We spotted the work of 25-year-old apprentice Ella Bell on Instagram and instantly loved her dark art and floral tattoos. We chatted to Ella to find out more about her life as an apprentice at Attica Tattoo Studio in Plymouth where she works…
How long have you been tattooing? I did my first tattoo 14 months ago.
How did you start? What did you do before? I knew tattooing was what I wanted to do but I was never convinced it would actually happen. It took me a few years to build up the courage to take my portfolio anywhere; during those years I tried a lot of things that didn’t work out – menial jobs, I started an MA in art history but dropped out, more menial jobs – and throughout this time art was a constant thing that gave me a lot of joy, so I just focussed on that and it got me through each day. Once I’d decided to find a tattoo apprenticeship, that goal gave me a lot of motivation to really put the hours in and for about six months I spent most mornings drawing and painting, working on my portfolio. I booked in for a tattoo with my now tattoo mentor Steven McKenzie, and felt at ease enough to bring up the subject of an apprenticeship, and luckily he liked my work, and that’s where it all began!
Do you have a background in art? Kind of. My family is very creative and I was lucky to grow up in an environment where making art was always encouraged and celebrated. Art was my favourite thing at school and college, but I chose to study English literature at university and never really pursued art at that level. Sometimes I wish I had, as having access to those kinds of art facilities and teachers is an amazing opportunity, but then again you are subject to exam criteria and all that stuff, and I could never get myself in that frame of mind. How can you mark a piece of art and say it’s right or wrong? It’s really weird.
What drew you to the tattoo world? Getting tattooed! For me, getting tattoos is just really exciting from start to finish, travelling to different studios and being in these different, liberating environments, meeting the artists, and then coming out of the experience with this new piece of art. The tattoo world allows you to be yourself and I just felt a bit like a kindred spirit as soon as I arrived. It’s hard not to be compelled by that. There’s a raw, rebellious, head strong nature about it too, which I love. I love that they are permanent and real, that you can’t buy and discard them like t-shirts. And tattoos are also so beautiful. It’s a celebration of the body and the mind and the spirit. Tattoos definitely offered me the possibility of truly loving and celebrating myself.
Describe your style, how has it changed? I think I have quite an illustrative style which is hopefully refining with practice. In terms of the tattoos I make, I mainly do blackwork but I have started to use a bit more colour as well, but my colour palette is still quite muted. Sometimes I want to do heavy blackwork, solid lines and dark shading, other times I want to do very fine linework, dotwork and greywash. I’m still finding my style really! Natural and botanical imagery is what I love to tattoo the most at the moment though, I could draw flowers forever. It’s so easy to stress about your ‘personal style’, about having something unique that will make you stand out, but I try not to worry because it usually makes me feel shit about everything. People say they can see my style, even if I struggle to, so you just have to trust that the work you do with your own hand will be in some way yours. It’s evolving, and hopefully it always will.
What inspires you? Seeing other people’s creative output and success is very inspiring and it motivates me in my own work. There are countless tattooists who inspire me in terms of the practice of tattooing and where you can go with it. Maxime Buchi, Fidjit and Damien J Thorn are the first three that come to mind. They all have such distinct styles and their work is so strong. I love it and they definitely inspire me to work hard; I’ve had a few tattoos from all three of them and every time, the experience was incredibly inspiring too. I have a deep interest in art history which influences my work as well, particularly Europe’s Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance periods. And I love early Japanese ink painting – their depiction of flowers is just breathtaking. Nature inspires me every day, and so do my mum and dad.
What would you love to tattoo? I would love to do more large scale work. I don’t know if I’m ready for anything like a back piece yet, but I’d love to start creating bigger compositions that flow with the body. It would be amazing to challenge myself with that.
What is a typical day like for you? Having woken up I usually check Instagram with a coffee, as predictable as that sounds, and then I’ll do some emails and drawing. In my dreams I do yoga and meditation in the mornings and eat organic flaxseeds and stuff. If it’s a work day, I’ll get to the studio at about 11am, clean, set up, hang out, ready to start tattooing at 12pm. I usually do about three tattoos a day. I like to chill in the evenings, it took me a while to realise you can’t work all hours of every day, and it’s really important to rest and recoup. Your work is better for it.
Do you have any guest spots or conventions planned? I’m working at The Burton Tattoo Collective in Leicester in a few weeks (20th-22nd June), it’ll be my second guest spot there and I’m really excited. Apart from that I don’t have anything planned but I would really love to do some more travelling soon, around the UK and beyond.
Can you tell us about your own tattoos? It’s a growing tapestry! I love blackwork, all of my tattoos (bar one) are just in black. I seem to be covered in flowers and birds. I’m quite a collector; there are so many incredible tattooists out there and I’m really greedy and I just want work from them all. That said, there is beauty in finding ‘your tattooist’ and creating ongoing pieces with them. So yeah I’m trying to slow down a bit; my arms are steadily filling up, and I’ve got some questionable pieces on my thighs that I’m in the process of covering, so now I’m just saving myself until I know which direction I want to go in. I’d like to focus on bigger pieces though, and the overall effect they have and the relationship each tattoo has with its neighbour. It’s exciting.