We spoke to tattoo artist Alexis Hepburn from Westside Tattoo in Queensland, Australia, about her unique take on traditional tattooing, and how she came to develop her style.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Your style is quite whimsical and almost like it could be from a storybook.
When I first started tattooing I definitely studied a lot of traditional tattoo imagery; but as I started exploring my style more I preferred to draw inspiration from things that fascinated me, and made me feel an emotional response. I will use the foundation of a traditional tattoo; but draw imagery inspired by music I’m listening to, the wonderful world of nature, patterns, my dreams and fantasies, folk art, mythology, erotica, the list goes on. I have a large collection of all kinds of books I like to browse when I need a little inspiration
What are your favourite types of designs to tattoo?
Ultimately, flowers and foliage are my absolute favourite thing to tattoo. There’s infinite possibilities, it doesn’t even need to be a real species of flower or plant! I personally like them better when they are made up. You can draw them any size and shape, and when you’re working with the curves of the human body you can really take advantage of their organic flow. Black and grey or colour, simple or very detailed. You can’t go wrong!
You do most of your paintings in traditional mediums, have you ever delved into digital art, or does it not appeal to you?
If I’m being very honest, I’ve actually never drawn on an iPad or computer. I would love to expand my skill set and explore that one day, but for now I know what works for me. That is what really drew me towards tattooing in the first place. When I was in school I could recognise that many artistic avenues and creative industries were becoming more digitalised. The handcrafted, interpersonal nature of tattooing felt very magical and appealing for me! I love getting my hands dirty. My parents both painted leisurely and my grandparents were both professional oil painters; so naturally I wanted to paint too. My art is not computer perfect and I am very aware of this, but I feel like that is what provides the distinct charm to it
You mentioned you have been plant-based since you were 15, and that you’ve never been drunk, both big choices to make when you are so young. What made you make those lifestyle choices?
I went vegetarian when I was 12 because my mum gave away my pet rooster (bless her she got it back after my tantrum). So that was the beginning. At around that age I started exploring heavier music like metal and hardcore and a lot of the bands I looked up to were animal rights activists which inspired me to research more on the topic. Cutting out all animal products from my diet felt like a natural progression for me. Through the hardcore scene I also discovered the straight edge movement which felt like a breath of fresh air for me, I was very comforted to find out there were other people out there who didn’t want to drink or do drugs also. I never really felt the urge to drink, even though many of my friends did. Growing older; seeing how alcoholism and history of mental health issues affected my immediate family and also my peers really solidified that decision for me as well.
On your Instagram you have a highlight about ways you are trying to reduce plastic waste within your tattooing work. What changes have you made, and what inspired you to make the switch?
This has been an issue that has been weighing on my conscience for a long time now! Obviously waste in tattooing is unavoidable but it’s been really promising to see more and more environmentally friendly alternatives are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable! It was unheard of when I first started tattooing so it really excites me. I have now sourced paper ink caps, sugarcane rinse cups, biodegradable clip cord covers, biodegradable razors, and compostable cling wrap (still trialing different kinds, this one has been tricky). I also used laundered towels as a bed sheet under a primary hospital grade barrier, for customer comfort instead of plastic hospital bed covers. Each week I take my non contaminated soft plastic waste to the recycling stations at the supermarkets here as well! I think it’s going to be impossible to completely eliminate plastic waste from tattooing for a long time, but for now we can make little steps in the right direction.
Has travelling influenced your artwork in any way?
Yes absolutely! Before Covid I used to travel a fair bit. I feel like I’ve learned so much from getting tattooed by a multitude of artists in different shops overseas; not just artistically but also observing their bedside manner, how they tattoo and how their shops operate. One of the most magical places I’ve had the privilege of visiting is Nepal! I was constantly mesmerised; every building is so beautifully painted and decorated, there are statues and carvings of gods on every corner, colourful prayer flags in cities and out in nature, glorious snowy mountains and flowing rivers! I definitely felt a shift in my art after my first visit; experimenting with brighter colours, more patterns, researching more symbolism, and painting with more intention.
What do you like to get up to in your spare time away from the studio?
My favourite things to do when I’m not tattooing are painting, going to the beach, walking in the hinterland and cooking for my friends! I’m very lucky that the weather on the Gold Coast is fairly steady all year round; so if it’s not great beach weather it’s usually a good time to head to the rainforests and waterfalls up in the mountains!To see more of Alexis’ work, check out her Instagram @disintegration23.