Category: Features

Interview with James Musker

23-year-old James Musker is a Creative Writing student, freelance illustrator, and not only does he write for us but he also writes for Nine Mag. From Bournemouth but based in Manchester, James talks to us about his connection with tattooing, what inspires him and his illustrations…

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Photo credit @rob__bell

Can you tell me about your relationship with tattooing? Since I first started getting tattooed a few years back, it’s never not felt vital. I’ve worked every kind of terrible job just to keep getting work! It immediately gripped me, and since my first, I’ve lost count of how many additions I’ve made, as it stopped feeling important to tally them up. The direction of it all has changed so much since I started out, and continues to change. Raw magnetism guides my relationship with tattooing. It’s all dictated by spontaneity and intuition, and although these things have betrayed me at times, I feel I’d never have learned as much as I have without having made some mistakes. You need to make big mistakes to learn big, and however much you might be able to veil a tattoo with meaning, I do think it’s a very instinctual process. You don’t always have to understand why it is you gravitate towards one image over another at the time you do, as the work often speaks for you more than you can for it. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that each tattoo needs to be loaded with significance. You can’t deny your instincts, and acting on them only serves to better hone your senses. I’ve gotten to this point now where I automatically absorb any visual information I can relate back to tattooing, and it doesn’t really matter where that information is sourced. I can’t help but see potential everywhere.

What’s your favourite piece? My favourite piece is probably this tiny rune I have on my arm. I first came across the symbol in some strange book, and was initially attracted to it for its raw power. It looks as if it was made for skin. If I still had the space, I would probably wipe-out my back with a huge version of the thing! I later discovered that the symbol stands as a protective, teaching force, and I feel like that’s what tattoos have the potential to be. 

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Photo credit @jdrroberts

Who inspires you? In-terms of tattooing, Duncan X. Aside from being hugely influential in that he leads the charge of tattooing with no regards for the future or anything that has come before it, I remember meeting him and seeing his body-suit for the first time. There were so many overlapping ideas and timelines – history overlaid with new history, but you could see him in all of it. I was stunned by what he’d achieved. Some people lose themselves to their tattoos, in that you stop seeing them due to the extremity of their work. They get aggressive, shocking statements that, although powerful, draw you away from who they are, and shed light on that dangerous fine-line between self-expression and self-erasure. Duncan described his tattoos to me as “black mush”, but seeing his body-suit in-person was evidence that the only thing a tattoo needs to be disarming is a sense of honesty, and honesty can be romantic or vicious or ridiculous or confessional.

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Photo credit @jdrroberts

Can you tell us about your illustration work? 

I’ve never studied art or anything like that before, but I’ve always been pretty restless. I need something to put my energy into, and without that, I’m not myself. I tried taking illustration seriously a while back, but I was too focused on figurative accuracy and tweaking-out details that I’d always end up driving myself crazy and hating whatever it was I was working on. It wasn’t until things went kind of wrong for me on a personal level that drawing started to feel like a necessity. I finally felt like I was producing sincere work, because it was charged by more than the desire to get things “right”, and with that I gained the confidence to start sharing it. I was world-building with each piece I put out there – creating some place far-removed from where I was at, I guess. There are elements featured in each piece that connect them to each other, and I think that keeps it all suspended in this imagined head-space.

 

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In the same way that tattoos can overlap and interact, I feel that blasting my work over old Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and hijacking the power that they hold provides this immediate sense of depth and history that I love. I’m interested in the ways in-which people read images. I think it’s natural for us to read images from left-to-right when trying to understand them, as that’s the way we read text, but that changes from culture to culture, and with it so does the image that’s being read. When it comes to Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave…’, we are moving with the wave, but in other cultures, they are moving against it.

I like the way tattoo-flash just hangs on the page, and can sometimes look chaotic. I like how there’s no starting point and no implied path to follow, and that you can read different things from a sheet of flash if you connect the significance of the images in different ways. I have my own intentions when putting a piece together, but I like it when people read something in a piece of mine that I never considered. Although I don’t tattoo, I always have tattooing and the strength it’s imagery holds in the back of my mind when composing my work and considering things such as placement and balance.

 

What influences you? I guess I’m influenced by things I don’t fully understand, and sometimes a singular experience can become this abundant well you endlessly draw from in-hope of grasping it to some degree. I see making things as a way of climbing back inside of moments you can’t necessarily speak to, but the attempt is what’s important. I naturally gravitate towards anything with a sense of romance and surreality. I think that we’re all guilty of distorting our own history through a romantic lens, and I think the ways in-which we mold past-chaos into these perfect, hyper-edited shapes can lead memories to feel fantasy-like. I try to inject a sense of that into my work. I don’t really draw with anyone else in-mind, but it’s important to me whenever people respond to whatever it is I do. I like to think that when people do, it’s because they’ve unwillingly imprinted their own memories and fantasies onto something that was driven by my own. I can be a thief – pillaging the past for references and inspiration, but it all comes back to how these found-images and twisted revisions relate to my own experiences, and what I’m trying to translate.

 

 

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Do you have an end-goal for your body of tattoos? Not so long ago, tattooing felt like the only freedom I had. I mentioned how important instinct is to getting tattooed, but at that point in time instinct had no relationship to imagery, but more the process of getting tattooed. It didn’t matter so much what I was getting tattooed, just that it was happening. I’d let artists try out all kinds of wild ideas on me, and some sit confidently, but others were just that; wild ideas. I only developed an end goal once I’d made one too many untamed judgements. It was quite destructive, but it sharpened my view. At this point in time, I’m investing in the body of work I want to wear for the rest of my life, and that process involves additions and subtractions, but at least now each move I make feels like a huge step forward.

Interview with Elle Donlon

30-year-old tattoo artist Ellena Donlon works out of Sweet Life Gallery in Birmingham and creates traditional tattoos. We caught up with Elle to chat Korean tigers, as well as what and who inspires her work…

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How long have you been tattooing? I started my apprenticeship September 2015. Prior to that I went to the University of the Arts in London studying a degree in Fine Art and I think I graduated in 2012. Graduating was a tough time, I never really enjoyed my degree as I felt I had to stop drawing and painting to make way for more conceptual work to please the tutors, that meant I lost a lot of direction, so I decided to figure things out and move back to my hometown, Birmingham.

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What inspired you to join the industry? Did you do anything related to art before? Me and my partner opened up a record shop and as I started to get tattooed again after a good 5 year gap, I realized that tattooing would be my dream job. I started to seek out an apprenticeship, which took a long time, but I persevered it was the only thing I could think of that I wanted to do with myself, and that was worth waiting for.

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Can you describe your style? Starting off my apprenticeship my style was very different to what it is now. Then it was purely a case of turning my style of illustrations into tattoos. I’ve only ever really had traditional tattoos on myself, and as my career has progressed my designs have evolved into a stylised version of western traditional.

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We love your Korean style tigers and animals, what inspires these? What influences your work? What inspires you? Korean style tigers! They’re so freaky I love them, I have a huge one on my back done by Will Geary who has a crazy good imagination, it’s actually bonkers. I guess I’m drawn to beautiful oddities. I see no point drawing things how they are in real life, the world can be very monochrome it’s up to artists to mix that up, so I guess that’s why I’m drawn to them.

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Also you create more traditional women and flora is this inspired by something completely different? I get inspired by a lot of religious imagery particularly from Asia, I love south western tribal art, alchemy and witchcraft and the 70’s! But I must say my biggest push are other tattoos artists. Some of my inspirations are Walter McDonald, Dan Higgs, Robert Ryan, Windle Berry and Gregory Whitehead. All of these people adopt this weirdo traditional style, which is what I hope to one day pursue. I love that surreal style it pushes me to work harder with my own and attempt to think in different ways.

But my true loves are Claudia de Sabe, Rachel Rhatklor, Valerie Vargas, Wendy Pham and Lizzie Renaud. Apart from Wendy Pham these women predominantly tattoo traditional ladies and lady heads. Ladies and flora have always been my favorite subject to draw even before I tattooed, I can draw and tattoo them forever no inspiration even needed, it just cheers me up. I don’t really see my lady heads as a separate thing per se, but they certainly come a bit more naturally to me than my animal or surreal work.

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Is there anything you would love to tattoo? I’m desperate to do more famous lady heads. I Would love to do anything from a John Waters’ film, Dolly Parton, Cher, Poison Ivy from the Cramps, the girls from B-52s, Kim Gordon if any of those trigger anyone’s fancy!

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Can you tell us about your own tattoo collection. My personal collection is predominately traditional. The thing I love so much about a traditional tattoo is that is gets better with time, like fancy cheese! In my opinion this is the style (alongside Japanese traditional and tribal) that celebrates the body so perfectly, it is timeless yet has still evolved with each decade. I love Dan Higgs, I have tributes from both Nick Baldwin and Teide who are both fans of his work and I think they’re my favorites. Me and my partner are going to LA later this year we’re hoping to get tattoos from Derrick Snodgrass, And I’m saving my hands for Rachel Rhatklor, if I ever get chance to go over to Australia or she guests over here.

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Do you have any guest spots planned? I will be guesting at Crooked Claw in Sheffield in April and Death’s Door, Brighton in June, with some other exciting ones in the pipeline!

Nicola Gaskin & Winter Wolfe

Blogger Nicola Gaskin gave birth to her son Winter Wolfe on 23rd October 2015, Winter lived for one day before he died from a number of complications. In this raw and honest interview Nicola talks about her loss, feelings of grief and the ways that she honour her son’s short life…

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Can you tell us about you and husband’s relationship, how did you meet? How long have you been together? Where did you get married? Myself and Dean have been a team for ten years.  We met on the clichéd night out and realised we shared many friends in common, in particular he was close with my brother.  In many respects, it was quite a feat that we hadn’t met before, but when we did the timing was perfect. We hit it off instantly.  I loved the way he dressed like a cartoon and we shared the same sense of humour and love of partying and travel.

Ever since then we’ve been pretty much inseparable, travelling to 29 countries together.  He takes the greatest care of me and always makes me feel loved and safe.  We decided to get married secretly, not really for any other reason than we wanted to.  We planned a trip to Sri Lanka and made wedding plans over there.  We had had such a devastating year, we had lost our baby suddenly at a day old as well as a subsequent early pregnancy loss, and we just wanted to escape, have some fun, be a little mischievous and tie the knot so we were all connected by a family name.  We got married on the beach, just the two of us.  My wedding dress was made by a friend of mine, with snowflakes on it for Winter, and our wedding rings were made from his ashes.  We chose the date 23rd August as the 23rd of every month marks another month of our son’s brief life.  It was the perfect day, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant for the first time?How was the pregnancy and the birth? We were delighted to be pregnant.  I had been hoping for children for a little time, and Dean had agreed that we should start trying.  I fell pregnant on our first month and didn’t realise until I was six weeks pregnant. Looking back, I just had no idea how fortunate we were. We were also both incredibly naïve, from a single pregnancy test I believed I would have a baby in nine months’ time, I really had no experience of miscarriage or pregnancy loss.  We just thought ‘yes we are pregnant’ and began making plans. I loved every moment of my pregnancy, I was blessed to have very little sickness and a smooth ride, really relished it all.  I loved the preparing, the washing baby clothes and folding blankets and decorating the nursery. I was so ready to be a mother, I daydreamed about it constantly. Even in early labour I set up the Moses basket with soft toys and sheets ready to bring home our baby.  My waters broke at 5.30am, we went to hospital and were advised to go home and await contractions and return when they became regular and strong.  At 6.30pm my mum drove us to the hospital where I laboured for a further 10 hours until we welcomed our son into the world at 4.37am the following morning, October 23rd 2015.  He was placed on my chest and we looked right at each other then he looked at his dad, we all fell in love.

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Can you tell us about what happened to your son Winter? 30 minutes after his birth, Winter became poorly. He just suddenly stopped breathing and became limp.  The midwives hit a panic alarm and the room filed with doctors and nurses as they worked to resuscitate him. We were all in absolute shock.  On the one hand, it was pure panic and I just sat there numb, on the other hand I thought ‘he will be ok, look at all these doctors and nurses…’ But after some time, he was whisked away and a nurse said to us ‘I need you to know that your baby might die’ and I said ‘But we’ve only just had him.’ The next few hours were difficult to navigate. We called family, hearing their excited anticipation for the long-awaited phone call and having to break it to them that their newborn grandson/nephew was likely to die.

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That whole day Winter was in an incubator with tubes and machines, and every now and then we would sit with his doctor whilst he talked to us about a possible diagnosis, and the option to turn off the machines. I was exhausted from labour and anxiety and was hooked up to a drip to rest for the night. Early the next morning Winter was transferred to Leicester Glenfeild where they specialise in heart problems. I waited to be discharged and given medication before we drove up there to be with him. We were so full of hope in the car, I felt certain he would be cured and saved, but we arrived just in time to hold him as he died. We spent time alone with him, kissing him, bathing him, dressing him. We invited family in to hold him and say hello and goodbye. Then we had to leave the room and drive home with a memory box, to a house full of expectant preparations. It was extremely painful, surreal.

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How has your faith helped you through this? What teachings have you drawn upon? How have you tried to find the positive in so much negative? Without a doubt, my Buddhist teachings have helped immensely when dealing with such a great loss.  I have accepted grief as a normal emotion, and one that will last a lifetime, although it shifts and changes over time. ‘Patient acceptance’ is one of the greatest teachings I have drawn upon since losing my son. Accepting his death is something I may never fully come to terms with, but I accept all the emotions that come with grief. The realisation that death is a certainty and its timing is entirely out of our hands is also a huge Buddhist teaching.  In the western world we are always surprised by death, yet in Buddhism meditating on death itself is a huge part of the daily practice.  Every morning Buddhist practitioners spend time quietly reflecting on the truth that ‘I may die today’.  It sounds a little doom and gloom but actually when practiced with wisdom and understanding, it is an enlightening realisation and brings greater spiritual meaning to each and every single day we live.

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I also think that finding the positive amongst such pain is a matter of perspective.  Winter died after a day, but he LIVED for a day.  I have found that many bereaved mothers in similar situations are able to find many positives in their loss, that’s not to say their loss is a positive experience in any way, but more that the love they have for their baby and the experience of meeting and holding them greatly outweighs the pain of their loss. A beautiful phrase I have come across regularly on this journey is ‘Even if I knew you were going to die, I would still choose you’.  I wish Winter had lived but I wouldn’t swap Winter for a living baby, he’s still my special baby to me.

You’re an active blogger and social media user, why do you choose these platforms to share your story, Winter’s story and your journey? When Winter died it was never my immediate intention to blog about him and share so openly on Instagram, it just felt like a natural progression from sharing my life previously and in particular my pregnancy.  At the time, I had a small following and really just posted little snippets, but over time I discovered a whole community on Instagram centred around baby loss and I felt as though I had a place to talk about my baby and share my journey.  To an outsider it may seem a little morbid or unnecessary but finding people in similar situations talking so openly absolutely encouraged me to find my own voice, and also the realisation that my feelings were normal and valid, and it was ok to tell people about my baby, that even though he died his existence was real and he was important to me and loved.

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These days I talk about Winter publicly because he’s part of my life, just like moving house and getting married, he’s still very much part of our family and it would be unusual for me to not talk about him.  I also feel like there is a need for people to share their lost babies and not everyone understands that, so we are gently educating people.  About infant loss, the lasting effects of grief, the shameful rate of stillbirths in the UK.  I have had many moments online where people have asked ‘why do you share photographs of your dead baby?’  And I tell them, because they are the only photographs I have and I don’t feel the need to hide him away in shame, in fact I frame them and put them on my wall. I share him because I’m proud of him, like any mother showing off their newborn baby.  We should open up discussion and not be afraid of it or feel that it is wrong.  I write about my grief and the feelings I have encountered, the isolation that can come with losing a baby when people don’t know what to say to you and say nothing instead, the difficulties of overcoming jealousy and bitterness when friends around you announce pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies, the lasting and ongoing trauma that doesn’t just end one day when you’re suddenly healed.  This is why I share, to help myself as well as others.  And I love to talk about my little boy, what mother doesn’t?!

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Can you tell us about your tattoos, do you have any in Winter’s honour?  I have two tattoos in Winter’s honour.  One is a blue snowflake on the rib he kicked me in when he was growing in my belly. It was always this same rib and it got really sore and I would have to lie on the floor and stretch out to try and move him. At the time, I cursed that foot jabbing me so hard, but now it’s a fond memory.  The snowflake is simple, it is the same pattern that my grandma cut out for the table decorations at Winters wake, it’s very special to me.  The other tattoo is a quote on my arms, when I place them in the ‘baby holding’ position it reads ‘Most people only dream of angels, I held mine in these arms’.  It is just the perfect reminder that I held him.

You can read more uplifting and raw posts about Nicola’s experience of infant loss on her blog

Felix & Loretta Leu: Berber Tattooing in Morocco’s Middle Atlas

Crafted by Felix and Loretta Leu, Berber Tattooing in Morocco’s Middle Atlas is a tremendous account and celebration of the lives of the Berber tribe’s female tattooers in Morocco. Brought to life with illustrations by Aia Leu and edited by Joanna Kate Grant, the book opens up a new and fascinating unseen world of the Berber tattoo traditions…

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Berber Tattooing is a unique and tender record of the tribal skin art of Morocco’s Middle Atlas and the female tattooers who created it. Felix and Loretta Leu’s road trip in 1988 consisted of a series of chance encounters. Each one of which opened a doorway into the intimate world of the women of the Berber tribes.

In this book, the women tell their individual stories, revealing the traditions of the tattoo in their culture, together with insights into the lives that they led.

Sensitively captured in drawings from the time, by Aia Leu, the faces of the Berber women speak of a tribal culture that was fast disappearing, even then. As tattoo artists themselves, Felix and Loretta were able to find a common ground with the Berber families, gaining unprecedented access into this sparsely documented Berber art form.

This book of previously unpublished work, collected nearly thirty years ago is a tribute, to the art of tattoo, to tradition, to family and to love.

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Hajah pencil on paper, 32 x 24 cm, Aia Leu 1989.

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Loretta being hand tattooed by Fatima using the technique taught her by her mother.

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Loretta Leu with tattooist Aicha Bent Hamadi in 1988

About the authors:

Felix & Loretta Leu, both born in 1945, were artists, “freaks”, and adventurers. From 1965, when they met in New York City, until 1978, they travelled and lived in America, Europe, North Africa, India and Nepal, and in time were accompanied by four children, who were all born on the road. In 1978 they discovered tattooing as an art form, one with which they could support their family anywhere in the world. In 1981 they chose to settle in Switzerland where they created The Leu Family’s Family Iron Tattoo Studio. Felix died of cancer in 2002. Loretta, lives in Switzerland, walks in fields and forests with her two dogs, and is writing a history of her life with Felix.

Swiss artist Aia Leu was born in 1971, the daughter of Felix and Loretta and the granddaughter of Eva Aeppli, she was born in an old finca on the little Island of Formentera (Baleares). She lives with her family in the mountains of Kenmare, Ireland. Aia is currently working on a series of oil paintings for a two-woman exhibition planned with Titine K-Leu, and also illustrating a 78 oracle deck inspired by ‘Thoth Journey’ a book by JoannaKate Grant.

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Aia Leu and Loretta Leu, 2017

Interview with Kerste Dixon

27-year-old tattoo artist Kerste Diston creates beautifully abstract watercolour tattoos at her tattoo studio, The Drawing Room in Coventry.  We chatted to Kerste about her style, and running a fully female tattoo shop…

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How long have you been tattooing? I’ve been tattooing around seven years.

How did you start? I started as an apprentice at a studio in my home town in Rugby where I worked for about four years.

What drew you to the tattoo world? Its always something I’ve been interested in. As soon as I turned 18 I was in studios getting work done. I’ve always been more interested in creative industries. I did footwear design at uni before getting my apprenticeship and I did art at college. I can’t imagine not doing something creative as a career.

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How long have you been a studio owner? How did it all come about? I’ve had my own studio for nearly two years. It just sort of happened – I left the studio I worked at in my home town in Rugby and I started working in Coventry. I had an old school friend who has their own business at Fargo Village where my studio is based. When I saw him posting on social media photos of Fargo I was intrigued. It’s a village for creative business and I thought that it would be the perfect place for a studio. They thought a tattooist would fit in well and they had a small unit available. My mum and dad encouraged me to go for it and set off on my own! I’m not sure I would have had the confidence without them to do it. But it’s definitely the best desicion I made. I opened in May 2016, and it started as a small private studio with just me. In May 2017 we expanded into next door and now we have myself and four other full time artists.

Who works in The Drawing Room and what kinds of tattoos do they create? We have myself who specialises in abstract watercolour and black work. Hanah who does super cute girly neotrad work, Emily our apprentice who does blackwork and Haley who does minimilist blackwork

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Was it your intention to have a fully female shop? To be honest it just sort of happened and now it’s a thing. Most of us have a mostly female customer base too because of the style of work we do so it all just sort of fits. That’s not to say if the right artist came to me looking for a job and was a guy I’d turn them down! It just happens that everyone so far that’s been right for us has been female! We also have lots of guest artists – we seem to have made this reputation where ladies like to come guest too, which is lovely! So many people think a big group of girls can be bitchy but honestly the studio is the complete opposite of that – it’s such a lovely place to work and I’m so pleased to have the team I do!

How would you describe your style? Has this changed? I do mostly rainbow watercolour work, however I’ve branched off into doing darker blackwork. It’s still quite abstract but it’s just opened up some more doors for me work wise!

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Do you prefer colour or blackwork? Is there anything you would love to tattoo? I like both colour and blackwork equally – it’s nice to break things up sometimes If I’ve had a week of all colour work and a blackwork piece comes in that’s nice and vice versa! Keeps things interesting! I love to tattoo all things nerdy/ponies and animals mostly!

Do you have any conventions planned? Just one more this year – Scarborough in May. We may look into a few more towards the end of the year though.

Yoga on my Skin

Yoga On My Skin is a collective show curated by Rossana Calbi and Giulia Piccioni, in collaboration with Parione9 Gallery, Rome. On Saturday 24th February Yoga On My Skin came to its natural location: The Other Side of the Ink, the Roman convention dedicated to the art of female tattoo artists.

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Spiritual stability comes from the experience of a calm and clear state.

Yoga On my Skin is a project born from a collaboration between curators Rossana Calbi, Giulia Piccioni and Parione9 Gallery. The project traveled to amanei in Salina and reached Parione9 Gallery in Rome, a gallery that is always very interested in tattoo art.

Yoga is a sacred science. It is a science because it bases its principles on specific affirmations on the human nature and universe, it is sacred because it represents the interior path of the individual to gain awareness of his own divine self.

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In the middle of this inner path, there are asana, body positions according to the yoga discipline. Asana are postures, and asana is the art of using the entire body with a physical, mental and spiritual attitude. The structure of an asana is not changeable because each asana is a piece of art. In the Yoga Sutra, Maharishi Patanjali stated that when an asana is perfectly done, there is no duality between body and mind, spirit and soul. According to yogi T.K.V. Desikachar through yoga the mind and senses are directly connected to the consciousness and they are not perceived as separated or disorganized.

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The project consists of two asana for each chakra (from Sanskrit wheel or disc). The asana are selected according to the physical appearance of the posture and the relevance of the specific chakra stimulation. There is no asana for the seventh chakra because no postures directly stimulates it.

Yoga teacher and psychologist Giulia Piccioni embraced Rossana Calbi’s curatorial idea with the technical support of studio d’arte Candeloro to set up an exhibition that is a physical and mental experience.

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Art work is by Nicoz Balboa, Genziana Cocco, Cecilia De Laurentiis, Cecilia Granata, Marta Ierfone, Marta Messina, Roberta Kinney, Anita Rossi, Maria Grazia Tolino.

The next stop for Yoga on My Skin will take place in an abbey, in Italy. Find out more about the original location and the future projects here.

Interview with Ruslan & Tonya

26-year-old Tonya and 29-year-old Ruslan are tattooers from Russia. The couple work together in their private studio Abusev Tattoo in Moscow. We speak to Tonya about their unique style of tattooing…

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When we’re not tattooing at our studio we travel around Europe, soon we’ll be working in Barcelona, then Istanbul and Berlin.

We started our tattoo collaboration over five years ago in Russia. Since then our tattooing has transformed into what we call BIOGRAFIKA. It is not a style it is more like a way to see form and composition on human body. We both tattoo in black and color ink, although I mostly enjoy playing around with my colours and Ruslan likes to stick to black.

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We both work on the composition of a tattoo, creating its shapes and forms. Although I enjoy using colour  in my work, I do agree with Ruslan that black fits best on skin.

Inspiration is what makes our collaboration so special. We inspire each other to be better people, better artists, better tattooers! Working together is not always easy, it takes a lot of patience, and a great will to create something truly unique! We always try to bring something new into every tattoo project.

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It is pretty hard to describe how we met and how we started tattooing together, but each of our lives had wild twists before fate brought us together. Ruslan was working as a professional tattooer when I found him, he did a cover-up for me, and it all went from there – it’s our crazy story!

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One which you would love to see in a movie. I truly love the place we have reached so far, it’s a happy life of two tattooers that never let eachother get bored. Tattoos brought passion into my life. And from what I see, every tattoo we create brings a new life chapter to the person wearing it.

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Interview with Lucy O’Connell

Lucy O’Connell creates stunning tattoos filled with colour and personality at Red Tattoo and Piercing in Leeds, UK. We chat to  Lucy about her evolving style and inspirations…

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What made you want to become a tattoo artist? I started drawing tattoo designs for friends who were older than me when I was around 14. And through doing doodles for them, which I now realise is the most irritating thing to receive as a tattooer, because I knew nothing about the fundamentals of tattoo design, I realised I could do this for a living when I started to do more research. Fortunately tattoos were more accessible in terms of media. I would buy all the magazines available from my area and then go and look up the artists.

What do you love most about your job? I love so many aspects of my job. I love developing my practice, the ability to share ideas and discuss with people I admire, working on a moving canvas is forever a challenge. I just feel like I’m learning all the time, but I also like talking to new people about their experiences in life. And currently I’m really trying to give myself a shove to develop myself more, I give myself a hard time a lot.

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What inspires your work and drawings? Everything. Recently I’m trying to look more into myths and old stories to inspire me, but I’ll probably sit on them for a while as they’re such epic tales I need a while to ponder it before I know how to combat it. Nature has a lot to play. Whatever I’m watching can have an impact, or just my mood in general. I find if I’m struggling I’ll watch Attenborough or go to a gallery. Just kind of soak something new in.

What would you love to tattoo? Like I said before I’d like to sink my teeth into some myths and legends. Maybe some religious stuff too from all faiths. Norse gods are really interesting. I think subject matter that’s way bigger than me so I can try break out of my comfort zone. And always birds.

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Do you have any designs that you really want to do? I’ve got loads of designs I wanna tattoo, I keep a majority in a little book and take them everywhere with me, and the big ones don’t often get a home so they end up getting painted. I’m struggling more than ever to get rid of stuff I draw, which I can’t decide if that’s me, social media or brexit. I’ll keep trying.

How would you describe your style? It’s a clash of a lot of things. I can’t quite put a definition on it, I’m usually categorised as neo-traditional but I wouldn’t put myself there. I think neo-traditional lines have been blurred. I kind of think I’m a pop culture, neo-trad, art nouveau clash.

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Is it fair to say that it has been evolving lately? I hope so, I’m trying to evolve all the time but I’m very aware of it, currently. Since the first convention of the year I’ve had a fire lit under me that makes me want to push myself somewhere that’s not so comfortable. But I hope everyone likes it or can see I’m trying.

What kind of direction would you like to take your work in? I’d like to go into a more layered version of my work. And making everything more animated. I’m also trying to take in light sources. We’ll see what happens.

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Do you have any conventions or guest spots planned? I do! No mor plans other than these:

Newcastle – Big North Tattoo ConventionApril 28th & 29th

Essex – Jayne DoeJune 14thth, 15th & 16th

Leeds Tattoo ExpoJuly 7th & 8th

Berlin – Sticks and StonesAugust 9th, 10th & 11th

Interview with Joaquin Ardiles

Because music is in itself an art, it comes as no surprise that so many involved in the industry also have an affinity for tattoo culture. 31-year-old guitarist Joaquin “Jo” Ardiles of Good Tiger has taken his love of tattoos one step further by becoming a tattoo artist. When he’s not on tour, Jo can be found tattooing a mx of western traditional and illustrative styles at Kilburn Tattoo in London. 

Photo by Tom Barnes

How long have you been playing guitar and how long have you been tattooing?I’ve been pretending to play guitar now for about 15 years, and tattooing for about six or seven years I don’t remember exactly.

Which one do you love more? Or is it like picking a favourite child? They are both a lot of fun and I enjoy different things from each of them, I’m lucky that I get to do both. I think I get the same enjoyment from playing a sickhead riff as I do from finishing a cool tattoo. I like the freedom the tattooing gives me to be able to go out and play music and I like that playing music means I get to be tattooed by people in different parts of the world that would be difficult/expensive to get to otherwise.

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What was it about each craft that drew you in and peaked your interest? How do they make you feel? I started playing guitar because I thought chicks dug that shit, but actually they like saxophone. I quit playing the saxophone to play guitar, so I really fucked up there. By the time I realised it was too late and I was already invested, so I just kept going. Also I wanted to slam some sick riffs and be Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine. Playing guitar means that I get to hang out with my friends and play a lot of Nintendo Switch with them in tiny backstages across the world, which is cool, I’m into it.

I started tattooing because I thought it would be easy and I could make some money in between touring but it turns out it’s not and I had to work hard for my place. Luckily I had a bossman that was ok with me going on tour, as long as when I was back I was at the studio watching and learning. I knew very little about tattoos when I started, I was a bit of an idiot actually. I love the world of tattooing now, I love that it’s not easy to get into, and I love that I still have a lot to learn.

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How would you describe your style of tattooing? What influences you? Are there any artists you admire? I think my style is a twist on western traditional, I like to keep things a little weird, make it’s something that’s mine as much as something the client wants. I’m influenced by other tattooers, by video games, music, comics. It all plays a part in influencing the way I draw, even if its not obvious in the piece itself. There are so many good tattooers out there right now, I could probably make a really long boring list but I think right now @greggletron is next level. @scumboy666 and @wan_tattooer have such a cool style, I wish people in the UK got more stuff like that I’d love to do shit like that. @joefarrelltattoo is the bossman at my shop he taught me everything I know and I owe him a lot. I work with @lauralenihantattoo and she has been putting out some bigboy pieces recently. HOLD TIGHT THE KILBURN MASSIVE.

How does your music and tattooing go hand in hand? I like to try and get tattooed while I’m on tour if I can. It’s not always easy depending on routing and timing and such, but it’s a nice way to meet tattooers and visit cool shops. Playing music means I get to meet a lot of people and tattoo a lot of people that have found me through the band. Also the music world is full of people with tattoos, I’ve been lucky enough to tattoo people in my favourite bands or talk to musicians about their tattoos and where they got them. I think both those worlds are interlinked, the first tattoos I saw were on musicians in magazines and on tv.

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Good Tiger released their new album We Will All Be Gone on Feb 9th 2018 via Metal Blade Records. Can you tell us a little bit about the new album, what is your favourite track? The new album rules and it’s gonna make me bigger than Kid Rock I think. We really pulled it out of our arses with this one, managed to make a non stop, start to finish, banger after banger, perfect album. Have you guys heard Dark Side of the Moon? This shits all over it and then some. My favourite track is Blue Shift because I think it will make me the most money/chains/emerald encrusted pimp canes.

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Photo taken by Kayla Surico

Will you be touring? What can fans expect? We will be yes, our next tour is in the states, little headline run followed by a load of dates in the US/Canada with our favourite beanheads Protest the Hero. Fans can expect a lacklustre show because we are old now and don’t have the gusto or the legs to put on a show with any kind of enthusiasm. Gonna keep it tight though and play real good. I might get a rat tail haircut again so if I turn around during the show, the front row is going to get a real visual treat, a battering of the senses, even. Prepare yourselves.

Lucy Thompson: Breast Cancer Survivors & Tattoos

27-year-old tattooist Lucy Thompson based in at Skinflicted in Keighley, Yorkshire, has travelled to the US to learn how to create realistic three-dimensional tattooed nipples for women who have had a mastectomy…

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Last year Lucy travelled to Texas to be the first UK artist to receive specialist training in the art of tattooing realistic areolas on breast cancer patients. It was her aim to shake up the industry and illustrate to breast cancer survivors that “they deserve better” when it comes to post op cosmetic reconstruction.

My Auntie had a mastectomy and got a tattoo done in hospital which has now faded to almost nothing so it needs re-doing – why is a surgeon even attempting to tattoo?-  the experts should stick to what they know. This just isn’t good enough for a cancer surviver.

Lucy trained with The House of A.R.T (Areola Restorative Tattooing) in Texas, who have pioneered a unique way to give the illusion of a permanent and three-dimensional nipple opposed to other methods. Having learnt this skill Lucy is now offering this restorative service to mastectomy clients locally,  the first being her auntie.

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Lucy, who’s been a tattoo artist for the last four years explains what influenced her to help cancer survivors:

After the trauma of going through cancer, I want to make the restorative period as stress free as possible and help women feel whole again. Why should they have to return for future treatment when it can be done in one process? Women are accepting second best as there has never been another option, but not many cosmetic tattooers have experience or have dealt with scarred tissue, especially tissue that has been through chemotherapy or has radiation burns or stretch marks from skin grafts – this is a huge concern. A tattoo artist understands the skin in a different way. We want to achieve painterly results  and have the techniques to work with the skin and its delicacies to get the best possible results – the quality is of utmost importance.

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Lucy  is also offering tattoos to any trans/non-binary clients who have had surgery and unsuccessful  nipple grafts. Her long-term plan is to open a clinic specifically for post medical treatment. She also plans to run drop in clinics throughout the country by travelling the UK visiting other studios, to enable others further afield than Yorkshire to benefit from the skills she has learnt.

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