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Tattoo Art Comes Of Age At The Rites Of Passage Tattoo Expo

11 October 2016 | 3:21 pm | Maxim Boon

We catch up with three of Australia's best tattoo artists ahead of the industry's top get together in Sydney

Getting tattooed has well and truly hit the mainstream in recent years, boasting some schmick ink is no longer limited to bikies, sailors, bucks parties and drunken schoolies. Today, any and everyone can proudly wear their tattooed heart on their sleeve, literally if they so choose, but it's not just tattooees who have become more diverse. Artists are increasingly swapping the paint brush for the needle as tattooing has become the most active arena in the world for the commissioning of original artworks.

Countless unique designs can be found adorning bodies across the globe and for the most in-demand artists, waiting lists can run into months or longer. Australia is one of the world leaders when it comes to top shelf tattoo talent. Gone are the days of picking out a hackneyed design from a catalogue: if you're thinking of getting a tatt, go bespoke or go home. Three of Australia's best tattoo virtuosos gave us an insight into their creative approaches.

Julian Bogdan

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I always drew and painted as a kid, so I knew that was what I wanted to do from a young age. After studying art, I worked for a couple of years as a graphic designer, but I became interested in tattooing from hanging out in the metal and hardcore scene. That's how I met my tattoo mentor, who showed me the ropes of the craft. I'm originally from France, where tattoos are not as commonplace. I've been travelling for the past seven years, arriving in Australia just under a year ago, and it really feels like one of the major destinations for tattoo art in the world. For me, the best thing about tattooing is being able to tell a client's story. Sometimes it is a love story, sometimes a memory, sad or funny. What interests me the most is managing to combine those stories with my own artistic touch in a permanent way.

My style is quite closely influenced by the way certain mediums work on a page, but the difference between painting and tattooing is huge. I've been tattooing now for more than ten years, but I am still learning new techniques every day and will continue to improve my skills. When I first got started you had to custom build your own machines and needles. Now you can get great equipment online, which is a big step forward.

In the last few years, I think attitudes towards tattooing have also evolved significantly. Young artists with fine art backgrounds bringing new ideas to the table have massively expanded the range of people who are now looking to get inked. Most of my clients allow me a lot of artistic freedom, but it is also key to have an exchange to establish what the client wants. It is nice to have free rein, but some boundaries are good as well, otherwise there is no stopping me! As far as tattoo trends go, I'm not interested in what's 'in' at the moment. Fads come and go, but I'm more concerned with perfecting my own style.

Chantelle Thong

I can remember when I was about five, my dad took me to the tattoo studio where he was getting a piece done on his arm. Kids weren't allowed in the shop so I waited outside for him with mum. He came out and I was just so fascinated that the art that he had on his body was going to last him a lifetime. Dad started getting tattoos when I was quite young so I think the fascination kind of grew from there.

I've always been very interested in art, but drawing and tattooing are very different. My first tattoo was really nerve-racking, actually, and it definitely didn't turn out the greatest, but I guess we all have to start off somewhere. I perfected my style later on down the track, when I came to know myself a little better. I have a little bit of a mysterious, surreal kind of style - I guess my personality shows up in my work in that way. 

Personally, I think knowing your clients and gelling with them on an emotional level is really important part of giving them a design they will value for decades. I think I feed off people's energy a bit, so it can be very upsetting when I have to tattoo someone's mother that's passed away, because you just see how much it affects them, but the end result, giving that person something that really matters to them, is just an amazing feeling. I want to give people a piece that really represents them and that they love wearing for the rest of their life.

Tattooing, in general, is a lot more accepted these days, but it's also gotten a lot better for women in the tattoo industry. When I first started, it was extremely tough. There were a lot of guys that didn't take me seriously and didn't think that I could do it or that I could make it. I even got a lot of verbal abuse from people thinking that they had a right to walk all over me, but over the years that I've been doing it, it's massively improved.

Mayo Naize

I started off as a pretty traditional tattoo artist, but I kind of needed something a little less serious and a little less important in my life. That's when I started doing graffiti. At first, I was doing tattoo images on the wall, and then people would ask, "Oh, can you just paint a T-rex, or could you fucking do this or that?", and I just got sick of being told what to paint. I wanted something that was totally my own, but I didn't know what that might be. I remember watching this film about graffiti, and this dude on it said, "you can never consider yourself a really good graffiti writer until you've got a good hand style". When I heard that I thought, "Fuck!" I thought I was alright at graffiti but that was the one thing I didn't have down, so I just got obsessed with making that happen and perfecting a good tag - something that stood out.

I'd always liked doing script in my tattoo work, so that's where my graffiti style came from, but then as people started seeing my stuff on the street they kept asking to have them tattooed, so combining my graffiti and my tattooing styles happened pretty naturally.

I adapted a certain technique with one of the magnum needles, in order for me to drag it across the skin to make more of a brushstroke rather than a deliberately hardline script. It's a freer, more creative approach in a lot of ways and a bit more fun. It's a lot quicker and more immediately, but most of all it's really distinctive. 

I'm pretty happy that I've invented my own style and my own technique, which is something a little bit rare these days. A lot of people tend to jump on a style or aesthetic and change it a little bit, but I developed my own from scratch, with custom machines and my own alphabet, so I'm proud that I've been able to translate what I can put on the streets onto the skin, through my own invention. It's totally mine.

The Rites Of Passage Tattoo Festival is at Sydney Olympic Park 14 — 19 Oct