life and loving myself a little bit more each time is an emotional path. I have never been more myself than I am now due to tattooing, and that’s a really comforting feeling. This vessel is the only thing I will ever truly own, the only thing that will ever truly be mine and I am working on improving it and worshipping it every day.

I am so thankful for all of the artists that have allowed me to sit in their chair and help me with my journey, if I can even help someone half as much as these incredible beings have helped me I’d be overjoyed. Seeing how much of an impact you have had in someone’s life, be that from helping with self-improvement or to be a part of a creation of a memory is magical to see, that’s why I love tattooing.

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Describe your style, how has it changed? I guess the style I tattoo in would technically fall under dot work, my style itself however is constantly changing and developing as I meet new people and discover new things. Tibetan art has been a major influence throughout my life and was a really heavy part of my style and what I was tattooing at the beginning. The impact it has on me hasn’t changed however I’ve naturally moved towards more botanical tattoos as of late. I wish to never become ignorant of the origins and meanings of what I tattoo on others as well as what I put onto myself.

What inspires you? It sounds cliché but for me I gain inspiration from the little things, a lot of my inspiration comes from flowers, I find myself happiest when sitting in botanical gardens surrounded by life continuously blossoming around me.

I didn’t have the most stereotypical upbringing, my mum taught me about Buddhism and took me to galleries so that I was exposed to different cultures and their art. I take a lot from Tibetan Buddhist art and symbolism, their art is not only aesthetically beautiful but the meanings behind everything comes from love and understanding.

People and places are the most vital inspirations you can get as that’s what is continuously surrounding you, if you make a point of living a positive life, surrounded by the most inspiring people, in the most beautiful places you’re going to have such a love filled creative outlet and there’s something really blissful about that.

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What would you love to tattoo? At the moment I’m really enjoying more botanical pieces, I’ve recently grown a love for drawing plants with the bulbs attached. I’ve started to get really into anatomical drawings as well, so I’d really like to do a large botanical/anatomical thigh piece, I think that would be really stunning.

What is a typical day like for you? It normally involves a lot of reading, I get a lot of inspiration from books so am often reading a few things at once and often drawing from them as well. My work outside of tattooing is text based so a lot of that involves writing pieces and hammering them into large metal plates for hours on end. That’s also where I end up drawing up a lot of my tattoo designs, as it’s my creative space and outlet.

I work in a private studio, so it’s by appointment only which means I get to control the amount of tattoos I’m doing a day and I don’t have set hours. Tattooing is where I find my mind the most clear, when I’m tattooing, drawing or reading my mind is simply taking in what is in front of me. When I’m tattooing I am so engrossed in the experience, in what I’m tattooing, in why the person is getting it and who they are, that I often forget this is a job.

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Can you tell us about your own tattoos? A lot of the work I hold upon my own body is that of Tibetan and Buddhist symbolism along with some personal links with friends and family. Everything I hold on my person means something, which can be taken in the form of Buddhist myths to my own personal connections to the objects or imagery my vessel now features.
One of my favourite tattoos is an outlined heart with ‘JuSt’ written inside; ‘JuSt’ stands for Julie and Stephen which are both of my parents names, the font is from my typewriter and the non symmetrical heart is hand drawn by me and was kept imperfect to represent me along side them as a continuous link to one another when I’m far from home.

I also now posses The Three Graces upon my arm which is taken from Botticelli’s painting the ‘La Primavera’, after studying this painting for a year whilst studying history of art at the age of 18 I flew to Florence to view this painting in the flesh.  I sobbed staring at it for hours mesmerised by the impact it had not only on my body but on me as a person. I decided to get the Three Graces tattooed on me due to what they represented as goddesses of such things as charm, beauty, and creativity.

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Photo by Nik Antonio

I made a start of my full back piece earlier this year with Hannah Sykes which is not only the largest piece on me to date but arguably the most physically and mentally draining also. The whole process through the amount of time, continuous alterations, and adjustments to fit the vision that both Hannah and myself hold for my body is a long and exciting journey we hope to finish at the end of this year. The piece itself is an array of Tibetan flowers spread over my full back and wrapping around my bum. Getting my back tattooed was a huge decision for me, not only for the amount of space it spanned on my body but also to make sure it fitted and worked with my petite frame rather than over powering it. However any worry swiftly disappeared when I saw the vision Hannah had come up with and altered to fit my body perfectly, and I couldn’t be happier with the way in which this continuation is turning out.

Interview with Katie Kelly

21-year-old Katie Kelly is a retail artist at MAC cosmetics in South East London, we chatted to Katie about her make-up looks and tattoo collection… 

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I’d say my style was alternative, glam and goth. I have a different style everyday, I like to mix things up. I draw my inspiration for my looks from new products I have, or other cosmetics that I see. I like to use these but in my own way, I change them so they suit my style more. I tend to make them more dramatic and theatrical.

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I’ve always loved and had a passion for makeup, and I guess practising a lot of different looks really helps me to progress. I furthered my skills when I went to makeup school in London for two years , I loved it! I’ve also just finished another course doing theatrical, media and SFX makeup. My dream job would be working on film and TV sets doing both beauty and SFX makeup. At the moment I am also working at MAC so I have a bit more extra training from that.

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My beauty must have is my Anastasia Beverly Hills dipbrow pomade! I can’t live without it, I even shaved half my eyebrow off so it makes me look less alien like. My go-to look is winged eyeliner with a dark crease and a light or shimmery lid. I like to change it up everyday but if I had to stick to one it would that.

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I got my first tattoo the day after my eighteenth birthday! It’s a skeleton my ribs and it was one of the worse pains I’ve ever felt, but I absolutely love it! I got it because I had a love of forensics and science but went into a more creative career path instead, so I wanted my first tattoo to commemorate that.

I’ve always had an interest in tattoos I think they look so pretty! I adore Kat Von D and just wanted to look like her. I don’t think a tattoo has to have a special meaning, I  think if you like a tattoo and you’ve thought hard about it. Just go for it! Some of mine have no meaning and I love them. The ones that do have a story behind them have a special place in your heart and they stand out more than the others.

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My second and third tattoos are the ones around my forearms. On the left I have a daisy chain, just because daisies are my favourite flower on the right arm I have the one ring quote from Lord of the Rings in Elvish, as I love the books so much.  My fourth was the Pentagram on my shin. This was an impulse tattoo, my friend was getting one and I wanted one too. I first wanted it on my stomach, however the tattoo artist refused as he feared it would stretch when I got pregnant (even though I was only 18 at the time).

My fifth tattoo is also on my forearm. It’s a pin up girls face wearing a Anaheim Ducks hat and scarf. They’re the NHL team I support and wanted to get a tattoo dedicated to them for so long. It was done in California so I also got some California poppies to tie into the flower theme My sixth tattoo is the one on my calf. It’s an original piece by my Californian friend Gus J. It’s a skull with a rose going through it.

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Growing Pains With Tracy Kiss

28-year-old Tracy Kiss, blogger, model and mother, from Buckingham talks about how having a tattoo to cover her stretch marks helped her to reclaim and love her body once again… 

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When did you start modelling and how did you get into the industry? At the age of 18. I was talent scouted by MTV to model in a documentary about relationships, I then went on to do page 3 for The Daily Sport newspaper.

What made you want to become a model? I was bullied terribly up until the age of 17 for being shy, geeky and insecure. When I was talent scouted I never imagined in a million years that I could ever be a model but they saw something in me and I’m so glad that they did because it brought me out of my shell.

What kind of work did you do? I was a glamour model before having my two children which involves lots of lingerie, bikinis and topless as well as the occasional catwalk and fashion.

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Did this change how you saw your body? Did modelling help with your confidence? Although modelling gave me bags of confidence that I never knew existed it also changed me as a person. I spent endless minutes on sunbeds to maintain a year round tan, dyed my hair peroxide blonde, wore fake nails, false eyelashes and dressed in skin tight revealing outfits. I literally changed everything about my appearance within a year and although I loved my ‘new’ body I realised deep down that I wasn’t being true to myself.

How has pregnancy and being a mother affected how you see your body? Becoming a single parent at the age of 19 was such a wake up call, it made me realise that there’s so much more to life than the shallowness of how we view others. Beauty doesn’t come from a packet, tube or needle it’s from natural confidence, being comfortable in your own skin and feeling happy. My body shape changed dramatically, I was incredibly thin and as my pregnancy developed I started to get stretch marks which were deep red lines that seemed to slash my skin. At that time my body was my career, and I felt that becoming a mother had ended the life I knew by scarring me so badly.

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Do you miss being pregnant? Despite all of that I loved being pregnant, it was difficult for me to adjust to the weight gain at first because I had always been so strict on myself. But once I embraced it I realised how much I love food, how happy I was to feel my daughter kick inside of me and despite knowing I had to bring her into the world alone I felt safe knowing that we were going through it together. There is nothing as precious as unconditional love and I’d happily have more children if I met the right man one day.

How has pregnancy affected your body physically? Physically pregnancy has had an horrendous affect on my body at such a young age, firstly from scarring up my stomach hips and thighs with stretch marks, weakening my stomach muscles and making my chest collapse. I had breast implants that became loose and leaked from the pressure of breast feeding, so I underwent reconstructive surgery. It has been the most joyful yet painful experience of my life but I’d do it a thousand times over for my children, they are my absolute world.

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Can you tell us about your stretch marks? Also how you tried to get rid of them? My stretch marks remained the same with my second pregnancy and didn’t get any worse, I think my skin was already so badly damaged that it couldn’t possibly stretch any further. I had fairly large babies with my daughter weighing 7lbs and my son 8lbs 8oz, but I blame my love of food for contributing to my weight gain as for once in my life I didn’t worry about what I ate!

I’ve tried everything to get rid of my stretch marks which I’ve covered in my beauty blogs from oils and creams to needling and lasering, all methods designed to stimulate the regrowth of natural collagen in the skin to help to repair it. Whilst stretch marks can be improved they can never be removed unless you cut the skin away which I didn’t want. Fortunately with my treatments I was able to lighten my stretch marks from a deep red colour to a pale white, instead of being deep they became a little more shallow and where the skin had become so loose and wrinkled it’s now firmer and flatter but still scarred, just a little less obviously.

Why did you choose to cover them with a tattoo? How did you pick the design? I chose to cover my stretchmarks with a tattoo because the pigment in my skin had disappeared from stomach, which left me with white lines.  At the age of 28 I was hiding my body, I never wanted anybody to look at or touch my stomach because I was embarrassed.

The only way left for me to try to remove my stretchmarks without surgery was to cover them with a tattoo and once my final laser treatment was complete to correct the texture of my skin I called my tattooist, James King, to talk about designs. I already have 10 tattoos including; feathers, wings and my children’s dates of birth.  I’m a nature loving vegan, I live for peace, love and happiness so we combined a lotus flower with the hamsa hand to signify strength, beauty and good fortune.

I wanted to turn a part of my body that I hated into something positive, and  my tattoo has done just that! Something that once hurt and upset me for so many years now makes me smile uncontrollably. I never thought I’d feel so happy in my skin again as I do now, it’s given me my youth back.

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What would you say to other mums feeling the same way as you did? I’d tell other mums to look into turning their scars into body art because you only have one life. To me a tattoo isn’t just a decoration, it’s a story, a reminder and inspiration for life. It’s capturing your essence as a person, expressing your individualism and in my case turning something negative into a positive. Everybody should be able to love their bodies no matter their age, size and ethnicity. For me tattoos have given me back my confidence, true confidence and shown me how I can love myself for who I am. I’m a woman reborn, my embarrassment and insecurities have vanished and I’m ecstatic to have a second chance with my body.

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What was your first tattoo? Do you still love it? Rather foolishly I got my first tattoo at the age of 14 which was a tribal swirl on my lower back that I covered over with angel wings, that mean so much more to me, as I believe feathers symbolise hope and freedom. My first tattoo was something that I rushed into simply because it was fashionable at the time, it had no meaning to me and was nothing more than a filled in stencil that I outgrew.

Can you tell us about your other tattoos? My favourite is ‘love is blind’ tattooed under my breasts, its a reminder of how life may change but true love is unconditional and that is very much what I have for my children. My babies taught me the most important lessons in life of patience, strength and natural beauty and although being a single parent is incredibly challenging at times it has made me the person I am today. Tattoos have given me back my fire, repaired my body and rebuilt my self esteem whilst capturing my heart for all to see and I will cherish them forever.