"Finding tattooing was like finding my soulmate, the missing piece"
Tattoo artist Keelin has become known as Dinky Ink on Instagram – "new clients call me Dinky," she chuckles. She works from an unnamed studio in Dublin, Ireland. "I never named it. I wanted to keep an air of mystery around it, 'the studio with no name' although, in reality, I didn't want the pressure of another social media account to manage," she says.
We first spotted Keelin, aka Dinky, for the super colourful tattoos she creates with a feminist twist. "It's a hybrid of bubblegum traditional and neotraditional with a sprinkling of new school in there," she explains.
We caught up with her to find out more, make yourself a cuppa and settle in for the chat... it's a super-fun ride.
How long have you been tattooing for?
Ten years! And I'm so grateful to have found a job that completes me. I'm constantly learning and evolving – I'd be lost without it.
How did you get into tattooing?
I've always been artistic, drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil – I used to call myself “Keelinardo”! I was a mega art nerd. I always wanted to do something with art, but everyone told me it was impossible and that I should get a “real” job. I had no interest in anything else and I was determined to make it work.
At 15, I'd saved up money for a festival I wanted to go to, and I made my way into Dublin City to meet someone to buy the ticket from. The ticket fell through and all of a sudden I found myself with all this money in the big city, so I decided, why not get a tattoo? I walked on in, got my first tattoo with a simple consent form and no I.D! In this moment I knew I'd be an artist.
A couple of years of fighting with a conservative, old-fashioned mother, attending art college to appease her and trying to find a “normal” job in textile design and fashion – I did “normal” but I hated it. So I left, sold my car and moved my life across the country to start an apprenticeship in Galway at AWOL Tattoos! Finding tattooing was like finding my soulmate, the missing piece.
What was your apprenticeship like?
I started it thinking I'd be a black and grey portrait artist – LOL at me now – but my Miyagi wanted me to be an all-rounder so I had to learn colour, so I could tattoo whatever came through the door. I did my first colour practise on pig skin and was like shit, this is really fun. My Miyagi saw it and was like "you're really good at that" and alas, I went to the colourful side and I never looked back…
What was the tattoo world like back then?
It was a different time, we had Facebook and blogs, but there was nothing like Instagram and tattooing was still quite hidden and underground. It was also a different time as you were one of the very few women in a heavily male-dominated industry. Attitudes were different back then.
What's your studio like now?
All of this is what led to me opening my own all-female, private studio in Dublin City Centre. I'd had some bad experiences, there was a lot of clashing and I didn't feel valued or appreciated. I was also sick of having to defend females or being the butt of blowjob jokes, and no one calling out shitty behaviour. I wanted to take full control of my work, bookings, tattooing and surroundings.
The perfect space popped up unexpectedly and without a penny of saving to my name, I asked a tarot deck for guidance and based on that and my gut, I just jumped into the unknown! And it is the absolute best thing I've ever done.
My tattoo room is ALL PINK with a white and pink chevron feature wall, inspired by one of my favourite tracks from the Twin Peaks "Fire Walk With Me" soundtrack, "Pink Room." It's also the biggest feminist statement I can make after years of working –and being mistreated at times – in male-dominated shops. I really felt I needed to claim my femininity and my space.
We are a private, appointment-based studio smack bang in the centre of Dublin's city centre. We like to keep the place hidden and secret. Regulars and repeat clients obviously know where to go, but we don't give out the address of the studio until the week before your appointment.
What do you love most about tattoos?
I love that they're a snapshot of a very specific point and time in your life. You can remember everything about that tattoo, reason behind it, the day you got it, the kind of experience you had and no matter what happens, both you and your tattoo grow and get older, but the memory acts like a photo album of pure nostalgia. It's a record of you and your journey and of growth, and I love that.
Any advice for first timers?
This is advice for everyone. Don't be fooled by Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat or whatever social media platform you're active on – just because an artist has a big following does not mean that they are a good artist. Followers, likes, and all that can be bought, but skill and talent cannot. I'd trust word of mouth over a following, or seeing their healed tattoos – especially seeing their healed tattoos!
And if you get a bad vibe, trust your gut. Do not ever feel pressured or made to feel uncomfortable in a tattoo environment. The experience is as permanent as the tattoo, so don't settle for mega egos, creeps or dicks.
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