When did you first become interested in tattoos? Is it something that built up slowly?
Probably when we had a lodger living with us from when I was about seven years old. She had colourful and very pretty tattoos of unicorns, which I was fascinated with. My older cousin also had tattoos when I was in my early teens that were also really colourful, so they were always beautiful things to me. I never had the traditional associations with anchors and “I Love Mum” tattoos.
Am I right in thinking that your tattoo is what we would normally consider a 'sleeve' only with more white/negative space than usual, as opposed to separate, individual tattoos? Can you explain the creative decision behind this approach?
It has been described as a sleeve, but it just evolved as several tattoos all on one arm, so I don’t tend to think of it that way. It was designed specifically for my arm, so each flows into the other, and there is a continuity to it, but the cleverness in that is entirely to Saira’s credit rather than mine! When I realised that I would always want to have more tattoos, I thought about how they would look on the body and also how each would relate to the other. Keeping them all on one arm is a way to bring them together, and I like knowing that I can add to it, which is why the blank spaces of skin are important! If it was all filled in, there’d be a sense that it was finished, and for me, I don’t feel that this piece ever will be as I’ll always want to add more to it. Also, because the whole arm hasn’t been coloured in, the tattoos each stand out more, which was incidental and unplanned, but another thing I really like about them.
Can you talk us through the story behind the individual elements of your tattoo?
Each element represents people in my life. The bluebells are for my mum, for example. The lemon trees are for the Italian side of my family. The caterpillar is my godson. Picking the right thing for each person or people was either an instinctive thing or I had a conversation with the person about it. We’re all affected by the important relationships in our lives, good or bad, and this is a way of acknowledging their importance in making me who I am.
I have found it’s a way for me to express what is going on inside and place it decoratively on the outside. They remind me of points in my life; of events and how I have emotionally connected to them. I love the way they accentuate various parts of my body. I find them very sexy if they suit the person who is wearing them and they have been completed to a high standard. When did you get your first tattoo?
The first tattoo I had done was about 18 years ago. It was done in Camden and I had a Celtic band, which goes around the arm. They were the ‘in’ thing back then. But unlike many people, my band went all the way around. Tattooing under the arm is a sensitive place, so many people stopped half way round.
When did you get your first tattoo and how would you describe the experience?
I always wanted to have a tattoo because my mom and dad both had one. So when I finished school, two days later, I entered a tattoo studio and I had my first tattoo! A little star on the upper part of my foot. Thankfully, it was small enough not to be painful. I was a little shy at the process, but not afraid. After I did it I felt proud! I made a choice to mark myself forever. I had the ‘mark’. I was me.
To what extent do your tattoos tell a story?
My tattoos mostly tell a story. They are memories sealed in my skin. Every tattoo stands for a different period in my life. For a lesson I learned.
Do you remember when you got your first tattoo? What was the experience like?
I do remember getting my first tattoo. It wasn't planned and I wasn't quite old enough to legally get one! I'd wanted a tattoo for a while but wasn't sure what I wanted and thought I'd probably get one when I turned 18. However, I went to a tattoo studio with an older friend who was getting a small star outline on her back and on impulse I decided to get the same on my ankle. It was a little scary, but also very exciting. I loved the buzz of the needles and the adrenaline rush I got from being tattooed and was pretty much instantly hooked!
Can you tell me a little bit about the two main tattoos on your left and right arm?
My left arm is an old-school style sleeve done by a great artist based in Plymouth called Neil Pengilley. It wasn't planned as a sleeve, but started with the butterfly-headed lady at the top. After gradually adding designs one by one, Neil suggested adding some filler flowers and shading to pull everything together. I still remember the thrill of walking out of the last session with a full sleeve! The individual designs are mostly based on personal things like my star sign and birth number, as well as a few things to reflect my life's journey and love for travelling, like a compass to direct my way.