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Rhyll gets a tattoo (and interviews her tattooist)

RHYLL: Which tattooists are an inspiration to you and why?

J: When I first started I didn’t have an artist who was an inspiration to me but now I have—the people who work with me and my boss. With a lot of other artists I like their work but it doesn’t really inspire me.

RHYLL: What’s the most unusual thing that has happened to you on the job?

J: There’s different types of weird. There’s been customers groping me—young women will do anything just so they don’t have to pay that much money for a tattoo. But that definitely doesn’t work on me. And some dude asked me to tattoo a line on his penis. I said no.

RHYLL: What made you want to become a tattooist?

J: When I first started I just wanted to be cool. I was a bit of a loner at school and I got to think about what I wanted to do with my life because I was alone all the time. So by the time I was 16 I knew what I wanted to do. While others at school were thinking of university I was thinking of tattoo places that might like to hire me. I think I got into it because I wanted to be someone. And I’ve always drawn, from about something like 8 months old I was drawing little tiny squiggles and shit and my parents would find little squiggles around the house.

RHYLL: Tell me some tattooist jargon.

J: Jargon changes from store to store. But this machine here I’m using on you is called ‘bulldog’, so whenever I want to use it I just say ‘bulldog’. But most of the stuff people think is jargon is just the technical names for things, like mags and shaders for the different types of needles. A lot of the jargon that’s out there is made up by customers.

RHYLL: How do tattooists like to unwind after slaving over a hot tattoo needle all day?

J: I do watercolour painting.

RHYLL: Who’s the most unusual person you’ve met on the job?

J: I tattooed a dude from the BDSM community. He wouldn’t tell me what part of the community he was from but he wanted ‘unlovable’ written across his chest. When I started doing it he began screaming and I was surprised because I thought someone into BDSM would be able to take a bit of a lashing, but it turned out he was a sub not a dom and just loved the pain, so he was screaming and in between had a massive smile on his face.

RHYLL: What do tattooists dislike (because it makes their job harder)?

J: Clients who don’t give enough information but expect tattooists to be able to draw the world out of it. Clients who don’t show up to appointments and don’t call to cancel. I work on commission, so if clients don’t show up I don’t earn any money, since it’s too late to book someone else in.

RHYLL: What did you find unexpected about the job?

J: The hazing! When I first started out as an apprentice the others would hide my shit and send me off to buy stuff that didn’t exist. I think they did it to sort out the people who really wanted to be working there as opposed to just doing it to say they’re a tattooist.

RHYLL: What skills do you need to be a good tattooist?

J: Patience. The patience to learn perspective and to develop your skills. You also need a creative mind and a quick mind to be able to fix mistakes. And this is a people business so you have to learn how to talk to people and how to be around people. Artistic skill is secondary.

RHYLL: What’s something about tattooists that most people don’t know?

J: That we’re not all rich. A good tattooist puts as much money into tattooing as they earn from it. Plus, we’re not ALL assholes. Oh, yeah, and that the first few times you tattoo someone it’s pretty scary, like learning to drive.