2020 Recap & What's Next

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Hey Sarah, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Originally from the Midlands, I moved up North in 2009 and started working in tattoo shops in 2010. I’ve been tattooing since 2013 and am lucky enough to work for my best friends, Karl and Shell, at Ursa Minor Tattoos, Southport. I also regularly guest at Juliet Preston’s studio, Inkarma, in Penwortham. I love tattooing paint-y looking blackwork, cute animals, plants and images of powerful womxn as seen in my Vessels project below. I also really enjoy a good cover up!

The image shows a colour tattoo of a naked lady's torso with flowers coming from her neck.

When I moved here I knew literally one person and it has been through tattooing that I have found a real community, and met the most amazing people. I remember reading a quote from Artaud while I was studying Theatre Design back in 2006 which said “theatre becomes a family for misfits”. I think the same can be said for all arts based industries really, but for me, tattooing is just that - it’s just as much about the people as it is about the art. After all, that’s what separates us from other artists isn’t it? We work on people’s bodies! 

How has 2020 shaped the tattoo landscape? Have there been positives as well as negatives? 

2020 has been a tough year for everyone. Having to close unexpectedly for such a long time and all the financial uncertainty that went along with that has been really hard. Most tattooists are self employed and we’re not wealthy people with loads of savings. We do this job because we love it, and I think a lot of us felt quite lost, particularly over the summer. 

I don’t feel like I’ve done much tattooing this year, but I’ve been trying to use my time outside of the studio to work on other things that will hopefully come full circle. Hopefully, they will benefit my tattooing in the long run, and it’s been good to just focus on self care, and keeping myself (somewhat) sane.

There have been positives to 2020 too. The unexpected free time seemed to give people a lot of space to think and reassess how we want things to be moving forward. This year we have seen the beginnings of movements to make tattooing a much more inclusive and safe space for all people, which, in my opinion, was long overdue. Over the last 10 years I’ve definitely noticed a vast increase in the number of womxn in the industry, which has been great, but it was only this year that there was a public campaign to end sexual harassment/abuse within tattooing. It’s been awesome to see people standing up and finally calling out certain tattooists that have been getting away with predatory behaviour for too long. It also encourages everyone to just have a good look at their practise and the way they treat the people around them, and hopefully has made it more clear to clients that they really don’t have to put up with tattooists who make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

It’s also been positive to also see how the Black Lives Matter movement has influenced the tattoo community. Tattooing in the UK has traditionally been a predominately white space, and it’s imperative that we examine how people of colour are treated - both as tattooists and clients - and make sure that tattoo spaces really are safe and inclusive for everyone. I’ve been a big fan of @rizza_boo for a long time. Her work is incredible and the project she started this year, @shades_tattoo_initiative is fantastic. I really recommend following her; the aim of Shades (quoted from their IG bio) is “A safe space to build community, educate artists, help build skills and showcase the work of Black and POC tattoo artists working in the UK”. This is vital work which can only improve the quality of tattooing and the experience of getting tattooed. 

As a womxn, how do you feel the space for other womxn in tattooing is changing?

When I first started working in tattoo shops “female tattooists” were reasonably rare. There were womxn such as Jo Harrison and Mandy Barber who were (and still are) doing incredible work and making names for themselves, but there was nowhere near the amount of womxn in tattooing as there are now. When I met Shell (@sheldonmcbear), she was the only female tattooist in the area. Seeing how people responded to her was one of my inspirations. A lot of people, particularly other womxn, feel much more comfortable getting tattooed by us - it dispels the idea that the only way you can get tattooed is by a “biker dude with a beard”, haha! Now it seems to be a much more even playing field and it’s nice to see womxn really putting their stamp on tattooing. There are a lot of studios now where all of the tattooists are womxn (@inkarmatattoos just happens to be this way) and it’s a lovely atmosphere.

It can still be hard to be a womxn in tattooing - there’s still the odd client who wants to “speak to the man”, but they are few and far between; overall womxn are commanding just as much respect as their male colleagues and we love to see it. 

Looking back on the year, have you noticed any recurring themes in the work people have requested?

I’ve noticed a lot of work that seems to be inspired by @t.radz style - lots of goddesses and celestial/nature-inspired work. Simple line work and powerful symbols. I think this has a lot to do with where we are at in terms of feminism at the moment. Womxn are taking ownership of their own bodies and a lot of us are wanting pieces that speak to female empowerment. 

Moving into 2021, how do you think tattooing will change? 

I think during 2020 and continuing into 2021 we will be looking at ways to support artists in more diverse ways. For example, over lockdown a lot of tattooists stayed afloat by selling merch and artwork, and taking on commissions. Even when we were allowed to reopen, the coronavirus had massively affected our trade, and has the potential to disrupt us even further in the future. I would urge people to support your artists in whatever ways you can. As well as booking that tattoo, see what else is on offer. For example, my friend @ju.tattoo_ is adapting by making and selling jewellery as a side venture to her tattooing. I recently bought some crystal earrings from her and they are gorgeous! And my good friend and mentor @_smokytoast_ has been making some badass ceramics. If you can support our other ventures too, then there is much more chance that your favourite artist will make it out the other side of the pandemic and still be able to tattoo you!

Do you think there will be certain styles that are more popular in the next year or so, and why?

It’s hard to predict, but I think people are returning to more simple styles. Maybe that’s the result of all that time to think and prioritise - I’m not too sure! Bold, abstract blackwork is a favourite of mine, and I’ve noticed it seems to be gaining popularity. I think traditional old school styles will always be popular - “bold will hold” and all that. Natural elements - plants, planets, animals are timeless and seem more popular now than ever. As I mentioned earlier, images and symbols of female empowerment, equality and liberation are also favoured. Tattooing is traditionally nonconformist, so it’s great to see people committing their activism to their bodies. 2021 is bound to be a mixed bag - I’m excited to see how things will evolve - but personally if we could leave black and grey lions in 2020 I’d really love that!