Tagged: Tattooer

Apprentice Love: Tammy Bestwick

We spotted the work of 22-year-old tattoo apprentice Tammy Bestwick on Instagram and instantly loved her traditional style tattoos. We chatted to Tammy to find out more about her life as an apprentice at Black Rose Tattoo, Barnstaple, Devon where she works…

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How long have you been tattooing? I worked at a tattoo shop in Exeter doing my apprenticeship for two years. I got to do a few small tattoos here and there but it’s only really since working at Black Rose that I’ve been able to tattoo regularly. I started working at Black Rose back in June so it’s just going into six months of tattooing now!

What did you do before? Do you have a background in art? My first job was selling tickets at a zoo. Straight after that I started my tattoo apprenticeship for two years, I did a couple temp jobs where I made some of the most wonderful friends who still come and get tattooed by me now! I studied art at GCSE and A-level but I didn’t find it overly enjoyable, it was more about looking deep into the meaning behind why a square could’ve possibly been painted green and writing essays than actually being artistically creative. It was only since leaving college that I started to draw what I enjoyed.

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How did you get your apprenticeship? As soon as I finished college, I took some of my drawings into a tattoo shop that was just over an hour away from where I lived. I didn’t really know anything about tattooing at this point but I’d been interested since I was 13. This shop was just opening and my mind was blown by the work of the tattooists there, I’d never seen anything like it before and so I just knew I had to try my luck. I wasn’t expecting much to come of it as it was the first shop I’d attempted to try work at and I was fully aware I had a lot to still educate myself on and so much more I could try do with my portfolio. A week later and they got back to me and they were willing to give me a trial run! Nothing could compare to that feeling when I found out I was being given a chance at something I’d wished to do for so long.

What drew you to the tattoo world? I started off being fascinated by all kinds of body modifications which then developed into tattoos. Anything a little different or controversial always drew me in. Being creative was the only thing that ever kept me interested so I knew I had to do something with it. I’m quite a quiet person and I love to have my own head space and be free with what’s on my mind, no rules or anyone to answer to. That’s what drawing was for me.

I used to draw a lot with my gramps. He painted beautiful acrylic landscapes and was a signwriter, so that’s definitely where I get my artistic flare from! The tattooists that inspired me to begin with are very different to the tattooists that inspire me now. My tastes and opinion of tattooing has developed a lot.

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How would you describe your style, what do you like to tattoo? I’m never really sure how to answer this. Before I tattooed I only ever attempted realism. Currently I do different styles according to the customer’s needs and I’d love to get to the stage where I could do anything anyone asked of me and really challenge myself. Having said that, I’d be perfectly happy if I could only ever tattoo traditional again. That’s what I enjoy tattooing the most, super bold and colourful or just a lot of black! I’d love to get to do more movie related tattoos too.

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What or who inspires you? Nature and books but Instagram is a god send for being able to closely follow my favourite tattooists and their daily work. Gem Carter (this is insanely cheesy because I now work with her) has inspired me from day one, before she was even tattooing herself I followed the work she was doing. Currently, I obsess over the work of Sammy Harding, Jack Peppiette and Bradley Tompkins to name a few. But I am completely fascinated about where traditional tattooing began – Ben Corday, Percy Waters, Amund Dietzel. There is just so much inspiration and so much more to be found that it’s overwhelming.

What is a typical day like for you? I very rarely will be tattooing 11-6 at this stage so I take my time with the customers I do have in and the rest is spent providing ultimate banter, replying to emails and drawing!

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Can you tell us about your own tattoos? None of my tattoos have any meaning. I get something from a tattooist because I love their style of work, so I’m happy for them to do whatever they’d like to do or choose something they already have drawn! If I get tattooed by someone I want it to be a piece that is distintive to their style. I currently have work done by Danielle Rose, Sammy Harding, a re-work by James Pool (I’m dying to get something of his own too), Sento and mega babe Gem Carter.

Shaded: Stephen William

‘Shaded’ is an on-going interview series created by 23-year-old Bournemouth-hailing music journalism student, writer and editor James Musker, which focuses on tattooists, the interesting people that wear their work and both the artist and canvas’s relationship to the craft.

Stephen William is an artist from the Clwydian Range in North Wales who’s currently living between London and Berlin – creating emotive, primal immediacy that speaks directly from the unconscious and transfers beautifully to skin. Here, Stephen speaks about his wide-view experience of the art world, the near-collapsing nature of his work and how a life-destroying flood pushed him to indulge the temporal medium of tattooing…

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Can you speak to your relationship with art and creativity? I’ve been making zines and running small press for nearly 15 years. Mainly North Wales punk zines that no one read or reads, because there was and is no punk scene, but it’s where I began playing around creatively. Later, I was a printmaker for about five years – specifically etching and a little bit of lithography. At the time, I was completely dedicated and driven by the desire to be the best printmaker I could be, and along with that came a lot of patient, precision and figurative drawing. I started getting tattooed in shops around this time, before then I just had things done by hand or using homemade machines attached to car batteries behind garages – the sort of stuff you’d do as a young kid who grew up in the valleys. Both methods had their own merits. I could afford to get maybe one tattoo a year from an actual shop, and would spend most of that year deciding what I wanted to get.

I moved to London to do print at the RCA, but abandoned that after a few weeks. I don’t know why, but the idea of doing things in this technical and proper way completely left me all at once – as well as my patience. I think by trying to be as technical and “good” as possible, I would dismiss 90% of my output by focusing on the end – treating everything as a precious, archived product rather than focusing on the process.

A close friend of mine bought me a cheap machine around eight years ago. I experimented with it, and blunted a lot of needles trying to make marks and textures with wood-block prints. I didn’t want to tattoo anyone with it initially, I just wanted to see what it would do on wood and zinc plates. I was making my living as an artist for about eight years before I started my apprenticeship. I did this at the same time as I did my masters in painting and video; two years of making paintings, and videos about making paintings – scrubbing grips, cleaning, drawing. The same as everyone else. I would buy cheap machines from eBay and take them apart and put them back together again. I’d take apart my power supply and build weird frames and stick motors in them, but I left my apprenticeship and set up a private quiet studio. This felt closer to what I was trying to do.

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Your tattoos are incredibly free and adventurous. Were you always able to work in such a hyper-personal way, or did you first need to cut your teeth with traditional study? I apprenticed for nearly two years, but didn’t learn very much in-terms of actually making tattoos. I left before I really started. I always felt comfortable being very loose. I’m lucky I had a lot of time to develop that without tattooing in mind, so much. It lead me to this real loose place where I felt mostly comfortable. That’s what I like, and I figured if I liked it a few other people somewhere were bound to at some point.

I love tattooing, and I believe in it unwaveringly, but I don’t feel restricted or like I have to do anything a certain way. There’s a difference between respecting a tradition, and submitting to it. If people want to build high walls, I don’t care. I’m happy sniffing around at the bottom, and I’m comfortable with my height as it is. The people who claim to be saving the industry and keeping it true are the biggest threat to tattooing’s potency. No one owns tattooing. It’s a beautiful visual culture, there’s not much left that’s genuinely doing this or bringing together fringe scenes and building culture, and this is where the power lies and always has. As soon as you call something like tattooing an industry, you take all the power out of what you’re doing and cheapen it – removing any affect that it can have. It existed largely outside of art criticism, which is a blessing and a curse, but it’s allowed itself as a medium to stay very real when it’s done right. I’m very, very lucky that people are into what I do enough to want to get tattooed by me.

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I have seen nothing quite like your backpieces, or the more ambitious work you produce. What are you trying to achieve when trusted with large-scale real estate? I’m just trying to make good compositions that get me and my customers excited. I like bare skin as much as tattooed skin. Mostly with the larger work, I’m looking for the tattoo to sit at a point where it’s just about holding itself together, but close to falling apart. I’m not sure if I’d call that a balanced point or not, but when it settles into its stillness, I still want a fight there. The main thing I want is some sort of fight or energy in the piece after it settles. I run my machines fast and like to play catch-up. I love texture and mark making, and how it makes the healed piece a lot more dynamic and longer lasting, as it moves and changes with the body over time.

I believe 100% in the power and potency of tattooing. Inherently, it’s an underground and subversive structure. Tattoos aren’t meant to be liked or appreciated by 100,000 people, and especially not jumped on by any majority. They are a subversive ritual. For me, tattoos are supposed to exist in a state of polarization. The scales are constantly changing, and this is where the energy and the magic lies, so I like the bigger work to be quite jarring visually. Of course, someone has to want to get it on their body. I can paint anything, but tattooing is an exchange, and I’m very lucky that I have people that understand what I’m trying to do and mostly give me free-reign. It’s always a concession between a client and myself, and what the skin wants and machine wants and what I want. Also, it should work next to other tattoos, so I need to take a lot of things into account.

I mostly draw right onto the skin these days. The currency of tattooing is time, so you should think like that in terms of placement. It’s a collaboration with decisions that were made 10 years ago and will be made in 10 years time, but the time thing is great – to sit and experience the exact sensation as those before you, and to be able to look someone in the eye with the same understanding that has permeated history for centuries, is mad. I play with traditional reference a lot. It’s all mostly from religious paintings, porno mags and advertisements. I like to play with combinations of traditional reference and my own drawings. I like to nod towards traditional, but mess around with it. I’m talking like I’m at a point where I’m in some sort of “creative bliss”, but it’s not like that at all; I kind of agonize over a lot of what I do, and stress out a lot. I draw designs over and over and over again to get the right level of rough, but held together, and on the skin it changes again! It’s important for us not to look backwards but forwards. A lot of the classics looked great on sailors because it was of its time, but seeing people trying to look like sailors and criminals now is just sort of a shitty and kitsch dress-up, and a quietening echo of something that was powerful in the past.

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Where did you draw inspiration from when starting out in tattooing, and where are you currently sourcing influence? My first experiences with machines were to see what they could add to what I was already doing, like I mentioned before. What I was doing wasn’t on the skin at all! Right now, I guess I’m mostly excited by the same things as everyone else: painting, videos, art-theory, browsing eBay for all kinds of things, and a lot of outsider art as well as traditional reference. I love Welsh history, and draw from this a lot, but mostly I just like to draw and see what happens. I feel like every day someone is coming up in the world and doing exciting new work, and I love that! I don’t know what to say about tattooing in terms of whether or not I think it’s art – I’m not sure if it really even needs to enter that dialogue. It’s too available and too cheap, comparatively speaking, to ever be considered or work as a high-art commodity, which is why it’s great! Tattooing has permeated culture completely, and it’s not like a painting or a sculpture where you need to carry it into a gallery. With tattoos, you can enter any establishment and move and exist freely within it – you can infiltrate any demographic or space. I like that people don’t have so much choice over how they interact with tattooed skin, and I draw a lot of inspiration from that. Tattoos are much harder to avoid than art.

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Prior to tattooing, you spent eight years as a student of fine art. What is it you felt you could achieve with tattoos that you couldn’t with any other medium? 
Everything changed for me over the course of a few days. I had both a group and solo show happening at the same time and I was right in the middle of moving apartments. Over one weekend, I had almost all my output and everything I owned stored at my parent’s place before moving it on. The river burst its banks by nearly nine feet that evening and destroyed everything I ever made – as well as everything I owned. At the same time, I was reading a book that was pushing the argument forward that there’s no way anyone could judge the merit of art in their own lifetime. Museums are almost always great because they have filtered down the best of the best over years and years and years, and exhibitions are often bad because there’s no filter. Tattoos don’t care or need any of it. I took some wry comfort in the idea that there was too much art now. Humanity has made enough. I had been thinking about tattooing, and getting tattooed, for a long time. It fell in place when I got into the temporality of it all. Give it 30 years, and no tattoos I make will be around anymore. That put this fire in me to commit to a new medium. Basically, I wanted to make temporary art that didn’t need a podium.

What’s your relationship to free-hand and free-machine tattooing, and how do these ways of working inform what you do? I guess I see mechanically copying a stencil and trying to reproduce something like a painting onto skin as ignoring the potential of the medium. I still sometimes use stencils because they’re incredibly useful, and I like to use everything I can to get the best results, but more and more often I’m moving away from them. Things change, though. Sometimes I like to get super loose, and other times tighten up. I’m not overly keen on trying to pin anything down and figure anything out 100%. I like to exploit the accidents and the unexpected things that can happen. I really like to see the marks of the needle and the hand of the person that’s done it. Also, it’s early days for me. I’ve not been tattooing for a huge amount of time – it’s been three years, and things change all the time. Since you live with a tattoo, and they exist in time, I think they should represent that. I really want the medium to be the message in a way, I guess. By drawing everything on, it works really well with the body every time – it makes it more of a process for me, and almost always unpredictable things happen that you need to respond to. I’m always wanting to feel excited by what I’m doing, so drawing tattoos straight on always keeps me at a point of being very fresh. It’s not a design I drew a few weeks ago or months with someone else in mind that I’m trying to make work elsewhere. It’s exactly where I’m at.

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What’s next? Working on larger projects and travelling, always. I’m midway through a couple of backs and bodysuits, and I’m always on the look out to start large scale projects. I have a small journal centred around contemporary tattooing and visual cultures that I’m very excited about. Another issue is ready for release! I’m also working to develop some physical spaces where artists can stay and work during residencies; assisting with publishing projects and travel to help and hopefully widen the landscape a bit – involving communities and exchanges with fringe individuals and groups from other parts of the world.

I mean, a lot of the time I feel pretty confused from overthinking, or having a lot of projects mixing together at once, so my future plans are about finding a way to still be very productive when I’m still in the process of working things out. For the future, in terms of tattooing, of course I want big changes; I’d like to see tattooing move into a more positive and open realm, and the end of bullying and empire building – neo-liberal tattooers appropriating and diluting culture on the internet and TV, macho bullshit, lifestyle becoming consumption. Instead, seeing a rise in pure, potent, visually exciting and heartfelt work. Things are happening that I feel need to be talked about in a productive and positive way. It’s easy to be negative about the state of tattooing, but everyone choses where they want to be within it.

Six Snake Tattoos We Love

Our guest writer Katie Houghton shares a nest of snake tattoos…

Some may be ferocious. Some may be poisonous. Some may be the stuff of nightmares. And some may be a two-headed force of freaky nature. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that snakes look great as tattoos. I never thought I ever wanted one before, but the fluidity of the lines and the eccentric patterns have made me go full circle this year, and I’m hoping I can get a little bit of blue blood before 2017. With that in mind, I went on the hunt for six of my favourite snake tattoos, from the delicate to the deep.

Illegal Bodies, Germany

This guy might be the smallest on the list, but he’s ultimately the cutest. Brought to you by Germany’s Illegal Bodies (a handpoke and henna artist), I love how delicate and plotted the design is alongside the dainty star additions.

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Jess Brown, Salem MA

This is the most colourful addition to the list, but it’s one with the most depth. Hailing from Massachusetts, Jess Brown uses deep tones and rich shading to add an almost cutesy appeal to this sword creeper.

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Matilde Masi, Italy

Snakes are intricate animals, and not just because of their ability to trick you into biting through the apples of Eden. Brought to you by Italy’s Matilde Masi, I not only love the position of this piece, but the attention to lines and spacing are second to none.

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Martín Funcasta, Barcelona

If you didn’t know you needed a tattoo of a smoking snake before, you do now. Courtesy of Barcelona’s Martín Funcasta, the cutthroat lines, harsh edges and thick shading add a stark originality to the design.

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Mirkosata, Milan

One of the biggest names on this list, Mirkosata is no stranger to snake designs, as they’re practically all he tattoos. Clearly detailed to the extreme, his work is clean, it’s elegant, and it’s putting these blue blooded babes at the forefront of everything.

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Cheyenne Gauthier, Montreal

The final tattoo on this scaly list- Cheyenne has blackwork that will have you scrolling his Instagram for hours. With depth and almost a sad tone to the work, this snake piece is elevated by the shading and the coffee branch.

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Interview With Chris Green

We chat to 24-year-old Chris Green, who tattoos out of Redwood Tattoo Studio in Manchester about his love for anything out of the ordinary, his guest spot plans and his own impressive tattoo collection…

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When did you begin tattooing? I’ve been tattooing full time for three years since finishing my apprenticeship, so I still feel very new to everything!

What inspired you and what drew you to the tattoo world? I grew up playing in bands, drawing and writing music. I came to realise that there wasn’t much chance of  me making a living in the music industry and what little money I did have I spent on getting tattooed. I think I needed a career that was still creative, but one where I could be my own boss and work for myself. Tattooing was perfect, I just wish I had thought of it sooner.

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How would you describe your style, has it changed? My favourite style of tattooing is traditional and that’s what I started with. I love tattoos that actually look like tattoos so I try to keep the traditional structures of tattooing in my work whilst showing my love for classical art in my designs.

What would you love to tattoo? What do you particularly love doing? I feel as though I’m quite lucky, as people ask me to do some amazing pieces already, but my favourite things to draw are probably ladies, animals and anything out of the ordinary or a bit weird. I’ve also been enjoying working on big projects like backs and fronts recently, I’d love to start more!

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What inspires your work, do any other artist influence you? I’ve always been mostly inspired by classic art – the Renaissance and baroque periods in particular. I spent some time in Italy and Greece last year and I was fascinated by the architecture and sculptures. I came back to England with tons of amazing references and spent the rest of that year trying to include stories and mythologies into my work. I’m always looking for new inspiration and often find it in the most basic everyday things. Of course, a bunch of tattoo artists also inspire me too!

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Do you have any conventions or guest spots planned? Conventions and guest spots aren’t my strongest points (and by that I mean I don’t really do them), but I would love to start travelling more. I did my first guest spot a couple of months ago at Jayne Doe in Essex to see how much I’d freak out, and I did majorly (mouth full of ulcers, ate half a slice of toast over three days). Everybody was nice there and I became good friends with Becca who owns the shop so I think that helped. I’ll be making regular(ish) trips back there, next being in October. I’ll be at Salon Serpent in Amsterdam in September and hopefully working the next Brighton convention. Also I’m in the middle of figuring some dates out for a few spots in America next year.

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Can you tell us a little bit about your own tattoo collection? I’ve been lucky enough to get tattooed by some great artists (probably forgot a few) such as Eckel, Mitch Allenden, Dan Molloy, Cassandra Frances, Ashley Love, Alex Bage, Lars Uwe and Lauren Sutton and Dale Sarok who I work with. I’ve pretty much always given each artist complete freedom so I have all kinds of subject matter. Lars has tattooed probably the majority of my body and I imagine he’ll probably tattoo what’s left, which scarily isn’t as much space as I thought.

Interview With Charline Bataille

25-year-old tattoo artist Charline Bataille, works at Minuit Dix in Montreal, where she creates bright, freaky, fluorescent, sometimes even ugly tattoos. We chat to Charline about her love for colour, her oversharing nature and the space she takes up in the tattoo industry…

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How long have you been tattooing, how did you start? I’ve been tattooing for less than two years! I’m a newbie! I started learning by myself and met with other queer tattooers to exchange knowledge and tattoos.

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Can you describe your tattoo style? What sorts of things do you create? I think my style is very tender, vulnerable and emulates spontaneous drawings. I love to use colours! I love it everywhere – in my paintings, in my house, my make up, my clothes. I create weird impossible flowers, creepy cute animals and angry fat babes looking unapologetically hairy and hot! I love to tattoo a mix of cute and freaky! I like wonky lines and weird freaky colours, and I even like when my tattoos are ugly and disproportionate. I want to queer what tattoos look like. I know there isn’t only one way to tattoo and I want to break down the good/bad dichotomy! When I draw my tattoos, I always collaborate with my client. To me, their agency is very important.

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How do you feel as a queer woman working in the tattoo industry? Have you been faced with obstacles or criticism? You mention on your Instagram that you try to create a safe space for your clients, how do you do this and why is it important? It’s strange to me that I have taken this role as outspoken feminist tattooer because I don’t feel I am any good at putting my ideas into words, I much prefer to use images! I mentioned in an interview that a lot of people couldn’t have access to the tattoo industry, because of systemic oppression, and therefore, will find ways to learn and create in safe spaces. In response to this interview, I got a lot of messages, a lot of them calling me a stupid cunt but also a lot of them respectfully disagreeing and pointing out the danger of tattooing at home without proper knowledge. I don’t think I need to explain how apprenticeships and traditions are considered sacred and are needed. So I made a lot of people angry suggesting that it is possible to break tradition safely and that, in a general way, misogyny, fatphobia, cissexism and racism were too present in tattoo shops and made those spaces at best unpleasant and at worst unsafe for a lot of people.

First, there is way too little conversation about cultural appropriation in western tattooing. White tattooers still tattoo colonial imagery and sexual caricature of indigenous women on other white people. They don’t understand how important it is that tattooing didn’t originate in the western world. Consent forms in tattoo shops still force people to disclose their HIV statuses and even refuse services on that basis. It is illegal, intrusive, discriminatory and potentially dangerous to force HIV disclosure. If tattooers would take the time to reach out to their local organisation for and by people with HIV, they could offer a much fairer and safer service.

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I tattoo almost only queer and trans people and a lot of them are women. Every one of my clients has a horror story to tell; from a tattooer telling a fat woman that he didn’t understand why she would want a tattoo on her hip, to tattooers telling brown people their skin is too dark, to blatant racism or sexual harassment. I have often been horrified and heart broken hearing their experience. Being queer and tattooing mostly queer and trans people, I know that there is a really complicated relationship with the body that makes those obstacles even more meaningful. Our body is a place where it is hard to claim ownership, it’s also a place that is described as “wrong” or “bad” by science and cissexist society. It takes constant work to take back control over your body and I know tattooing is one medium to achieve that. It’s really important to respect people’s pronoun, to discuss boundaries and to respect their bodily autonomy and to be tender and present when they trust you with their body.

I think there is room for the tattoo practice and community to be tender, vulnerable and sensitive. I’ve never been in a tattoo shop where I felt comfortable until Minuit Dix! A queer owned tattoo shop that supports queer / women/ trans / poc owned companies and individuals. That is conscious of safe practices, reducing waste, uses vegan ink, gender neutral consent forms that do not force or shame HIV disclosure, in a WHEEL CHAIR ACCESSIBLE space. Working there has really made it possible for me to offer a nice and cosy space for my clients to get tattooed. It is also a space where I can be a queer femme with mental illness and have my workspace respect my limitations and honour my identity. I am working next to @katakankabin and @cammy06 and I have learned so much from @murieldemai_tattoo. I am so lucky.

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It says on your Instagram that you are an oversharer, what do you mean by this? I describe myself as a “over sharing queer femme” on my profile because I don’t draw a line between my professional life and my personal life or my activism. I don’t draw a line between my tattoo practice and my overall art practice, to me, all of this is one! On my Instagram (my only platform to share my tattoos and art) I often talk about my mental illness, my medication, my body image, my sexual trauma, my asexuality, my love life, what makes me sad and what makes me proud.

I do it because it helps me, because I love people to be able to relate and be reminded that I am far from alone, but I also love to see that it helps people working through their own trauma and experiences and feel like the stigma is possible to overcome. I am very sensitive and I have no filter! I think this part of me also makes me a better tattooer. It’s my way of telling people that they can also be themselves and I will be real with them at any moment.

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Interview with Tattooist Mike Love

26-year-old hand poke tattoo artist Mike Love works out of Black Market Tattoo Parlour in Leicester and Second City Tattoo Club in Birmingham, where he creates bold and solid blackwork tattoos. We chat to Mike about his process, how he started tattooing and his guest spot plans…

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How long have you been tattooing? I’m in my third year of tattooing. I am a self taught hand poke tattooer, before this I was body piecer for around four years, there I completed a more traditional style apprenticeship. I have pretty much spent my adult life being in a tattoo shop. 

What drew you to the tattoo world? The idea and practise of self expression. In my late teen years I became massively depressed, after seeking a lot of help I really started to find myself. The things that kept me going and made me happy were tattoos and piercing. I approached a local shop about a piercing apprenticeship and from then on my life was changed. From piercing my love eventually blossomed into tattooing. I discovered hand poke tattooing and was totally transfixed by it. The process mesmerised me. Creating a tattoo by hand from one dude to another was for me. 

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Has your style of tattooing changed? What do you love to tattoo? My style of tattooing has changed and still is changing. To be honest I think it changes slightly each day. I mean everyday I try to improve what I do and learn whatever I can. But that’s what I love about tattooing, it will never be perfect. It will always stay true to what it is, yet we evolve as tattooers everyday. 

When I started tattooing I did a lot more of the typical ‘hand poke’ and more ignorant styled work, but this wasn’t me. Traditional tattooing has always had my heart and that’s what I love to see and have tattooed.  I work real hard everyday to be inspired by what I love and create bold and solid pieces that will stand the test of time. For me I love to tattoo anything that’s bold and black. I am constantly creating a lot flash, which is typically inspired by classic traditional flash or pop culture. 

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Can you tell us about your set up and the process behind your tattoos? I tattoo by hand, my set up is very minimal. I like to keep it simple and disposable. No bullshit. I hand make each tool for every tattoo combining a chopstick and a tattoo needle. I only ever tattoo in black and I keep my process vegan. 

I am very much into the technical aspect of tattooing. I am all about learning and creating a solid well lined, bold, clean and nicely shaded tattoo. Tattooing by hand is typically a really calming and relaxing process, I gently push the ink into the skin by hand using the needle. There is a lot less trauma to the skin, which typically means the tattoo heals faster and for a lot of people this can be an easier process to sit for. It also doesn’t have to take a long time which some people think it can. Typically a palm size tattoo would roughly only take a couple of hours. 

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What inspires you? Are there any artists that influence your work? Man, I am inspired everyday. Whether it’s current events, or things happening in the city that I live in. But you know what, I have so many artists that inspire and influence me, and that I look up to, I wouldn’t be able to list them all. In both shops I work in, there are incredible people and talented artists, which inspire me daily. Tattooing is my life, so most of my close friends and my partner are tattooists, so we talk tattooing a lot and try to influence and  constructively help each other. 

Can you tell us a little about your own tattoos and your style? You know, I just love tattooing. So when I was young and dumb I would have pretty much had anything and everything. Which now has left me with limited space. I don’t regret what I got though, but when I do get tattooed now I really like to get tattooed by people I really look up to and really love what they are about. So normally I chose from their flash, or get a piece they really like, as that way I feel I get a tattoo that really represents that artist. 

Trading with another tattooer is probably my favourite way to get tattooed now. I find it a great way to learn and share a cool experience with another tattooist. 

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Do you have any conventions or guest spots planned? I normally guest in another shop every month, whether it be the UK or abroad, this is one of my absolute favourite things to do in tattooing. Traveling and meeting phenomenal artists drives me to be a technically better tattooer.  Currently for the rest of this year I do not have any conventions planned, but my next coming guest spots are at One For All Collective in Manchester late August and Seny Tatttoo in Barcelona late September. I am currently taking bookings for both of these via Instagram or email.

The Best Botanical Tattoos on Instagram

Our guest writer Katie Houghton shares her favourite botanical tattoos…

It’s been scientifically proven that being around plants improves happiness, lowers anxiety, enhances your perception of space and positively adapts the air around you, so getting tattoos of plants must make you almost goddamn invincible, right? Botanical tattoos are peaking in popularity right now, and I wanted to create a list of some of the best trailing their way across Instagram.

Joanna Świrska 

The work of Poland’s Joanna Swirska almost feels like the art of screen-printing meeting skin. Layered and beautifully toned, I love how she’s blended the shape of snaisl and snippets of foliage into something solid yet sweet.

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Kate Scully

The tone of her client’s hair in contrast to the blackwork. The perfect alignment of the tattoo. The soft botany alongside the dauntless lines and thick shading. The fern. The fern. The fern. Yes, this is a love letter to Kate Scully.

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Britt

If you’re tattooing monstera deliciosa you’re probably already catching my eye in some capacity, but it was the shell and the dotwork that meant Britt’s botanical work found its way onto this list. From the blanketing of leaves to the stippling of tone, this is an undeniably pretty piece.

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Nomi Chi

Resident at Gastown Tattoo Parlour in Canada, Nomi Chi makes no apologies for her work, going big and certainly not going home. Catching my eye for all the right reasons, this is a stunning example of torso tattooing, giving botany the domination it deserves.

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Alexis Hepburn

A Sydney kid, Alexis Hepburn does botanical tattoos in a distinct, bold and unafraid fashion. Clearly inspired by the lines of 50s sailor tattoos, Alexis has taken this classic style and switched it up, giving the flora an ornamental and pretty edge.

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Pastilliam

Sticking it out in Stockholm, this work by Instagram name Pastilliam is as distinct as they come. With those thick lines juxtaposing the lushness of leaf, I love how this artist has pieces that you’d be able to spot a mile off.

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Lilly Anchor

Fine, I’m biased. Having been tattooed by Lilly already, it’s pretty easy for me to champion her work, but you only have to catch her on Instagram to see that she’s the queen of clean botany, with some of the most polished lines in the business.

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Mental Health Hearts By Callum Glover

23-year-old tattooist Callum Glover works out of Black Craft in Wakefield and Secret Society in Hartlepool and Brighton, where he creates blackwork tattoos. We chat to Callum about the hearts filled with positive messages, that he tattoos to raise money for mental health charity MIND and his own struggles with mental health…

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I got into tattooing after I had  been to college doing non art related courses and after working poorly paid jobs with little job satisfaction. I had been tattooed a few times with pretty poor tattoos before I started tattooing. But I just loved getting tattooed, so I remember going to get tattooed by a guy in his house (cringe)! This guy happened to become my best friend, he showed me a tattoo machine, asked if I’d like a try, so I did, I tattooed a small tribal design on a piece of fake skin made out of rubber. The tattoo was awful, the machine was cheap but I was hooked from then on. I’ve never been good at keeping quiet or staying still, or being told what to do, and with tattooing I saw an opportunity to do something that I’d be happy doing for the rest of my life.

So I looked and looked for around two years for an apprenticeship, all the while improving my art work, trying to find my style, which I’m still doing! I found my apprenticeship and the rest is history as they say.

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What drew me to the tattoo world was properly experiencing the tattoo world. I remember being an apprentice not knowing if I could make it as a tattoo artist, wondering if it was for me or if I fit in. Until I went to my first tattoo convention, as soon as I entered my mind was set to rest, I remember thinking this is it, this is my world, it’s where I feel at home.

Tattooing helped me so much, I could have turned out so differently, due to the struggles I’ve been through, but it’s been there for me and gave me something to get lost in. I’ve done a lot of tattoos, a lot I’m super proud of, but the ones that mean the most to me are the mental health heart tattoos I do.

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I remember where the idea came from, I myself have severe depression and anxiety and I’ve suffered for years. It’s ruined so many friendships and relationships in my life and it’s took me to some dark places. I remember having a really bad few days, where I just shut myself away, I was bitter and nasty, I thought I was a lost cause. Until I managed to drag myself through, with the help of a friend.

In the moments that followed, I decided I didn’t want to get to that point again, not only that, but I wanted to help others. So I designed a bunch of hearts, with positive messages inside. It is sometimes hard to take help from a person, and it’s usually the best option to help someone else to help themselves.

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That’s what these tattoos are, my customers come and pick from my designs or we create a personal message for them together. That way when they feel low they have a permanent reminder from themselves that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ and ‘you are enough’.

If I was hoping to spread a message, then I think the message would be ‘you are not alone’. No matter how you feel, you are not on your own, help someone help you, reach out, seek help. I want to share love and positivity with every single one of these tattoos. Every single one I do helps both my customer and myself with the daily struggles that mental health issues bring.

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I believe that we can all do more to help those in need, show love, show compassion and show understanding. Just listen, any of these things could save someone’s life – I know from experience. So I’d say the best way to help is to pay attention, notice the signs and just be there for that person.

Interview with Gaston Tonus

25-year-old guest writer Jessica Miorini chats to Gaston Tonus, an Argentinian tattoo artist based in Germany, as she gets tattooed in his private studio. Between a thigh piece and a Fritz-Kola, they chat about his unique graphic style, his inspirations and his background as a tattoo artist…

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It’s a long way from Argentina to Wiesbaden, both physically and culturally. What brought you here? Here, in Europe, I believe I can express myself better. People give me the freedom to tattoo these crazy things on them and this gives me the greatest satisfaction.

What made you want to become a tattoo artist? I first approached tattooing as I wanted to get tattooed myself. This was 20 years ago in Argentina, where I started to build my own machines and experiment with them. You’ll have to imagine a completely different industry, where there weren’t too many machines available and still a strong stigma attached to tattoos.

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How would you define your style? I would define it as graphic blackwork. It’s also sketchy and dark, but it has something more personal to it.

Among graphic tattooers, your artwork has a distinctive identity. What is your style most influenced by? The work of other tattoo artists, especially here in Europe, has definitely had a big impact on my art. My stylistic influences come from a lot of different places, from painters and cartoonists, like Caravaggio, Dürer, Mark Ryden, Alberto Breccia and H. R. Gige, to film directors, like Kubrick, Lynch, Cronenberg and Hitchcock. Music also plays an important role, there are bands that take me to a dreamland, like Tool, A Perfect Circle and Deftones, among others. I tend to mix all these different inputs together and translate them into tattoos.

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 Your works include traits of both surrealism and dark naturalism. Where do you draw your inspiration from? I find inspiration in almost all things, from nature, dreams and places, to people and buildings. I love tattooing animals, I’m a vegetarian as well, and I’m deeply inspired by nature, plants and birds, as well as manmade objects. I like to mix them, merge animals and faces, and come up with some strange and crazy combinations.

 Do you prefer to tattoo your own flash or enjoy the whole custom-made process more? Most of the time I prefer to tattoo my own pieces, as I invest so much energy and time in drawing them. But if the client’s idea speaks to me and we’re like-minded, it can turn into something even more beautiful, as this exchange of ideas and thoughts can spark my creativity even more.

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What are your favourite pieces that you’ve tattooed so far? I put too much of myself in each single piece to choose one. They all have a unique history or meaning, which will end up being completely different from my clients’.

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Finally, how has your art evolved and what further direction do you see yourself taking in the future? When I started, almost 20 years ago in Argentina, there weren’t many styles and techniques to choose from. You had magazines full of mainly tribal and traditional tattoos, and that’s what I started tattooing. With time, I started to draw more, I studied graphic design and decided to focus on my own artwork.

I never stop, I love spending my time drawing all day in my studio to make better tattoos every day. I keep pushing myself to improve and always keep an eye open for new things that might tickle my imagination. I always hope I will get to know new people, make good friends all around Europe and keep sharing experiences and good times with clients and colleagues.

Interview with Tattoo Artist Harriet Heath

Meet 30-year-old tattooer Harriet Rose Heath. She’s based in Sheffield and works as a travelling tattooer, with a permanent monthly spot at Dharma Tattoo in London. We chat to Harriet about her tattoo style, the body positive Facebook group she started and why no one should ever apologise for their body…

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What drew you to the world of tattooing, when did you start? The first thing was getting into alternative music and seeing all the band members I loved having tattoos and wanting to be like them. I got my first on my 18th birthday and have barely stopped since. I used to work in music retail and after being made redundant, I realised I needed to sort my life out. I had a lot of tattoos already by this point and drawing has always been the one thing I am good at, so it made sense to give tattooing a shot! I used to feel like it was hugely inaccessible and how could some girl just become a tattooer? These days I think it’s too accessible! A lot of hard work paid off though and now I’ve been doing it for over six years.

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How would you describe your style, both fashion/lifestyle and art/tattoos? My style has evolved a lot over the years, both in my work and in myself. I’ve always had a huge passion for tattooing girl heads, but my work used to be a lot darker in subject matter and colour palette. These days I’ve learnt to embrace fun in my work. For so long I felt that I had to conform to a set of rules, and if I did anything too feminine then I wasn’t a real tattooer.

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This carried through into how I presented myself as a person. Embracing femininity within my work has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love trying to represent all shapes, sizes and styles of women. Learning to be more unapologetic about myself has made me more unapologetic about my tattooing. I love working in colour, I love creating these fun babes that mirror my amazing clientele. I have quite a strong personal aesthetic that carries over into my work. Strength and beauty have always been the two main ideals I hope to achieve with everything I do.

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You have created a group on  Facebook called Take Up Space, can you explain what this is, why you created it and how others can get involved? I created the group after being disheartened by so many vegan and feminist groups on Facebook. Every time I joined one I felt like instead of championing people for trying, everybody was attacked for not being good enough. Your time online should never make you feel anxious and afraid. I wanted to create a space with like-minded people and really make a difference.

I’m a fat woman. I’m not ashamed to say it and I don’t think I should be. I’m happy with my body, I love how it looks and what it does, but it can be hard to navigate the world sometimes when train seats are too small, when shops don’t make clothes big enough and the world tells you that you need to minimise yourself, to become smaller and that if you are over a certain size, you are not welcome.

Learning to Take Up Space is important. Everybody is entitled to the space that they take up, both physically and more. The ethos of TUS is fat positivity, body acceptance and helping others along that journey in a warm and welcoming environment with other people that you can relate to. No restrictions on gender, size, age etc, it is for anyone who “feels big”. It’s taken me a long time to reach this level of acceptance and happiness about myself and it’s made me so happy to be able to share that wisdom with other people.

Seeing so many people grow since the birth of the group has been phenomenal. People who are now happy to wear crop tops, have bought their first ever bikini, are standing up and being more confident at work, discussing issues with people outside the group that they were too ashamed to talk about before. There is still so much negativity towards fatness, specifically in women, that we face on a daily basis, but we shouldn’t be treated as or made to feel lesser due to the vessel we exist in. If this sounds like a community you want to be a part of, search Take Up Space on Facebook and request to join then keep an eye on your inbox!

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Is it important that people become more positive about their bodies? Body positivity is a huge deal to me. So much collective brain power is wasted in this world worrying about rolls and inches and numbers and scales. I can’t tell you the number of times people have apologised for their bodies when I tattoo them, whether it’s people hating their toes, embarrassed because they forgot to shave their legs, or telling me they are sorry that I have to touch them. It breaks my heart every time. Nobody should ever have to apologise for just existing as they are!

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What would you say to others who are worried about getting tattooed because someone will be close to their body, or they perhaps don’t like their body? Please. Please. Please, do not worry. We have seen everything before. You are never too fat, too old, too hairy, too anything to get tattooed (except too young). Tattooists are professionals and should act as such. If you have self-harm scars, 99% of the time we can cover them for you, also you would be surprised how many we see all the time and a bunch of us have them ourselves. We work with skin all day long and it’s totally normal for us. If you want privacy, most studios should have blinds or screens they can put up to ensure that nobody other than the tattooist will see you. If you pick the right artist I guarantee you’ll leave feeling better about yourself! Never apologise for your body and just try to enjoy the experience!

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Can you tell us about your own tattoos, have they helped you to see your body differently? I remember getting my stomach tattooed and transforming from somebody who was horrified by the idea of my shirt lifting up when I reached for a high shelf into someone who would lift their top and say “look how great this is”. The more tattooed I get, the happier with myself I become. Looking at your body and seeing something you have taken control over, chosen yourself and turned a few inches of skin you once hated into something beautiful is a powerful thing. In summer you’ll find me in short shorts and crop tops because I just love showing off my skin. I’m proud of it not only for how it looks but as a sign of what I am able to go through and come out the other side of stronger.

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