by Gee Witchalls
(featured image shows Gee getting tattooed)
This year saw the inaugural Cornwall Tatcon at Tremough campus in Penryn. As a tattoo collector myself, of course I had to go along and check it out (and get some ink, obv) and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the talent on display.
Not all of the artists were from the Duchy, some had travelled from across the country to showcase their work, but in general it was great to see such a diverse range of tattooists working in all styles. It wasn’t a huge event, certainly not on the scale of the established conventions of Liverpool or London, but this did mean that it was possible to get around all of the booths and still have time to go back and find the piece of flash you really wanted, and maybe even get it done – something that can be virtually impossible at other cons unless you’re super early, speedy and very decisive!
There was a nice laid back atmosphere and everyone was happy to stop and chat, making the whole experience pretty delightful. There was also body painting, spray on tattoos for the kids, food on site (the Thai cuisine was incredible, as was the vegan banana cake from The Sisters), graffiti art and live music in the grounds. I’d never really explored the campus before and it’s actually quite special, with hidden green spaces and even old tombstones dotted about the place.
I decided to get two new tattoos, one with an electric machine, and one hand poked, and compare the tattooing and healing processes. I had a chat to the artists whilst they did their thing, and found it fascinating to hear their stories.
JULIA SEIZURE – DIVINE INK, TOTNES
Julia is originally from Hong Kong, but learned her trade at Skin Illustation in Maidstone, Kent under Jay Parker. She then returned to Hong Kong where she opened a shop and worked for 7 years before returning to London. So how did she end up in Totnes?
“My mum lives in Dartmouth and I kept visiting her there, and there was this cute little shop in Totnes so I thought I’d ask for a guest spot on a whim…I did that last year and really enjoyed it – was a really nice scene, nice atmosphere and I said, ‘I doubt you’ll hold a job for a year but if you would I’d be happy to move down’ – and that’s what happened! I moved down a month ago.”
I asked Julia about her experience of being a female tattooist in a traditionally male dominated art (although this has changed drastically over recent years). “You do still get the odd comments like ‘oh you’re not bad for a woman’ but nowadays it’s a lot better than it was. I’ve been tattooing for 14 years and there weren’t many of us back then, whereas now there are a lot of female customers who only want to be tattooed by women, so it works both ways”.
A quick look at Julia’s Instagram account (link above) highlights the fact that she doesn’t have any one set style. Lots of influences are evident, and bright colours often feature, but she definitely isn’t allowing herself to be pigeon holed. “I enjoy doing about 2 or 3 different styles and really like merging them – so applying some realistic shading to cartoony stuff, which people assume is flat and easy. I take photos all the time and I think (my upbringing in Hong Kong) has inspired my watercolour tattooing with oriental brush strokes, but when I was out there I wasn’t doing much oriental stuff, it was more westernised. You used to see a country’s style and the way an influence would spread across the world before Instagram but now there’s less of that. At the shop in Totnes we have a lot of students coming in from Exeter, so there’s still the younger, Pinterest scene happening and then the people who are collectors. We have a fairly long waiting list so it weeds out a lot of the spur-of-the-moment, ‘oh we had an idea for a tattoo in the pub last night’ sort, you know?”
Being new to the south-west, Julia isn’t sure how this new convention will affect the scene down here but she’s aware that a lot of her colleagues think it was needed, and that it can hopefully grow into a successful event like other smaller conventions such as Norwich, and keep up the momentum so people come back every year.
SARAH MARCH – DIE MONDE, WADEBRIDGE
Sarah hand pokes her art, which was a new experience for me. I’d always fancied trying it but wasn’t aware of any good artists in the area until I saw her work. Hand poking is the traditional method of using a needle attached to a stick to push the ink into the skin, using dots, rather than a powered machine. I was curious about how somebody ended up mastering the technique.
“I trained in make-up artistry (for film and TV) and moved to London to try and get work, it was really hard to find anything so I got put off, and ended up with a job as painter in a mannequin factory! For 10 years I painted the faces on with oil paint. We were one of the last that did it by hand and we had about a year’s warning that we would be made redundant…I was 26 so I felt like I needed to decide what to do next and then stick to it. I was doing loads of drawing at the time and getting a good response online. Some friends suggested tattooing which I had never thought about but it seemed ideal, so I got an apprenticeship at Aggys Ink in Hornsey, North London. I did that for about a year with a machine and learned all of the running of a studio, the hygiene etc. But all of my designs were done in dots and when I found out about hand poking online I thought, it’s really well suited to my style, so I decided to go down that route”.
Sarah opened her studio in March last year, and it was just her at the beginning. She’s built it up slowly since then, and now has people travelling down to Cornwall from all over to get tattooed by her. Hand poking seems to be having something of a resurgence recently, as the celebrity status of Grace Neutral attests, and Sarah refers to her as an ‘influencer’. “Her style is very distinctive as well, there are hand pokers who do more solid looking lines, and then the ones who use a ‘stick and poke’ approach to make the tattoos look home done. The dots give a lovely effect for fluid lines and movement”. Sarah’s style certainly makes the most of this, with undulating sea creatures a prominent part of her portfolio.
A big plus for the hand poked tattoo is the recovery time. Healing is far quicker – Sarah suggests as little as a week and a half – the discomfort during the process is virtually nothing, maybe the feeling of the odd hair being plucked out, and immediately afterwards the swelling and redness is negligible. The hand poke method causes less trauma to the skin and sitting here 3 days later I have to say that I have barely noticed that I have a new tattoo on my arm whilst my leg is causing me all the usual grief. I may just be a convert!