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Tattoo artists on surviving lockdown (and what they’re listening to)

If you are inked and you love it, you’ll know how frustrating it has been to not get into the tattoo studio with your artist. For artists, they’ve not only had their income cut off, but their entire creative process and rituals were ripped from their daily lives. As studios begin to reopen, depending on state protocols for COVID-19, we ask artists how they’ve continued to create and stay busy. We also ask what they’ve been listening to, which we’ve conveniently wrapped up in a Spotify playlist. You’re welcome.

Almost every industry in the world has taken a slamming right now, and some won’t survive the hit to their coffers. Hospitality workers and those who work in the music industry have been hard hit, as Blunt readers know very well. Spare a thought for tattoo artists though. Like arts workers and hospitality pros, working in the tattoo industry means taking on contract and casual work, perhaps working for numerous employers, and often not knowing what your schedule and income will be from one week to the next. It was already a tough gig, is what I’m saying, and this current situation might result in some artists being unable to pay their rent, buy basic necessities, or continue to do the work they love even when studios reopen.

If you’re thinking this is going to be a whole feature on the deep tragedy of what’s happening, you’re wrong. In fact, there’s actions we can take to support artists during this period and even when studios reopen. Some artists will be eligible for JobKeeper, thankfully, but not all of them. Just like musicians face an emotional struggle when they can’t create and perform, being unable to design, discuss and collaborate with clients on body art is tough for tattooists.

Artwork by Xia.

Inevitably, studios will reopen and some already have so if you were planning on a tattoo before the restrictions, reach out to the studio or the artist you want to work with and find out if they’re taking bookings. Making a commitment to get inked provides artists and studio owners with the assurance they’ll have work and an income soon. Many artists are doing commissioned work on canvas, paper or fabric. Some of them are selling merch from clothing to badges, jewellery and stickers. While I never thought I’d commission an illustration of my dog, it was too difficult to refuse when I saw Eloise’s delicate fine line drawings and life-like portrayals of dogs of every description.

“It’s been shit. I just want to get back to work and do tattoos,” says Eloise Entraigues, who works at 1891 Original Tattoo Co in Adelaide and Oculus Tattoo in Northcote, Melbourne. She’s been doing pet portraits for friends and family, but she’s also been taking commissions for pet portraits for customers who will later have the artwork tattooed. Her Adelaide studio will reopen on the 8th of June so she’s more than ready for bookings and enquiries in anticipation of returning to work.

“What’s meant the most to me is how many of them wished me well and mentioned how they want to support artists in these hard times.”

Xia works both in Melbourne at Raven’s Hollow, and Brisbane at Harpoon and Highwater. Over the five years she’s been tattooing, she’s established her specialty in gothic “darkwork”. When COVID-19 restrictions meant that she was out of work, she established an apparel line and turned to selling prints and artwork.

“Clients have been amazing to me,” she says. “They kept booking appointments and buying prints and artwork. What’s meant the most to me is how many of them wished me well and mentioned how they want to support artists in these hard times, which is so cool.”

Artwork by Jose Carlos Jr.

Artist at Vic Market Tattoo in Melbourne’s inner north, Pablo Morte, is still taking bookings. His mariachi players and portraits of religious figures, pets and flowers draw clients locally and from afar. When it comes to soundtracks, he opts for Slayer, Turbo Negro, Cosmic Psychos and Ted Nugent. “I’m up for commissioned artwork if people get in touch with me via Instagram,” he says.

A soundtrack that definitely harks back to a misspent skate-punk rock youth says everything important about long time tattooist, Jake Fraser who is at Grey Street Tattoo in St Kilda, Melbourne. Social Distortion, Danzig, MC5, Eddy Current, Suppression Ring and Suicidal Tendencies are on his list of favourites. Fraser has been doing some commissioned artworks, including pet portraits, but getting in touch to book an appointment would ensure he’s back doing what he excels at – tattooing to a soundtrack of metal-punk-rock classic tunes.

Jose Carlos Jr, tattooist at Tora Sumi in Sydney, says, “I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support I got from my followers, especially since I don’t get help from the government due to my VISA status. I have been doing commissioned artworks on canvas, paper, fabric and using all the mediums, including acrylic , oil, charcoal, pastels and gouache.”

His favourite track? ‘Much The Same’, Strangers in Fiction.

To hear the soundtrack made up of Australian tattoo artists’ favourite music to work to, connect your earholes with our Spotify playlist.