Things&Ink is an independent tattoo magazine that takes an artistic approach to content. We strive to create stunning photo shoots using tattoo artists and people with interesting stories to tell. Carefully curated, the editorial content discusses tattoos against their rich cultural history and current tattoo trends. The magazine is for artists, collectors and those yet to go under the needle...
Tattoo artist Peggy B creates magical blackwork tattoos out of Grace Neutral’s Femme Fatale tattoo studio in London. We chatted to Peggy about her beautifully recognisable style and the energy she brings to her work…
How did you start tattooing? I was getting tattooed a lot at uni, and over the years I became friends with a tattooer. I ended up buying a machine with his help and with my own understanding of what tattooing was, I started my journey.
What was the first tattoo you did? The first one which didn’t fade after two weeks was a smiley face on my pinky finger.
What made you want to become a tattooist? I think tattooing chose me more than I was me looking for it. Moving to London at a young age and soaking up the culture of this city has had a big influence on me and my tattooing. The tattoo industry here is different to my home town, it’s been introduced to me from a different point of view. My experiences of the London tattoo scene, the craft and the culture are definitely a couple of things which made me go for it. Over the years it took my heart and all the spare time I had, and quickly it became my passion. It has taken a while but, patience is everything. It feels like tattooing is just my way to express myself in the best way possible. Creating imaginary creatures and immortal flowers, hanging out with the most wonderful artists and making people smile, it’s just such a beautiful job to have.
How would you describe your style? It’s definitely black work, maybe a little bit illustrative. But I wish I could call it “just magical!” I want people to feel the energy flowing through the moment when they look at my work.
Where would you like to take your work? To the other dimension, or as far as it can go.
How has your tattooing changed? The industry keeps developing for me. The more trust I am lucky enough to get the more creative I can become. Patience and working with the people who trust you is the only way to progress. Once the trust is built you can create such an amazing experience. And I think this is why I can work on my style more and more.
What inspires you? Anything and everything.
We love how you use the natural curves and shapes of the body and nature for your tattoos, do you prefer to work freehand like this or from flash? I don’t have preferences. I enjoy the experience of it. I am always trying to suggest a freehand piece just because it flows more naturally with your body, and I can make it so it exactly fits the area you planned to get tattooed. And it’s fun! I love when my work wraps a lot so you need to move yourself to show it off. When I am adding star dust to my pieces it’s my favourite part to. It’s making it all more magical and you can feel the flow of it.
What would you like to do more of? Keep creating magic on people that they can keep for ever and all the other things that make me happy!
We just can’t get enough of new tattoo artists, and this is what fuels our Apprentice Love series. A selection of posts and interviews in which we like to showcase new talent in the industry. Hannah Gehrke is a tattoo apprentice at Broadside Tattoo in Swansea, UK, who our editor Rosalie was lucky enough to be tattooed by too.
How long have you been tattooing and how did you get into the industry? I’ve been tattooing for a little over two years and apprenticing at my shop, Broadside, for three years so far! I’m part of the herd; I did the normal thing of doing my A Levels and going to University where I studied counselling and psychology with the aim of being an art therapist, but it wasn’t panning out how I wanted it to. Art was still a big hobby of mine though, and half way through my final year of university when I was writing my dissertation and preparing my final exams, I saw Broadside advertising for an apprenticeship position and I just went for it!
Scott allowed me to apprentice at the shop whilst doing my university work which worked out well, and now I both have a degree and a job that I absolutely adore (I didn’t get the first in my degree I was hoping for, but we won’t talk about that). I wouldn’t change it for the world now. This is basically a form of art therapy anyway so I have the best of both worlds!
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist? I’m going to say it: Miami Ink. It was always on the TV at home and it had a big impression on me. In my tweens I was watching it and just thinking, this is so cool! I love it! I didn’t know any people with tattoos then, so this TV show was really my only source of knowledge. As I grew, tattoos were slowly introduced to me by friends, and I’ve been hooked ever since. My mum booked her first tattoo in her 40s before I booked my first at 18, and I wasn’t having that so I snuck in an appointment before her. Sorry Mum!
I’ve always been creative and loved art at school, even though l ended up packing it in because I lost my spark and I didn’t think that pursuing any career in art was doable, let alone tattooing, or more so that I wasn’t capable enough, but here I am! Living my dream. Sometimes I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact I actually do this for a living and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. A little determination and perseverance goes a long way. I’ve had a lot of support from my family, friends and my boyfriend, and without them I don’t think I’d have done this and got to where I am today.
How does it feel being a woman in the tattoo industry? It feels great and I’m honoured to be a part of it. I’m very much aware that tattooing is quite the male dominated industry, but times are changing and I’m very happy to be involved.
There are so many fantastic female artists out there who’re a huge source of inspiration to me, such as Lucy O’connell, Sadee Glover, Natalie Gardiner, Debbie Jones: I want to be like them one day! I also like to think that in 10 or so years time, maybe a young girl my age now will think, if she can do it, so can I. It’s all about supporting each other and holding each other up, and as much as I’m here for all my girls, I’m here for all my boys too.
How would you describe your style? Has this changed since you started, what direction would you like it to go in? I’d say my style leans more towards colour neotraditional, but I bring a lot of illustrative, “organic” elements into my work too. Dotwork is also something I do a lot of. Generally, I just draw, and what comes out… comes out.
I’ve noticed big changes in style since I started tattooing, and it’s only been two years! I can’t wait to see what I’m working like in another two. As I’m still an apprentice, I’m still learning and adapting to different styles too. I’m happy to do traditional, black work, I’ve tried black and grey, script, Japanese and Maori… it’s adding more strings to my bow and I love learning new methods, however I would like to purely work in my own style one day, and the demand is growing which is amazing! But if someone wants something which isn’t my usual style, I’m more than happy to do it and I think being able to do a little bit of everything is important. I want to have my fingers in all the pies!
What inspires your tattoos? Happiness! I love making people happy! Whether that happiness is derived from a majorly colourful Kewpie dressed as Dolly Parton, or a blackwork tombstone commemorating the death of your diet, if it makes you happy I’m all about it.
I work with some fantastic artists and Swansea has a lovely little hub of us who all to different styles, so there’s endless inspiration. I’m also a really big fan of vintage Hallmark designs and botany books, and I reference them throughout my work frequently. I take a lot of my own reference photos too, whether that be wildlife, plants or myself (I have nice hands, OK?!)
What do you love to tattoo and what would you like to do more of? The list of things I love tattooing is endless! I really enjoy doing florals and botanicals, they’re always my go to, however I also absolutely adore tattooing the more obscure and personal. Does your nana have a brooch that you’ve always wanted to get your hands on? Did you really enjoy that hotdog you ate in New York back in 2011 and haven’t stopped thinking about it since? I want to tattoo it! I want you to have a memory to wear forever, and it’s such a wonderful feeling being part of the process and making it happen; I get to share and cherish your memories with you. Meaningful or meaningless (and it’s ok to get a tattoo with no meaning just because it looks cool!), I’ll work with whatever you want and do my best to turn it into a tattoo for you, and generally the more detail I can get into something, the better!
How does tattooing make you feel? Including the tattoos you create and the tattoos you have on your own body. When I’m tattooing, I don’t think about anything else. I’m completely engrossed in what I’m doing and don’t have the time to think about anything but the tattoo; I’m in my own little bubble! Don’t get me wrong, throughout this learning process there have been tears and tribulations, but thankfully they’ve just made me work harder, and my will to succeed is huge. I really, really want to do well and there is absolutely nothing that can stop me. I’ll have my ups and downs, but that’s all part of it and I respect that.
I don’t think there’s any better feeling than completing a tattoo and not only being proud of it, but your client being proud of it too. I’m not in it just for myself, and I’m aware how much of an impact a tattoo can have on a client regardless of how big or small, simple or intricate, and I want them to walk away from the experience fulfilled because that’s how my own tattoos make me feel.
Tattoos have allowed me to accept and love the parts of my body I didn’t, show off my interests and memories… they’re more than just tattoos; they are my own personal accessories and I wear them all proudly, old and new. Tattoos and tattooing are a major source of joy in my life, and I want to share that with as many people as I can.
The worldwide tattoo charity event is back on Sunday 9th June 2019
Born in 2015 by tattooer Ashley Love, Still Not Asking For It, an annual tattoo event, aims to bring people together to support and speak out about sexual assault and abuse. In their own words the charity fundraiser is ‘making efforts for awareness, prevention and recovery from sexual violence.’
Starting out in a just one tattoo shop, this year’s tattoo event sees over 80 tattoo shops and hundreds of tattooists and artists from around the world taking part in a co-ordinated charity flash day. From London to New Jersey, Johannesburg to Florence, tattoo shops are coming together to support this event and survivors.
Tattoo designs will be available from each artist in the shops, and the proceeds of these will raise money for local and national organisations that fight for issues around sexual violence. Each shop or artist will choose a charity to donate to, and since 2015 the event has raised and donated $367,000.
Just some of the tattoo shops taking part on June 9th:
Yellow Rose Tattoo, Salt Lake City
Red Point Tattoo, London
Diving Swallow Tattoo, California
Lotus Body Adornment, Utah
Lizzie Renaud, Toronto
Ninth Wave Tattoo, New Jersey
Tooth and Talon Tattoo, Manchester
Black Iris Tattoo, New York
And many many more
Here at Things & Ink we like to share our love for finding new tattooists and support those who are making a name for themselves in the industry. Lucy Alice is a tattoo apprentice and true cat lady, who tattoos out of Cat’s Cradle Tattoo Studio in Rawtenstall, Lancashire UK.
How long have you been tattooing and how did you start your apprenticeship This is a super long story, so I’ll just attempt to keep it short and sweet. I’ve been tattooing just over a year now at Cat’s Cradle. I have had a few apprenticeships here and there before this one though. I started an apprenticeship when I was 18 and had another after that, but unfortunately both didn’t work out due to other commitments. I’m 24 now so it’s been a long journey but totally worth it. When you want something this much, you have to work for it and accept that it’ll take some time.
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist? I’ve always been into art, since I can remember. I’d spend my Saturday job money on paints and sketchbooks every single week without fail. I never knew what career path I wanted to take until I was 17. We have two hair salons in the family so it was almost compulsory to go into the hair business. It was only until a customer asked what I’d like to do eventually, when my colleague said she could see me being a tattoo artist. So here we are!
How does it feel being a woman in the tattoo industry? To be honest, I haven’t had too much experience whilst tattooing. I’ve been extremely lucky with my clients, they’ve all been amazing. So that side has been great so far. Whilst apprenticing at other studios, I do believe woman are treated differently. I get told far too often that I’m too nice and therefore get taken advantage of frequently. I’m really lucky to be in a studio now in which I feel equal and taken care of. And let’s not leave out tattooed women in general! The looks we get, the amount of people that grab your arm to “take a closer look”. Not forgetting the “what about on your wedding day?” speeches from the older generation.
How would you describe your style? This is always a difficult one for me. I’d say traditional with a little crazy spin. I love drawing faces on anything! Using wacky colours for animals that aren’t technically that colour (*ahem* pink). I draw a lot of cute bits and bobs but still love old school traditional. Muted colours mixed with brights are my favourite colour palettes.
What inspires your tattoos? Are there any artists that you love? My cats. End of. I say every day that I just flipping love cats! I currently have five so they give me a lil’ inspiration now and again. My all time favourite artist is definitely Jemma Jones from Sacred Electric. I get tattooed by Jemma when I can and have followed her work for years. She inspires me on the daily and she’s just a lovely person in general. Some other artists I absolutely love are Harriet Heath, Gemma Carter and Kelly Smith.
What do you love to tattoo and what would you like to do more of? I absolutely LOVE tattooing cats. Big cats, small cats, they’ll all do. I also love tattooing cherubs, babies, moons, clowns, lady heads, any animals. Basically if it’s cute, I wanna tattoo it!
How does tattooing make you feel? Including the tattoos you create and the tattoos you have on your own body. It’s a crazy feeling when you really think about it. The fact that people enjoy my work enough to have it on their skin forever. It’s incredible. The pieces that I have on my own body make me feel so much more confident. I’ve collected pieces by all of my favourite artists and couldn’t be happier with the outcome. I love that when I get tattooed, people recognise pieces by different artists. It’s nice to know that they have perfected their own styles enough to distinguish it amongst others. That’s what I’m aiming for.
Disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I speak only for myself and my own experiences. I do not generalise or speak for anyone else. I also do not prescribe or recommend things that I do. If others find some common ground or connection with things I say, it brings me no little joy.
Although I have been a writer for Things & Ink for years, in the printed issues and then occasionally online for the blog, I would like to introduce myself here in a more personal way and using three key existentially descriptive phrases. I am an academic: I have a PhD in philosophy, and I teach in Women’s & Gender Studies at a university. I am a tattoo scholar: I have written about and researched tattoo history, philosophy, and culture for about a decade, and I have been getting tattooed for roughly 24 years now. I live with depression and the lasting effects of PTSD: I have Dysthymia, what is also called high-functioning depression, and I was diagnosed in my 30s while being treated for PTSD.
I’ve had depression since I was a teenager. It went undiagnosed because my outward behaviour didn’t fit the accepted stereotype of ‘depression’ in the 1990s. It was difficult for medical professionals to see it in my 20s and early 30s since I had completed successfully grad and postgrad education, I had a busy teaching schedule, tons of side projects, friends, and a smile on my face. What they needed to understand was that the overachieving, the grueling workaholic attitude, the hyper perfectionist punishing mentality, the desire to be constantly busy with work or to never sit in silence, was in fact the evidence of my struggle. Away from public eyes, I barely slept, I drank to quiet the chaos and darkness in my head, and I was emotionally numb and yet utterly raw. I thought about dying all the time, and then felt guilty about it because that would mean I’d fail to get my work done and as a result let others down. I was very good at hiding what I was, I had perfected it over years, that is until PTSD knocked my legs out from under me. That’s when my façade cracked and my issues came oozing out. The therapist I was sent to saw through me immediately, she helped me get my diagnosis and begin the process of sorting out the mess I was.
While going through all that old, heavy baggage, the buried trauma, and my bad habits, one of my older coping strategies became a focus for our discussions: tattooing.
Over 24 years I have been asked many times by friends, colleagues, and passersby on the sidewalk why I get tattooed. Most of the time, especially with strangers, the answer ends up being something like: “Well because I like it,” or “It’s a meaningful experience and empowering act of self-expression for me,” or sometimes when I feel cheeky I say “I really liked colouring books as a kid, and I wanted to be one when I grew up”. These are all casual answers that move the conversation along and don’t get too deep. For Things & Ink I’ve written articles on the relationship between tattooing and positive body image and the quest to redefine beauty for myself, and these can get pretty personal, but the truth is I can go deeper.
I’ve never spoken about the other reason I get tattooed, that it’s a part of my mental health strategy.
I will openly admit as a teen I was a cutter and I engaged in activities that damaged my body physically or put me at great risk to. When reflecting on this many years later in therapy, I came to realise that I was doing these things to myself because the pain I caused allowed me to stop thinking about the pain inside of me that I couldn’t shut up, escape, or exorcise. I got my first tattoo at 17 and I remember feeling different afterwards. Like I found a new sense of energy.
With each new tattoo I would look at my body differently, with a sense of love and belonging that pleased me.
It also pissed my mother off, so that was just a bonus! Best of all, I stopped cutting and hurting myself. I took this relationship with pain, something dark and potentially ugly, and developed it into something much more aesthetically pleasing and a lot less bone breaking.
The most important thing tattooing does is help me focus, reset, and train my mind. One of my biggest triggers happens when things in my life get really out of control, when I feel swept up and carried off in a current of chaos that every coping strategy I have fails to assist with. Death, disease, job instability, chronic illness, death, death, death, etc., all happening at once will do it. All that pain and anger takes me so long to let go of, I fixate and obsess night and day, and then I can start to engage in unhealthy and destructive habits, and the spiraling goes further down. When I get tattooed it gives me a chance to focus on pain that I am causing myself, and that pain has a start and a finish. I am in control of the pain, I can control my response to it, I can stop the session when I can’t take it anymore, and that pain has a result that is empowering physically and psychologically.
With tattooing the pain produces a beautiful scar on my body, which is so much nicer than the emotional and psychological scars depression leaves and the physical ones I give myself if I enter into self-damage mode.
Through tattooing I have gained better coping skills when life throws horrible shit at me: I have more confidence that I am strong enough and I can find my way through it; I am able to process things easier and I can reach some kind of acceptance with what is happening. Sometimes I go get tattooed when I feel like my mind is sinking into repetitive trauma patterns or it’s stuck in dark mode, because it allows me to fixate on a different type of pain and this jump starts my brain, so to speak. It’s a kind of cognitive behavioural therapy. I still have a therapist that I see, but tattooing is a way for me to seek support within myself, and a trusted artist along for the ride.
Tattooing has also helped me heal old, deep psychological and physical wounds. In addition to depression I have an autoimmune disease, and it’s an unpredictable fucking asshole. It seems to baffle the medical community from time to time (I love feeling like an experiment or a freakshow specimen so much!) When it decides to flare up, it kicks my ass making me so sick I can barely move. I try to learn what triggers it so I can prevent these instances, but you never figure them all out and learning is always the hard way. I was diagnosed as a teenager and it sent my life into hell for a while. I came out of the hospital utterly fragile, and feeling beaten, frustrated, and very angry. I hated my body and when combined with my depression and self-worth issues I sunk low and into the destructive tendencies I described.
Tattooing has allowed me to love my body, to bond with it and find ways to make it beautifully mine. It has become MY body, the one that I care for and nurture and protect. I can cover all those old destructive scars and angry cutting marks with beautiful colours and symbols of my personal battles. I can heal the tattoos carved into my skin, and with them also my bad feelings about my body.
I should also add, that because I have been lucky to find so many wonderful artists, that getting tattooed has allowed me to trust others again. When you’ve been traumatized and/or struggle with mental health issues, it is hard to be vulnerable and comfortable with people. To feel any sense of safety in this world and to trust others in a situation that is emotionally and physically vulnerable is really a huge step forward. While I would never say a tattoo artist is on par with a therapist, I will say the services they provide can be more than just aesthetic beauty via needles and ink. The good ones become a friend and confidant. The wonderful artists who work on my body have become valuable parts of my journey to wellbeing and a better self.
Kimberly’s stomach tattoo
Over the last few years I have gone through traumatic things that really tested my abilities to cope. What I’ve lost and survived my mind is not so easily processing at times and letting go of. I’m struggling and sinking but I am not defeated. As an act to refocus my mind and remind me that I can persevere, I decided late last year to tattoo my stomach with imagery that is symbolic of a phrase I often say to myself: a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. It’s a battered looking ship, flanked by beautifully vicious sirens, and a kraken underneath attempting to pull it below. In the background is a beautiful bright red and orange sunset. When I see it every day in the mirror it reminds me that I’ve survived what the universe has thrown at me thus far, and I can be strong enough to take on whatever comes. I might be damaged but I am not completely broken. I can battle onward, or at least try my best to with what I have. Plus, I sat still through 4 sessions of stomach tattooing (roughly 3 hours each), which was NOT fun at all, and I did it without surgical drugs or screaming. So, if I can do that then I can handle a lot of things.
I’m not fixed or cured, not by any sense of the word, but I am better. I am psychologically, emotionally, and aesthetically a work in progress.
Tattoo by Dustin Barnhart, Berlin Tattoo in Kitchener, Ontario. Photo taken by Rob Faucher.
CBC Arts is part of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and it’s home to the most surprising, relevant and provocative stories featuring artists from diverse communities across Canada. In light of this, producer Lise Hosein, recently launched a digital series on their feed called Art Hurts. The series features some of the most innovative tattoo artists in Canada, who are also all female-identifying or gender non-binary.
Producer Lise Hosein explains the inspiration behind the series:
This series came about mainly because I’m fascinated by tattoos and wanted to focus on some who had a compelling and really recognisable aesthetic, to really shine a light on the art and design that goes into tattoos. And along the way, I happily realised that there’s a growing community of female and non binary artists who are changing the landscape. So we decided to focus exlusively on them! And I hope we’ll get to do more.
These tattoo artists had been chosen because they have written meaning and symbology in their tattoos that is created in a way that it resonates with the people who get them, they are also doing new things with the craft, helping to bring it into a new era of tattooing.
Watch the first episode here, featuring Toronto based Ilona Fiddy, then head to the CBC Arts channel for more in the series.
Art Hurts: You tattoo your body to show you value it | Episode 1 - YouTube
Tattoo artist Laura McLean works out of South City Market in London, creating blackwork, blast overs and minimal styled tattoos. We caught up with Laura to find out more about the tattoos she creates and how she chooses to decorate her own body…
What drew you to the blackwork style of tattoos? I love tattoos that are bold and impactful from the moment you look at them. My style has definitely changed quite a bit since I first started tattooing and I’m sure it will evolve more as I get further into my career, which I’m excited for.
Is this the style that you have decided to decorate your own body with too? My tattoos on my own body are pretty varied. I have some realism, some blackwork, some fineline black and grey, some neo-traditional and a lot of shitty doodles that I did on my own legs before I knew how to tattoo. I don’t have any colour tattoos because I’ve just never been drawn to them. I pretty much have my whole body planned out, I just need to follow through with it all. The end goal is a lot more heavy blackwork.
What inspired you to get tattooed and start tattooing others? I honestly don’t know! There was never really a question in my mind that I was going to get tattooed and tattoo other people, it was just a given, and I have a pretty impulsive personality so I never really gave it much thought.
What do tattoos and tattooing mean to you? I’m obsessed with tattoos. They’re the only thing I’ve ever felt completely passionate about and the only way I feel I’m effectively able to express myself, both through my own tattooing and the tattoos I have on my body. I think tattoos are really important in that way. It makes me super grateful that I’m able to do this for a living at the most amazing studio surrounded by such talented artists.
What sorts of things do you like to tattoo, is there anything you’d like to do more of? Something I’m looking to do more of in 2019 is large scale projects, the bigger the better. I’m keen to black out some limbs! And more blastovers! I’m a huge fan of the way blastovers look.
Your style is fierce yet feminine, would you use these words to describe yourself and your work? I’ve always considered my work to be pretty balanced between the masculine and feminine. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as feminine. I actually find describing my work really difficult, I still don’t really know how to answer that question despite being asked it a lot.
London based, freelance graphic designer Ellen Danielle Duffy, decided to create Brave Collective while kicking some breast cancer ass. A brand who are purveyors of merch inspired by rock culture, spreading the word on cancer in young adults. We chatted to Ellen about the brand’s ethos, her diagnosis and of course, tattoos…
Founded by someone who has had cancer for anyone affected by cancer, Brave Collective provide a platform for young adults to tell their story and support each other. No young adult should ever have to face cancer alone and I’ve seen first-hand the power that a support network can have.
I firmly believe that no matter who you are or where you’re from we’re all in this together; we’re braver together.
Whether you’ve had cancer yourself, are caring for someone with cancer, or are a friend, family member or loved one, we’re here as a reminder that you’ve got this and we’ve got you.
What inspired you to create the brand and what message do you hope to spread? Every year in the UK 12,500 young adults are told they have cancer.
Throughout my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve found there’s a shortage in age-specific support for young adults with cancer. Many charities offer support for teens or adults aged 25-45, but the reality is a person in their 20s or 30s is at a very different place in their life to someone in their 40s. Your 20s and 30s are the years that have the potential to shape and influence the rest of your life and it’s for this very reason that age-specific support at this time is so important. That’s why Brave Collective chose to partner with and donate a percentage of their product sales to three awesome charities – Trekstock, CoppaFeel! and Wigs For Heroes – not only are they raising awareness, but they bridge that gap and what they offer is invaluable to any young adult living with and beyond cancer.
As a brand, we want to raise as much awareness as we possibly can, showing what cancer in your 20s and 30s really looks like by sharing the stories of some incredible individuals and continuing to raise money for these amazing charities and their life-changing work.
Can you tell us about your diagnosis and your treatment so far? I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of summer last year when I was 28-years-old. I’ve since had chemotherapy, extensive reconstructive surgery and I’m currently undergoing radiotherapy – the last stage of my treatment.
It’s been a long and very tough year. I’ve had to temporarily put much of my life on pause for a year in order to save it. It’s been difficult seeing how my diagnosis has impacted my family and partner and watch friends lives continue to move forward, as they should, whilst I fight for my own. All of this aside and as cliche as it feels to say, through all of the hardships and heartbreak there have been some pretty incredible moments and through sharing my story on Instagram, I’ve met some incredible people along the way.
My doctors have recently told me I’m now cancer free and I still can’t quite believe it – I still have to stop myself from saying “I have cancer” because I HAD cancer, and I kicked its ass.
How has having cancer affected the way you view your body and your relationship with it? I’ve had a love hate relationship with my body over the course of the last year. I’ve lost trust in my body since my diagnosis and it’s going to be a lengthy process to rebuild this, but together we’ve been through a lot so I try to be kind.
Like so many others, almost all of my hair fell out during chemotherapy. Making the transition from looking well to visibly poorly so quickly was hard and there were times I found it difficult looking at my reflection in the mirror. At the time making the decision to shave my head felt huge – it may have seemed like ‘just hair’ to some but it was this moment that really concreted my diagnosis and what was happening to me. The relief I felt once I’d made the commitment was overwhelming. Taking charge felt really good, like I’d regained just a small amount of the control I lost during this time. I’ve since taken this time as an opportunity to experiment – I’d always wanted grey hair but no colourist would touch my decades worth of home bottle-dyed jet black hair! Thanks to wigs this was finally possible for me.
Since surgery I have a pretty big scar that runs from underneath my left breast to my shoulder blade and another in my armpit. I’m proud of the marks that cancer has left on my body; much like some of my tattoos they’re meaningful for me – they symbolise the hardest year of my life and everything I’ve overcome.
What inspired you to start getting tattooed? I knew from young age that I wanted tattoos. I love everything about them – the creativity, the process, the culture. There’s something quite special about being able to collect art in a way that is so personal and individual to you.
Most of my tattoos are inspired by traditional mehndi and I have quite a few pieces by Sway and Matt Chahal. My favourites are the deity on my arm (Sway) and the tiger on my leg (Matt Chahal). I’m looking forward to getting more once my treatment is over and have a bucket list of artists from around the world that I’d love to be tattooed by.
What’s next for you and Brave Collective? I’m always working on new ideas for the brand. There’s a number of artists I’d love to collaborate with, tattoo artists included. I’m currently working on a collaboration with illustrator, Matt Sabbath and products should be available to shop in May of this year. I’m really excited about this, he’s an awesome artist and I massively respect his work.
I’d love to eventually reach the stage where we’re raising awareness, offering a platform of support and showcasing our brand at gigs and music festivals alongside some of the bands and artists we love. If through all of this I can help even a handful of young adults dealing with a cancer diagnosis and those closest to them, then I’ll be happy.
And for me personally, I’m trying to adjust to life after cancer. It’s been one hell of ride.
Dr Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, is Sessional Lecturer for Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and Social Justice & Peace Studies at King’s University College (Western), Advisory Board Member at the Centre for Tattoo History and Culture and Associate Editor for Journal of Camus Studies. Kimberly who was also a regular contributor to Things&Ink when the magazine was in print, recently talked to Paul Fairfield as part of the Philosophy Crush podcast, in which they discuss the connection between tattooing and philosophy. After listening to their conversation we were keen to find out more…
Can you elaborate further on women and tattooing. Drawing on your own experience what change in tattoo subjects have you seen between the sexes? Do you think these are influenced by more than just personal taste?
While it seems like there has always been a difference in the kinds of tattoos men and women get (e.g., the Maori facial Moko, the Taiwanese Atayal facial tattoos, Sailer Jerry Femini-graphics, etc.) or in some cases certain tattoos only to be applied to women (e.g., Ancient Ainu facial tattoos, inner thigh tattoos in ancient Egypt, facial tattoo patterns of the Berber women), today what I find stands out as a gender difference are the reasons many women get tattoos. I feel like, at least in the Western world, the tattoo subject matter women get is so vast and diverse, things once viewed as only for men or as masculine tattoos are now on women’s bodies.
I’ve seen very heavy black lined or filled tattoos on women, and I’ve seen pin-up girls, cars and trucks, and horror movie icons on women too. But the one thing I have heard many times from women, is the idea of reclaiming their beauty and their body from patriarchy and male-dominated perceptions of beauty. Some of these women have recovered from eating disorders, or have combated mental illness and suicide, or have survived breast cancer where a double mastectomy was performed.
They are reclaiming their bodies and defining their own sense of beauty by new standards and ideas – emphasis on their own. They are using tattoos to heal and like a butterfly emerge from a dark shell.
I have heard these kinds of comments from both cis and trans women, and it’s always point at beauty and reconnection with the self. In other words, fuck patriarchy! It’s reminiscent of the works of modern feminist writers like Naomi Wolf, Sandra Bartky, and Susan Bordo and their calling attention to how patriarchy uses beauty to oppress women and it does so by restricting the body and controlling behaviour. Tattooing becomes an act of defiance and reclamation, and it’s extremely powerful. I can’t say I’ve heard men do this. I wouldn’t say no man has ever done this, I’m sure there are examples, but it’s not a common male experience to reclaim beauty from patriarchy from what I can tell.
In this way I think the difference in what men and women tattoo on their bodies can and does boil down to more than just personal taste much of the time. It’s really based in the journey you find yourself on. Personal taste is bound up in here, of course, but I think just saying it’s all personal taste really underestimates and fails to represent the truth of the differences at play.
You argue that tattooing has been seen as uncivilised and savage, do you think these thoughts inflect how women with tattoos are seen and treated?
I should start by saying that I’m not the only one to present this point, there are several other tattoo scholars who talk about the colonial, racist and Eurocentric attitudes that prevailed and to a degree still remain today in some circles and places. In my opinion and based on my own experiences, the ways that these attitudes have come to affect tattooed women is that they are often become regarded as highly erotic sexual objects and/or they are underestimated in intelligence and ability (I say ‘and/or’ because these attitudes can happen separately or together).
To restate this bluntly, tattooed women come to viewed as sexually adventurous, easy to fuck, immature, dim, and incapable serious or executive work.
You don’t see this same attitude voiced when we see Aquaman Jason Mamoa or David Beckham all covered in tattoos: they may be viewed as sexually attractive but no one thinks they are incapable of authority, intelligence, or exercising prudence with sex. When I think of how tattooed women are viewed, I see it as encapsulated succinctly in the name given to and perceptions about the lower back tattoo known as the ‘tramp stamp’. A guy with a lower back tattoo is not labelled as such. These attitudes and preconceived notions can make it difficult for tattooed women to get certain jobs, or a promotions, or in my case seen as equal with my academic or professional peers. There’s an awful irony in listening to people who will quote something MLK-esque saying that you can only judge someone by the content of their character and not other arbitrary features like skin colour, faith, or ethnicity and yet that same person will regard a tattooed women as somehow less worthy of respect or dignity. It is getting better, which is nice to see, but when it comes to upper level management, executive level positions, or academic jobs the same shit still exists and isn’t getting better. It hurts tattooed women – period.
It also divides us sometimes too, because non-tattooed women who hold these patriarchal colonial attitudes won’t stand with tattooed women against these systems of oppression. In my Women’s Studies classes, when we have talked about intersectionality, I have often brought up tattooing as a layer of identity that can work as an oppressive force because we still live in a society where these old colonial attitudes prevail and create structures of injustice against women. I’ve had my PhD for over a decade now and I can’t count the number of times I have gotten a surprised and suspicious look when I say I have one and that I lecture at a university. I have attended academic conferences where I have been made to feel my difference in ways that was unsettling and debasing. I see it as, for the most part, my tattoos added a fresh layer of hell to sexism. To add to this point, complete strangers think it is acceptable to touch my tattooed skin – my arms usually – or comment on them loudly in public places, and it’s mainly men who do this. I’m not alone in this complaint, it’s one I have heard many times from other tattooed women.
It’s as if the combination of being woman and being tattooed gives them some kind of added permission to assert power and patriarchy over me.
Does this make me regret my tattoos? Never. They are worth the struggle and if anything make me stronger and more resilient. I also can’t say every experience has been negative. As I said, it is getting better. The Philosophy Crush podcast interview I was invited to participate in, is one very happy moment for me. To be recognised for the work I do in this area and by someone in the philosophy community is wonderful. Also, my work with Things & Ink has had a positive effect I cannot underestimate: I have formed many profound friendships and alliances as a result, and I’ve helped change some minds and perceptions in pieces I’ve written about tattooing and tattooed women (the magazine as a whole made great strides here). My university program director sees my tattoos as a positive feature that are accentuated by my academic abilities: my appearance gets students attention by disrupting the perception of profs being all old guys in tweed coats and those who are tattooed women (or just those different from the ‘ norm’ – I fondly call the oddities, which I’ve always been one) find representation in me, and my presence makes the department’s inclusivity and diversity crystal clear for all to see.
In this way and with this kind of support, I wear my tattoos and gender proudly, and I use my voice to draw attention to the issues tattooed women and others face.
You talk about tattoos being a way to take art onto the street, do you also see yourself as a mobile art gallery? Does this notion affect how you see your own tattoos and those of others?
I do yes, but the art I am showing only I really care about or truly understand. It’s like having a mobile art gallery and journal all in one. Other people are welcome to have an aesthetic experience when seeing my arms, legs or back, but in the end it’s art for me, about me, and it’s my journey. Tattooing as art is an experience of the beautiful in some way, whether that is beauty in your own eyes or someone else’s. Tattooing is an art that really is ‘to be shown’ whether you actually show it or not because most artists will place pieces in a position that goes with the body shape rather than against it, the direction of them are to be seen by others eyes and not your own, and the size of the piece must be proportional to the body it is going on. When you get the backside of your body done, you can only see it via a mirror and that angle – that perspective – is through the eyes of another outside your body. Now, the choice you have with your mobile art gallery is whether you keep it as a private collection or put it all on display, and where the red ropes line the way for special others to come in or keep some from getting close your valuable pieces.
It does affect both how I see my own tattoos and how I see others as well. As I fill in my body I am ever aware of how it looks, to me from my own eyes and that it will be viewed by others. While I can talk about how adults look at me, the best encounter are children. My niece, Violet, is a great example. When she was a baby, she used to get this look of awe on her face when she looked at and touched my skin. Now she’s three, I love when she calls me a colouring book and she’s always impressed that I’ve coloured in the lines. When she gets paint on herself she often remarks that she’s like me. That for me is the sweetest way to be a mobile art gallery, and in many ways it is opening her eyes to how other people can be different in their expression of subjectivity. I think if we view other’s tattoo bodies as mobile art galleries it conveys both the individuality and the significance of the act of tattooing.
Whether you like the tattoos on their body or not, or whether they are bad or good quality, they are theirs and not yours – it’s their beauty, not yours. To each her or his own.
It’s a way to create a distance and a kind of respect for someone else’s choices and style. In the age of tattoo TV contest shows and conventions with trophies where there are judges and competitions for artists to enter, it’s important to not take that kind of mentality onto the street with regular tattooed people. Their body and their choices are not there to be judged or commented on by everyone, there’s no award to given or constructive criticism to be dealt out. License yourself to be silent and just have the experience. Their body, their choice, their mobile gallery – end of story.
Intrigued? You can listen to Kimberley’s podcast here.
Kiera creates beautifully soft and cute cat tattoos, so adorable in fact they look like you could reach out and boop their little noses. We chatted to Kiera to find out more about that tattoos she creates and her travel plans…
Currently working in Melbourne Australia, Kiera will be travelling the world from June heading first to Shanghai, Okinawa, Korea and London. Where she is hoping to travel around Europe for a while after London, and then hopefully find a place to settle down for a bit after that.
You mainly tattoo cats (which we love), what do you love about these animals? Cats look really cute! I love the back of their heads, the triangle shape of their ears and cat’s mouths looks really clear and adorable. I like the cats’ tsundere/arrogant kind of temperament that makes me crave their attention.
How did your cat tattoo style/craze start? Why do you think they are so popular? I wasn’t supposed to draw just cats but I thought, “I would draw a cat today and tomorrow another animal.” But the next day came and I kept drawing cats every day. I feel very happy and satisfied when drawing cats and making them cute, it’s fun for me.
I put lots of love in my drawings and tattoos so I think people can feel that.
Do you have any cat tattoos yourself? I don’t have any cat tattoos, actually I don’t have any cats at all as I am allergic to them!
What inspires your tattoos? Most of my customers are big fans of Asian culture so I realised my tattoos have an Asian/oriental atmosphere. Also I’m inspired by my favorite illustrators which tend to be Asian themed too. I like anime, fashion and a lot of cat Instagram accounts!
Do you have a background in art, does this influence your work? I started to draw when I was very young and my major from university was product design. I was also an art teacher for a number of years and industrial designer. I feel like this has given me a nice foundation in wide variety of art mediums which has helped me a lot in tattooing.
How does it feel being a woman in the tattoo industry? I have never thought about it. I just live in my own tattooing world.
How would you describe your style? I’m not sure exactly which category my style of tattooing would fall into. I would describe my style as just cute cat tattoos.
How did you begin your tattooing career? What made you want to become a tattooist? It was a very spontaneous decision for me to become a tattooist. I really enjoy drawing and tattooing seemed like a very creative career which allows a lot of freedom.
I started tattooing in Melbourne by tattooing friends, and then moved to Korea to learn more. I was lucky enough to have people interested in what I wanted to tattoo, so I could really concentrate on my own style of tattooing.