Who are you?
My name is Frances Barton and I am a 25 year old tattoo artist. I co-own a studio called Old Times Collective with four of my best mates and we are based in St. Helens, Merseyside. I have been tattooing for around two years, and I own a little pottery business called Eunoia Pottery which has been up and running for around eight months. I love all things botanical and I have a mild obsession with Gilmore Girls! If you ever meet me, I can guarantee I will bring up the fact I lived in Cornwall for around eight years and will probably tell you how much I miss it!
Define your style
Illustrative, full colour and nature inspired. I’d say my biggest inspiration for this style of work comes from looking at vintage botanical illustrations and oil paintings. I also love to include Greek statues, sculptures and the female form in some of my work; I find that this imagery lends to my compositions and the stories I like to tell within the piece itself. Personally, I also think it’s important to work with the body when designing tattoos, making sure that the design flows with each curve and compliments our movements. When designing something specifically for an individual, you must take into account the way their body works and flows as no two humans are the same.
Tell us about your first tattoo story
Growing up, I always wanted tattoos. My dad influenced this a lot as he’s absolutely covered. After being introduced to the art form, I became obsessed with the whole process and the fact that you could have artwork on your skin for the rest of your life - I found it fascinating. For my first tattoo I think I was 18 or 19 and I got a simple dot work mandala in my elbow ditch. I remember going to the studio and literally picking the design off the wall, I was just so desperate to get tattooed that, to be honest, I really didn’t mind what the design was. I remember the tattoo artist asking me repeatedly if I was sure and said “Elbow ditch for your first tattoo? It’s going to hurt, you know.” He tried to suggest putting it somewhere else but I was adamant. I really don’t think he thought I could handle it, but I did it and it’s still one of my favourites to this day. I’m not going to lie, when he finished I was very sweaty!
I feel like when you get your first tattoo there’s always the daunting thought of “what’s it going to feel like” and “is it going to hurt”. My advice to anyone is start small to get the feel - all tattoos hurt but find what your pain threshold is and go from there.
Where do you do your picture research?
I do a lot of my research online as it’s just so handy. I find this process can greatly help with finding new bits of information to inspire me too. The internet is kind of like falling down a rabbit hole, isn’t it? You search for one thing and then, ten minutes later, you’re looking at something completely different. There’s nothing I love more than finding a piece of art that I’m absolutely in awe of. I enjoy finding inspiration and researching renaissance paintings and other old oil paintings too. I think because there’s so much going on and many components to look at it really helps with learning more about composition and they are just executed so well.
Growing up I was also lucky enough to have a grandma who spent most of her time painting and drawing. She had a massive collection of plant identification books as she was also an avid gardener. I spent a lot of time flicking through these books and still do to this day. They really help in finding the right plant for the right piece, as a lot of plant identification books will give you information on where they are found and what time of year they grow. With this, you can make an image more authentic.
Where’s your safe space?
I would say at home; I can be a proper home bird at times. There’s nothing I love more than arriving back at home and getting comfy after a long tattoo session. I also love being outdoors on walks; the fresh air can definitely help your mind unwind. I would also say my pottery room. It’s nothing special - it’s our spare room in the flat but it houses all of my craft equipment and art materials, and is where I make all my pottery pieces for Eunoia. I find sitting in there so therapeutic, it’s a place where I can totally let go and just allow myself to be and do whatever I want.
Working with clay and finding my love for pottery has definitely helped me learn how to switch off (even though i have made it into a business and the business side of it can still be stressful). I find that having an extra creative activity in the mix is good for my brain and has helped me discover a part of my creativity I didn’t realise I had. Also, working with my hands is far different than anything I have committed time to in the past. It’s very refreshing and helps to keep me inspired in other areas; I never thought tattooing and pottery would go together and, on the surface, they don’t really, but I have found inspiration in each subject that unlocks new perspectives and ideas for the other.
What else defines you?
Other than creative pursuits I am quite family and friend oriented. I love being out and about in nature, wrapping up warm and exploring new places. I love being in the water which has been hard to do since moving up north. There are still beaches but they don’t compare to Cornish beaches! I have also always loved skateboarding. It’s not something I have consistently done but I always find my way back to it one way or another. Trust me, my skating is nothing special - I mainly enjoy just cruising around and going down hills but there’s no better feeling in the summer!
If you weren’t a tattoo artist what would you do?
Before I started my apprenticeship I was trying to make it in the world of freelance as an illustrator and designer — particularly in branding. I worked with a few really small local companies, and It was such a fun time in my life. I have always been fascinated by branding, especially package design, so I would probably try my hand at this again if I wasn’t tattooing. Since finding my love for pottery though, I think I would also like to have my own little pottery studio where I could make more pieces for Eunoia, as well as engage in more freelance work.
How has becoming a tattoo artist changed your life?
It’s changed it in so many ways! For starters, I co-own a studio called Old Times Collective with four of the best people I know, which is crazy! Since I was little I wanted to own a business (I know, a strange dream for a child) and it’s wonderful that it’s now a reality. I also wouldn’t have met my fiancé and best mate if it wasn’t for tattooing and starting my apprenticeship in the studio I did.
Most of all I have the opportunity to be and live creatively every single day. When I was studying at university — and I think most people will be able to resonate with this — I had absolutely no idea what I was going to become once I graduated. I knew I wanted to work in a creative field but I had no idea how I would get there or what I would do. With so many other people striving for the same dreams, it was especially daunting. To work in the field I’ve always wanted to is honestly a dream come true, and I am forever grateful to everyone who has helped make this dream a reality.
I have met so many inspiring artists and have gained so much knowledge from chatting to people at conventions and working closely with others, many of whom have become lifelong friends. I find it absolutely insane that people want my artwork on them for the rest of their lives. I couldn’t be more thankful to the customers I have and I’m just so humbled to be a part of a fantastic, supportive and ever evolving industry.
What is your favourite S&I product?
I would have to say my favourite is the Daily Moisturiser. I moisturise my skin religiously as it can get quite dry and, at times, a little uncomfortable. The Daily Moisturiser is so nourishing and very lightweight, leaving absolutely no greasy residue behind. I really hate it when moisturisers make you feel sticky but, like I said, it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing anything and means that your skin can actually breathe. Since I got the set I have been using it every day — I just can’t get enough and it also has such a lovely unique smell. I would 100% recommend whether you have tattoos or not.
Any awkward tattoo stories?
Honestly I really can’t think of any! I guess everyone has had awkward encounters maybe but, thankfully, I have never encountered anything nail-bitingly awkward whilst tattooing haha.
How does being a womxn in a male lead industry make you feel?
Proud — so, so proud!
It’s not always easy though, I will say that. A very small handful of customers have questioned me in the past as if they couldn’t believe I would be the one tattooing them, which is frustrating. Thankfully, no one has ever refused to be tattooed by me because I’m a womxn which I’m sure has happened to some. My apprenticeship was also a little difficult; I was the first female apprentice to work closely with the owner so it was a learning curve for sure! He was very old fashioned in his thoughts regarding mental health and gender. I was often called ‘emotional’ and I found that, in certain situations, he would treat me differently to the other apprentice — who was male. I won’t go into crazy amounts of detail but I’ll just say it wasn’t a walk in the park! Luckily, a lot of the other artists in the studio helped me by lending so much support and sometimes representing my voice when I felt as though I didn’t have one. I couldn’t be more thankful to those people.
I think as the industry grows the mass view of who should tattoo, who should be tattooed and what should be tattooed is changing for the better. There are more female tattoo artists now than ever before and I'm so humbled to be a part of that transition. Gender doesn’t matter — it’s all about what you put on skin. More artists around the world are standing up to the dated traditions surrounding things like gender, age and skin colour, and it is so lovely to be involved in that. Instead of conforming to the old failsafes of tattooing bright colours on young white dudes in ‘locker room’ type environments, the industry is now finally adapting and becoming a much more inclusive and safe environment for all people.
It’s also amazing to see the domino effect of womxn inspiring womxn. For example, we advertised an apprenticeship position (which has now been filled) and every single applicant was a womxn — we couldn’t believe it! Everyone was so motivated and passionate — it was wonderful to see!
I am so humbled to be a part of this industry. I’m proud to be a tattoo artist and will always support and advise anyone who aspires to be one too.