27-year-old tattoo artist Barbie Lowenberg works out of The Black Lodge in Portishead, Bristol, and creates beautifully bold tattoos. We chat to Barbie about what inspires her and how she started in the industry…
How long have you been tattooing? I’ve been hand poking for about four years and started machine tattooing towards the end of 2016.
How did you start? What did you do before? Having been a freelance illustrator for the last five years, I have always drawn inspiration from tattoos – particularly traditional and blackwork tattooing. My partner, Iain Sellar and I started our little brand Long Fox five and a half years ago, where we made prints, t-shirts and murals for shops/bars/cafes etc. Not long after we started Long Fox, Iain started tattooing at The Black Lodge and I decided to give hand poking a go – slightly intimidated by the thought of a machine. I immediately fell in love with it, it was the perfect starting point for me and such a calm and intimate way of creating art on someone’s body. It gave me the opportunity to really think about each line/element of a tattoo as it takes time and careful precision. It wasn’t until last year that I took the opportunity to learn with a machine and it’s been great.
Do you have a background in art? Growing up, I was very musical. The focus was all on that and art was more of a side thing/personal hobby. I learnt loads of instruments in school and composed music, then went on to study music at university and become a violin teacher. I liked it, but the entire time I was drawing in the evenings, and the tattoo influence was evident even then. I never really showed anyone my drawings but Iain found my stash and that’s how Long Fox started.
What drew you to the tattoo world? I had always liked the idea, even as a small kid, of having something meaningful preserved on your skin. In the margins of my school books I would draw tattoo ideas based on my cat and my love for music. I have been presented with a lot of resistance and anti-tattoo opinions within my family which has been hard to deal with. I just love that there’s the opportunity to adorn your body with unique art directly from the artists, and it’s there to treasure for the rest of your life! I’m so glad it’s becoming more acceptable and more appreciated as an art form.
Describe your style, has it changed? I’ve always drawn just black on white bold images. I’m not sure why, just the simplicity of black ink on white paper appeals to me. I think over the years, you can see a change in my drawings – I’ve played around with line weights, methods of shading, bolder blockier images and developing my own individual style and subject matter. I feel like it’s something that will continue to change and develop over the years, and that’s part of it for me!
What do you like to tattoo and draw? So many different things! Sometimes it’s mood dependent, sometimes it’s a spontaneous idea, or maybe an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while – those ones never turn out how I imagine though. Tattooing means I have the opportunity to draw up other people’s ideas and put my own twist on them as well as offering my own flash to choose from. I will sometimes obsess about a certain idea and it’ll appear in several of my drawings. I’m struggling to think of specific things I like to draw – other than cat eared babies and windy sky scenes! I guess I like to draw most things!
What inspires you? From a young age, I’ve enjoyed surrealism, medieval etchings, scientific, dark ideas and botanical illustrations, amongst lots more. I take inspiration from all sorts of things like photography, editorial fashion, furniture, jewellery, book covers – so many things! And of course, tattoos themselves.
What would you love to tattoo? And what would you refuse to do? I love to tattoo anything bold, cute and a little bit weird. I also love to tattoo new and challenging ideas! I think I’d have to refuse to tattoo someone if I thought someone was getting it for the wrong reasons and that they might regret it. If someone wanted something which I thought would be offensive to someone else, I would definitely refuse. I wouldn’t want to be associated with anything that would cause offence or hate. So far, I’ve not had to refuse anything!
Do you have any guest spot or conventions planned? I have my first ever guest spot coming up this April at Insider Tattoo (Edinburgh) which I’m really looking forward to! I hope to be doing more guest spots this year so keep a look out for more!
Can you tell us about your own tattoos? I got my first tattoo when I was 21 from Marcus at Broad Street Tattoo in Bath. It was an idea I’d had for a while to honour my Hungarian heritage and it was a great experience. Since then Iain and I have travelled to see some of our favourite artists to get either flash or their take on our ideas. I still have plenty of space left and so many ideas I’m saving for artists I love.
Getting tattooed is such an exciting journey. I treasure all of mine as they either represent something important to me or hold a memory of a certain time in my life. My tattoos are always positive ideas that lift me up when I need them to and to me, they add beauty to my body. Not all my tattoos hold a specific meaning behind them, sometimes its nice to get a tattoo that simply looks nice and I can appreciate it for just being the awesome piece it is. Some of my favourites are the ones that turned out nothing like I had expected them to, which made me realise that it’s the idea behind it that holds importance for me and an honour to have an artist’s personal interpretation of it.