It seems as if one of the main requirements of being a woman and inhabiting the body of a woman is that we preserve, protect and sanitise it at all costs. Virginity is the most highly prized feminine trait. Body hair is unthinkable. Proof of ageing must be combated decades in advance. Stretch marks are a secret shame. Women’s bodies should be unblemished, unmarked, smooth and pure. Signs that our bodies have deviated from this path, that we do not wrap our bodies in cotton wool, are an assault to the perception of what it means to be a woman, an assault to what we owe those that look at our bodies.
Tattoos, then, are surely the greatest attack on a collective belief in ‘pure’ womanhood. They’re a sign that a woman owns her body, that she’s refusing to accept ‘unmarked’ as a condition of femininity.
One of the most common criticisms of women with tattoos is that they are ‘unladylike’, but I take exception to this. They’re a method of reclaiming what it means to be a ‘lady’, or better, a woman. They’re a choice, they’re a commitment, they’re an expression of the self, and I’m completely sure that women have claims to these. Choosing to have tattoos means I choose to own my body, to see it as a permanent vehicle for my sense of self and that I’m choosing what I say with it.
The most perplexing part of the equation is that no one changes when they get a tattoo. Their behaviour doesn’t change, the way they relate to the world doesn’t change, it’s just, in the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘ink on a pin underneath the skin’. So why we think we can tell a good woman from a bad one by whether or not she has a tattoo is evidence again of the obsession with keeping women ‘pure’ and palatable. Heaven forbid a woman has a tattoo across her lower back, since apparently this is the litmus test for whether or not she is a ‘tramp’. So here two things are combined: desire to control women’s bodies and whether or not they have sex.
Tattoos on women offend the collective sensibility because they are bold, unmissable and non-negotiable, and those are traits I’m quite happy to associate myself with. ❦
As regular Th’ink readers will know, it’s been a dream of mine for YEARS to get tattooed by Cris Cleen at Saved Tattoo. And tomorrow, I am off to NYC. My appointment is booked for next Monday and I couldn’t be more excited.
I fell in love with Cris Cleen’s work the moment I first saw it.
Cris Cleen – artist and tattooer
His work encompasses everything I love in art and tattoos, he has a very traditional and antique style that also has a softness and femininity about it. He has created a world of ladies, flowers and butterflies that instantly drew me in when I saw his documentary short on Vimeo last year.
In this documentary, Cleen talks about the history of tattooing and how the old guys impact the way he looks and what he surrounds himself with. For Cleen, tattooing is about the whole experience, the way you look and act make a big difference and he is dedicated to giving people unique tattoos. His work and his style are almost of another era, but at the same time they are timeless and romantic, even erotic.
I have recently emailed Cris Cleen about booking an appointment with him when I go to New York next year. And luckily for me, he said he would happily tattoo me. Now all I have to do is save my pennies… (luckily I have this – New York ink fund).
New guest blog post from Christina Owen featuring the cutest little Russian doll tattoos I have ever seen…here is the story of Christina and Jess’s matching tattoos.
Christina and Jess
My friend Jess and I live a couple of hundred miles apart. She lives in Cardiff, I live in London. We work busy schedules and we don’t get to see each other much. We also both love tattoos and don’t take ourselves too seriously. So when I found time to go and see Jess for a couple of days in June, we decided the best course of action would be to get matching tattoos, for no other reason than because we are great friends, and because it will remind us that we’re always there, even though most of the time we’re, er…not.
Our friends mean the world to us. And we express that in different ways. Jess and I chose a little, girly Russian Doll tattoo, for no other reason than because we LIKED it (and that’s reason enough). Some of our friends shook their heads at us and called us silly, but to us (and to every girl out there who loves tattoos and is comfortable in her own – colourful – skin) it made perfect sense.
Jess headed to Physical Graffiti in Cardiff and spoke to Tasha Pollendine, whose cute and colourful style of tattoos we had looked up online and loved. Tasha drew us a pair of gorgeous pink matching dolls based on a picture Jess showed her. All that was left was for me to take the National Express to Cardiff and for us both to jump in the chair…
While we had our tattoos done, we both chatted to Tasha who was easygoing, friendly, patient and very talented. I grilled her, interview-style on how, why and when she got into tattooing, and made her snort with laughter and have to stop tattooing me at one stage, when I asked her if she’s ever sneezed and accidentally drawn a huge ink line down someone’s arm (probably better not to put a tattoo artist off like that when they are making permanent marks on your skin, guys). The atmosphere in the shop was relaxed, and we spent a fun couple of hours talking to the other tattoo artists and customers. Jess and I chose to have our tattoos in different places on our bodies (a nod to our own individual personalities) – she chose the back of her left ankle and I chose the back of my right upper arm.
I’m back in London now, and don’t know when I’ll see Jess next. But I now have mini-Jess on my arm to remind me that distance doesn’t really matter – good friends will always make time for one another.
I think that Mini-Jess is definitely the cutest tattoo in my collection so far. Thanks Tasha – I’m sure I’ll be back to get tattooed by you again!
This is a ‘get your tat out’ special, as Rachel talks about the tattoos on her own body and the tattoos she puts on other people’s…
What got you into tattoos? I think studying illustration at university really got me interested in tattoos. I’d never realised before that there was a whole artistic background to tattooing, past the crappy flash churned out from street shops back at home. A few people in my class at university had some really interesting tattoos and it made me realise that I could put my artistic talents to good use. My first tattoo was a tiny heart on my wrist which I got on a whim during an unplanned night trip to Brighton with a friend.
Where did you get your tattoos done? I get my tattoos done in lots of places, usually I find an artist I like via Facebook or from previously tattooing my friends. I’ve had two done at The Family Business in London, my rib piece and leg by Rachel Cavalier at Tattoo Shed in Apsley and also my Russian doll by Jake X there. Simon Erl from Jayne Doe did a Shakespeare piece on my arm and I’ve had a few small ones done by Oli Christensen. I recently travelled up to Sheffield to get a Wizard of Oz tattoo done by the amazingly talented apprentice, Amy Williams. A few of my tattoos have also been done by my boss at the shop I work in, which is a bonus as they are done for free!
Have you got any more planned? I’ve got lots more in the pipeline, but it’s just finding the time and money. I’d like to get lots more added to the Cinderella piece I have on my left arm, maybe a castle and the dress which she makes herself before her step sisters rip it apart. I’d like to get portraits of my parents on my back and more Victorian book illustration style pieces around my Fornasetti tattoo.
Where does your inspiration come from? Although cheesy, almost all of my tattoos have been inspired by Walt Disney films! I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, so a few of my tattoos seem to be based around love and happy endings.
How would you describe your style? I really like traditional tattoo art with a modern twist, I guess neo-traditional. Victoriana seems to be pretty ‘in’ at the moment, but I’ve loved imagery and art from the Victorian period and also renaissance for as long as I can remember.
Is there anyone you would like to get tattooed by? I’d love to get tattooed by Tiny Miss Becca, but from what I’ve heard she has a super-long waiting list! It would be awesome to get tattooed by any of the artists from Spider Murphy’s, my shop recently bought their book and every page of flash is incredible.
Do your tattoos have meanings? I guess the majority of my tattoos have meanings, if I really think about why I got them. The Russian doll on my arm has ‘Mum’ written on it, because the big babushka dolls hold and protect all the smaller ones inside them. I guess my Mum is like my protector. I have a large piece of Marie Antoinette on my ribs – I am fascinated by her life story and like the fact that she went against her heritage and lived her life the way she wanted to.
What’s it like to be a tattoo apprentice? Being a tattoo apprentice is amazing! I was so lucky to get the job, I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I was in the last month of my degree and walked past a local tattoo parlour – The Grasshopper in Harrow – and they were advertising for a new apprentice. I brought my portfolio back in an hour later, and did a few initial designs for them and the boss decided to take me on the following week. It was unpaid for the first couple of months and the majority of the time I was just cleaning grips, dealing with customers, cleaning the studio and doing some design work for my boss. Now I’ve been there almost a year, I’ve started tattooing customers and I’m in my final stages before I get my licence. I guess it’s a very competitive industry, especially with social networking being such a big part of advertising yourself. There’s so many tattoo shops within a five mile radius of my shop so, with so much competition, it’s important to try and be the best you can be.
How would you describe your style of tattooing? I wouldn’t say my style was all neo-traditional, but it can be seen throughout most of my designs. I like using bright colours and lots of pretty imagery, too. I try to look at what a customer wants and add my own touch, instead of outright copying someone – I would hate for someone to do that to me. However, with neo-traditional tattooing so popular at the moment, I guess it’s hard to constantly come up with completely original ideas for pieces.
Which artists (tattoo or otherwise) are you inspired by? There’s so many artists who inspire me at the moment. I love Rachel McCarthy’s use of colour and cuteness in her designs – the same with Amy Savage from Jayne Doe. I get a lot of inspiration for my drawings from illustrators as well, such as Tara McPherson and Lucy Oldfield. And I like to go to museums and galleries to discover new ideas.
How do you learn? Who do you practice on? Initially, my boss got me to do lots of drawing and paintings to get a feel for tattoo design and technique. I’d watch him tattooing his customers and he’d explain to me what he was doing and why. Then I went on to tattooing potatoes, to try and get a feel of the machine and depth. I have to thank my friends for allowing me to practice on them too! We’d have lessons after hours – where I’d bring a friend along and my boss would shadow me and talk me through what I was doing. Gradually, over several months, I became more confident and then started doing small simple pieces on paying customers. I’m really grateful for everything my boss has taught me, he’s a really good teacher and has an eye for all sorts of art and design – as well as different medias such as egg tempera painting and mosaics, which was really interesting for me as I come from a fine art background.
And here is selection of tattoos by Rachel – I love her girly style
– she’s definitely my new tattoo crush and I think she is an amazing tattoo artist herself… Rachel I would love to get tattooed by you one day!
I decided a couple of months ago I would like to make a film about the London Tattoo Convention, so I enlisted the help of Papercut Pictures. I never dreamt for a moment I could actually do it. But, I am pleased to announce the release of my first ever film…
This film is the first in a series for Zeitgeist Magazine. Shot at the London Tattoo Convention on September 23rd, 24th and 25th 2011, this film provides an overview of the convention and asks some of the notable attending artists their feelings on the convention.
From traditional Samoan done by hand, to antique Victoriana and old-school Americana, we spoke to some of the leading artists of each style about their particular take on the art form. This film shows the artist’s views on the convention itself. The next film will concentrate on the artist’s and their motivations behind tattooing. Keep watching for future installments.
In order of appearance:
Chad Koeplinger (Paradise Tattoo, Washington D.C.)
Amanda Wachob (Daredevil Tattoo, New York City)
Claudia De Sabe (Jolie Rouge, London)
Deno Jr. (Circus Tattoo, Madrid)
Jo Harrison (Modern Body Art, Birmingham)
Zele (Zagreb Tattoo, Zagreb)
Michelle Myles (Daredevil Tattoo, New York City)
Brian Thomas Wilson and Ryan Mason (Scapegoat Tattoo, Portland)
Steve Vinall (The Family Business, London)
Uncle Allan (Conspiracy Inc., Copenhagen)
Jason Donahue (Idle Hand Tattoo, San Francisco)
Doctor Matt Lodder being tattooed by Uncle Allan
Alex Binnie (Into You, London/Brighton) talking about his new collection of wood block prints
Ryan Mason (Scapegoat Tattoo, Portland)
Pili Mo’o (Mo’o Tatau, Tenerife)
Marcus Berriman (London Tattoo Convention Organiser)
Honkeyfinger – ‘HonknSkronkn’ & ‘Margarine Man’
Black Mass – ‘To The Cross’
The Lysergic Suite – ‘Earth and Water’