Reader Profile 209 - Grace

Published: 05 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

Some years ago, as her mum painted in her studio, a young Grace perused the shelves, thumbing through books on tribal culture, scarification and tattoos.

When Grace started getting tattoos, her mum didn’t have a problem with it, it was more with the body-modifications, but Grace lovingly reflects that her mum only has herself to blame for having those books on her shelves. Her father however, wasn’t so keen on tattooing. Despite being a captain in the Navy and seeing it on an everyday basis, his view was that only sailors and prostitutes had them. He could never really get his head around his own daughter being tattooed.

“I loved primary school, it was amazing. It was so fucking fun. All we did was our lessons, but I don’t really remember those, I just remember playtime. My friends and I would play ‘Animal King’. One day we’d be a family of hawks, another day something else. But then secondary school happened and that just sucked.”

Grace was already very into scarification at that point and remembers doing her GCSE art project on it. Her teacher found it interesting, but nobody in school seemed to get her. She’d wear her hair weird, but not in a stereotypically weird way. “I don’t know… everyone is confused at that age. I’m not sure I ever really got what I was about, and I’m not sure if I even do now. But I do remember everyone being particularly confused by me.”

After her GCSE’s she left school and went to art college in Plymouth where she studied both photography and fine art. She loved it, and subsequently moved to Bristol where she stayed for two years before moving to London, getting a job in a tattoo shop. “That was it, I felt like I was home. I felt like my life had really started and I was beginning to get more and more tattoos from different artists. That was when I got my back piece done.”

Googling Grace and looking at images, the one tattoo that for me stands out the most is the swan that covers nearly all of her back, its wings reaching all the way around her ribcage and onto her legs. Piotrek Taton, who then worked at Good Times Studio, was the tattoo artist behind the black and grey swan.

 “I was really nervous before going down there. At that point I hadn’t had anything done on my torso or my chest, but I’d experienced painful areas on my arms and legs. All tattooing is painful to a certain degree, but I was really excited about it, and everyone was really lovely when I got there. Mentally, I think I was a bit unprepared though, I didn’t really think it would be as bad as it was, but I knuckled down and since then I’ve made certain to prepare myself mentally.

He’s done a few of my tattoos now, the portrait of Coco Rosie on my leg is done by him too, and the Manson portrait is done by the brilliant Joao Bosco of The Family Business. There’s something about all the polish artists I’ve seen (referring to Piotrek), they do that really great dark and twisted realism. Piotrek’s blends are amazing, almost like silk. I wanted the swan to be at that moment in time where it’s about to charge through the water, just as they’re lifting their wings up. Just before they go mental!”

Grace told me how she experiences a lot of frustration from people when they discover that there are long waiting lists involved with certain tattoo artists. “Time is not an object that needs to be an issue though. I had to wait around six months for the back-piece, but I’ll live with it for the rest of my life; I would have waited ten years if I’d had to.”

When Grace first moved to London she experienced a real education in tattooing. She worked at Self Sacrifice first, and felt that was when she was first properly exposed to what tattooing really was. Up until that point she had never really hung out with tattooed people so felt a little bit like the token tattooed girl, but now that is different. After a year-and-a-half there, she moved onto Pure Ink which sadly shut down, and now she is at Red Inc in Luton, but still lives in London. “There’s four tattoo artists at Red Inc: Sam, Mark, Ricky and Kieran, then there’s Tom and I who do the piercing.” Grace also tattoos using the traditional practice of hand-poking. “I basically use something like a chopstick. I’ve always loved dot-work. My housemate and best friend, Tamara, is a dot-work tattoo artist and she’s always really inspired me. We got really into drawing symmetrical tattoos together and got really into it.” Grace shows me her fingers, “I’ve got her name on here. I’ve got lots of my friends names on my fingers.”

Grace doesn’t have a lot of text tattooed on her, apart from mostly on her hands, but she’s very keen on text tattoos done well. “Either it can look really amazing, or generic and overdone.” Living in London and using the tube all the time, she finds herself like a lot of people staring at her feet, her hands. And so she’s covered them with the names of people close to her.

“They may not be the best in the world, but each has a really awesome memory. I’ve got girls names on one hand and boys names on the other. I have an F on my hand for one of my best friends, Francisco, who works at The Family Business. My friend, Gary, tattooed Venus and Mars symbols on my fingers, and Tamara blacked out my thumb.

I’ve got my mum and sister on my wrists, a little fly on my knuckle when I first got tattooed at Red Inc. I’ve never viewed those guys as workmates, they’re my family. I’m really lucky to have such an awesome job, and that fly, my little love-bug, is awesome.”

Having worked in a bookshop I often keep an eye out for new tattoo books, but generally find the majority of them overdone and poorly conceived. That was until I discovered Alex MacNaughton’s ‘London Tattoos’ for which Grace adorns the cover.

“I was working at Pure Ink at the time. Alex, who did the book, basically printed out these fliers as an advert for tattooed people. There were some in the shop and I picked one up, did some research on Alex and saw that he’d done other books; I sent him an email and that was that. There were lovely people at the studio where they did the photographs, just a really great atmosphere. At the end the make-up lady told me they wanted to put me on the cover and I thought she was kidding! Anyway, it’s made my mum proud and it’s really well put together and edited. It was nice that the book focused more on the person than the tattoos. It was more personal. I don’t really drink much, but I remember having a Sailor Jerry at the launch party and being a bit tipsy on the tube home.”

Along with her friend Tamara, Grace was recently suspended at Divine Canvas by Iestyn Flye, the resident body modification artist. When they arrived they flipped a coin to see who would go first, and the first suspension went to Tamara. “Watching one of your best friends being suspended is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. Just being part of the process. When she was being suspended I was swinging her legs, and then when I went up, Tamara held onto my hands the whole time. It’s very difficult to explain how it feels. Like pain, you can remember something is painful but you can’t remember the exact feeling of the pain. It’s the same thing with a suspension, it’s all a blur, a beautiful mess.

“I’m very lucky to know a lot of really nice people, amazingly kind people, who do suspension. There’s always people that I really trust doing it. Like tattooing, there is a community of individuals who have their own teams and set-ups. It’s one of those things where you couldn’t possibly run into a horrible person at one of the meet-ups. You can be whoever you want to be and still be accepted.”

When Grace is at home she likes to paint, relax, have a cup of tea and get high. I interviewed her on skype and I noticed she had two strips of paint beneath her eyes so I asked her what they were. “My warpaint!” she replies with a smile.

“People like to ramble on about what tattooing means to them, but I don’t really know what it means to me. It’s just something that’s always been inside me. I just think that I do what I do because it feels natural. I don’t do anything because it’s cool, fashionable or trendy. I just try and stay as true to myself as I possibly can.”


Text: Tom Abbott