The Cover Model - Amanda West

Published: 23 July, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 214, July, 2012

When Mr Cole flaunted these pics in front of us, there was very little we could say apart from “they’re ours”. With that side figured out and one of the best covers in a long time under the belt, we went drilling for oil inside the head of Amanda West.

In an ever transient world, working in the same place for more than ten years seems like a commitment more serious than marriage to me. If I’ve gotten my math correct, Amanda has spent the majority of her career at Alzone. From where I’m standing, a lot has changed in just the last few short years and I wonder how she sees it.

“Yep – I’ve been at the Alzone, on Eastgate Street in Gloucester, since 2001, but I’ve been part of Alzone since the beginning of the official business in 1997. I love the shop with a passion and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I adore the privilege of working with some of my best friends every day: Al Hale, who owns the shop (and has been working hard in tattooing for 15 years); Lee Mallett, who’s been with us as a piercer and now as a tattoo artist for a long time; Nick Cook, who was our receptionist – he learned tattooing in Spain and came back to us six years into his career; Bryony, who was the apprentice but is producing beautiful, neo traditional tattoos with great precision; and I mustn’t forget Jim, one of my best friends and our shop manager – he’s been with us for around seven years and is the axis of the shop. He’s a brilliant bloke, a computer wizard, does jobs without being hassled to, and also books appointments sometimes. The shop truly is a joy to be in – which is crass and inappropriate of course, but true all the same! Having fun is important to us all in the shop and we definitely do.

“I started my apprenticeship in 1997, and around a year later began steadily tattooing easy things, which, to be fair, was very easy in the ’90s. Since I started tattooing, I always wanted to be designing things for clients, but back then most people just wanted flash off the wall. Also, pre-made needles didn’t exist so had to be made up by hand.

I was delighted about pre-made needles because as the demand for more custom work was rising, it made it easier to have the time to draw. Also, hand-drawn stencils… my God I’m glad of the thermal copier. Some stencils would take longer to draw than to tattoo! You couldn’t buy from any suppliers without a registration certificate, and going into a trade only room at a show was terrifying as someone new to the business.

“Now though, anyone can get hold of anything, which is kind of a shame. I think public knowledge is important, but the mystique of tattooing has been lost by tattoo TV programmes, and the dawn of everyone knowing a kitchen wizard has arrived. Some balance would be nice. It’s gone from not enough public awareness to everyone ‘having a go’ irresponsibly. Not to mention not paying tax on their earnings. Don’t be surprised, if I do a little roofing or cosmetic procedures in the future, with MY stuff off eBay!

“That said though, some good has come of it because clients are way more adventurous with what they want done than they used to be. This is great because everything is custom drawn now which has played into my exact wishes for my career since the beginning. Inks are better and there’s a massive range available. Life is made a whole lot easier for artists to do what they want with extensive needle configurations and different machines.

“I’ve also had two children, which has made my time management incredible because I have less of it. I work harder than I ever did before on communicating with clients and on my design work. To be honest, sometimes I’m a borderline workaholic.

“I do miss textiles a great deal, but I get to wear stupid clothes, make costumes for my kids, tattoo people, do face painting for the school and playgroup, bake ridiculous cakes, and other creative things – so I really do feel like I have fulfilled my need to be creative. I’m really lucky in that respect. I’m honestly just so happy to be able to make a living out of something I enjoy doing so much.”

Looking at some of Amanda’s work here, there’s more than a fair few great portraits – that will be the old word of mouth doing its thing. Are they something she had to work hard on or did she find she had a natural talent for it? There are truly some awful examples out in the world, so it’s nice to see somebody who knows what they’re doing.

“My portraits are OK. I’m happy with them, if my clients are! I work hard on every single tattoo I do. I could never specialise in one thing, as I enjoy doing many things. The only constant in my tattooing, is that it all looks like I did it. It could be Japanese or flowers or a load of gory stuff; I don’t have a label I guess, I just tattoo things in my own way, for people that like it.

“It’s textured – sketchy/painterly. Nothing looks very shiny. I use as much black as possible and also use very old machines at the moment because I want to see what I can do with those before I start changing my kit around too much. I love needle marks in tattoos, just like I love brush strokes in paintings.

“When I see the work that’s out there these days, I’m honestly gobsmacked as to why anyone wants to travel and get tattooed by me, but my God I’m grateful and honoured that they do. It is nice to know people like my tattoos because I think I tattoo in a weird way. Even my colleagues think so too. That said, I’m still totally happy and fine with what I do. I’ll just be the best Amanda I can be, and as long as I’m doing that, with the result of happy clients, I am satisfied.”

We seem to have come out of the cult of celebrity now when it comes to TV. Personally, I think it’s all over bar the shouting and the aftermath any mainstream media might want to make of it. It’s probably a broad question, but Glouscester is as good an example as anywhere, so… did it make an impact on the day-to-day happenings of Alzone? There was a lot of criticism about how people would think sleeves didn’t take very long, but did that really happen in the real world?

“Weirdly, Gloucester has been about ten years behind bigger cities in the trend of tattooing. Tattoo TV shows certainly accelerated the amount of people asking for cool stuff. It also made them do a little more homework before coming in and saying that classic line ‘I want a tattoo, but I don’t know what I want’. People are way more open to letting me interpret their ideas in my own way, which is brilliant. As I said before, the darker side is the amount of people tattooing from home – the amount of people working from home that have just ‘set up shop’ to ‘cash in’ on the latest thing, and the amount of people that will get tattooed by someone without researching them, and those who think that even though it’s half the price, it won’t make any difference to the quality of work.

“I feel very fortunate that I have a great bunch of clients; I really seemed to luck out in that respect. All my clients seem to be fun and nice, spirited people. I enjoy spending time with every one of them and I’m so proud of being able to make these people happy with their tattoos because they make me enjoy my job more by being fun, flexible, kind and really good people to be around. I wish I could describe every client I tattoo and the chats I’ve had with them. Being at work is such a positive thing, so I guess the answer to that is that tattoo TV has over-saturated and over-killed a lot about tattooing, but I’m floating along in Amanda world where I am lucky enough to be able to ignore the bad and focus on the good things. With the help of my superb work colleagues, clients & friends of course.”

I pulled a quote from Amanda’s (not so distant) past about her painting and art that we had kicking around. It went something along the lines of “these are things that people would never get tattooed that I need to see on canvas” – and wonder if this is still the case?

“I have tattooed a few more surreal things, and have actually done a couple of tattoos based around some paintings! There are a couple of people out there wanting my daft, jokey but pretty things done. Again, I can’t ever be grateful enough to the tattoo industry and to clients for the things I get to tattoo.

“The only thing I ever really complain about is time… I have none! I really do make life all about my kids and my job, so a social life is something I’m bad at. I haven’t even had time to paint lately because of drawing work. Sometimes, I eat Pot Noodles for tea because I have no time for sea bass or prawns! Painting and tattooing are blended – I have no choice because I have no time to paint right now, so my clients are getting that chucked in there too. God bless ’em for being so easy going…

Pearl Jam Addiction

The day before we ran up this interview, we had a schedule clash as Amanda was on her way out to see Pearl Jam – the day after I was curious (or jealous perhaps) as to what she made of it. I haven’t seen Pearl Jam for years.

“I adore Eddie Vedder’s voice. It’s manly but beautiful and the songs are so well written. So many of their tracks have good memories for me, or relevance to mine and many people’s lives. I guess I just grew up, enjoying their music among other bands of that era and to get to see them in the UK was the opportunity of a lifetime. I haven’t really wanted to go to a gig for a long time. I’ve been immersed in work. I’d really like to see Primus and I’m a total idiot, for not having seen the Foo Fighters yet. Alice in Chains and Faith No More are also on the to do list, but kids and tattooing are my priority right now. The Pearl Jam gig in Manchester was absolutely perfect though…”

Studio Details

Alzone Tattoo Studio
98 Eastgate Street

01452 550580


Text: Sion Smith: Photography: Scott Cole