My name’s Poppy, I’m a 21-year-old living in Manchester, England. I work full-time as a digital marketing executive for a creative agency. In my spare time, I’m a freelance writer and blog about tattoo history.
What does getting tattooed mean to you?
As corny and cliche as it may sound, getting tattooed for me is more than just having an appointment. Getting tattooed means I get to visit new places, meet new people I have a common interest with and gain a piece of art for life. Even when I look at my not-so-great tattoos from when I was 18, I try not to regret them – even those tattoos mean I went somewhere, met someone and did something.
If it wasn’t for getting tattooed, I wouldn’t know half the people I know now. I wouldn’t know half the things I know now – I wouldn’t even be doing this interview! Getting tattooed means a lot to me; it’s a hobby I’m emotionally, physically, socially and financially invested in.
Can you share with us one of your most meaningful tattoos?
To be completely honest, none of my tattoos are really sentimental. I don’t have anything relating to my family or friends, as I largely just get tattoos that are aesthetically pleasing to me. Nevertheless, I’d probably have to say either my wrist-cuffs or my ‘Death to Misogyny’ reaper on the inside of my arm. Both depict a turning point for me: my wrist-cuffs covering cuts and scars from tough years prior, and my grim reaper a reminder to be unapologetic and strong-minded and willed – even whilst existing in a time where the contempt and prejudice for women and girls is still very much alive.
Who did you get tattooed by?
Amongst my bad tattoos, I’ve been fortunate to be tattooed by some amazing people. Living in Manchester, I have Rain City Tattoo Collective and INRI Tattoo right on my doorstep. I’ve been tattooed the most by Rich Hadley, but I’ve got pieces by Daniele Delli Gatti, Hannah Clark, Zooki and Nicholas York too.
Do you think tattoos can define your identity, as well as your appearance?
I’m only 21, so I’m still trying to figure my identity out! I wouldn’t say tattoos define my identity, but perhaps they have enhanced it. I didn’t really identify as being confident until I was tattooed. Having something that’s interesting and perhaps unusual to people across my body is oddly empowering. The more I get tattooed, the more I think I’m closer to figuring myself out.
What do you love about traditional tattoos and tattoo history?
I must admit, I haven’t always been a fan of traditional tattoos. When I was 18-years-old, it was all about realism and neo-traditional for me – that’s what I saw as art. Traditional always seemed too clumpy and simple and I couldn’t understand why you’d want something that’s been done a thousand times before. Now, look at me! I have a Bert Grimm tiger and Pharaoh’s horses, probably two of the most tattooed designs period. I don’t really know where the turning point came, probably when I started seeing pictures of Betty Broadbent and Ethel Martin (a.k.a Lady Viola). I’d see tattoo collectors like Pamela Nash and just be in awe of how classic they looked. I loved thinking that, perhaps, some-day I’d look like Mildred Hull or Rusty Skuse.
The history really came as part and parcel of this discovery. America has a particularly rich tattoo history that sucked me in, and stories about the Bowery and Chatham Square are just fascinating. You start to learn about characters like Charlie Wagner, Samuel O’Reilly and Maud Wagner just from this area alone. Spread further in New York and you begin to learn about Tony Polito, Brooklyn Blackie, Coney Island Freddie, Bill Jones and Huck Spaulding. These are all people who pioneered tattooing as we know it, be it from Samuel O’Reilly patenting the first electric tattoo machine in 1891, or artists like Thom DeVita who rebelled against the 1961 ban of tattooing in the city of New York.
History in the United Kingdom is a little more opaque, but that’s all part of the lure. Groups like Bristol Tattoo Club have shed light on a whole new chapter of history I previously didn’t know about, but there’s always something new to learn. Admittedly, it was only recently I became aware of Jessie Knight. The fascination with the facts is one thing to love, but the stories are something else. I often get chatting to OAP’s in the street who are donning classic designs and they’ll tell me about how tattooing was ‘in their day.’ Hearing all these tales just adds personality to the history, and most people’s faces light up when you ask them about a crawling panther they got on their arm 40-odd years ago.
What inspires you on getting new tattoos? Do social media help?
Social media certainly helps. A good 98% of the people I ‘follow’ on Instagram are tattooers, meaning my feed is constantly cluttered with new designs and tattoos from around the world. I see things and I bookmark them, building up an arsenal of potential new pieces. Sometimes Instagram accounts like Yellow Beak Press or NewYork_TattooHistory post archive images of tattoo collectors years ago and I’ll see something and think I have the perfect spot for it.
I probably don’t read as much as I should do, but I have a few tattoos books that have sticky notes poking out of them. Every time I flick through ‘Flash from the Bowery’, ‘Bodies of Subversion’, ‘Italian Tattoo Flash’ or ‘Tattoo Travel Book’ I see something I haven’t seen before and put a reminder by it.
Who are your fav tattoo artists and what are you getting next?
It’s hard to pick a favourite artist! Places like America are full with great artists and studios, everyone at Smith Street in New York, Ivan Antonyshev and Zach Nelligan from Mainstay in Texas, Nate Hudak from Crying Heart Tattoo in Ohio, Ian Wiedrick from Allied Tattoo in New York, Henry Big (formally Rain City!) at Greenpoint Tattoo in New York…but, personally I’m a big fan of a lot of European artists – particularly from Italy! Joe Tartarotti, Alessandro Lemme, Stizzo and Vince Pages from Switzerland (who absolutely blew my mind with a rendition of a Ben Corday backpiece) are the first who come to mind. My next tattoo is with Simon Gyllstrom in December. Nothing’s in concrete but it’ll be something classic on my arm!
As a kid, what was your perception of tattoos and tattooed people?
I never really thought anything of it. My mother is heavily and visibly tattooed, so I used to hang out in tattoo shops from an early age and see her get tattooed. Growing up, T.V shows like Miami and LA Ink were always on in the background, with copies of tattoo magazines on our coffee table. I was going to tattoo conventions way before I turned 18 and I just used to love admiring people and watching people get work done. I think, as a kid, you just find it fascinating. I never really understood why some people would glare or cross the street when I was with adults with tattoos.
And now, as a woman?
It’s largely the same. I still instantly recognise someone with tattoos as interesting. Even when you see half-lasered neck tattoos on people in the pub and shoddy Chinese on someone’s arm in town I can’t help but think “there’s a story behind it.” I love tattoos as much as I did when I was a kid.
Any upcoming project or dream you are working on?
I don’t have any other big projects planned right now; having my front tattooed is a pretty big commitment. I think once my stomach is complete I’ll take a breather from big projects and put areas like my back on hold. As it’s coming to the end of the year, I’m beginning to think about where my next travels will be – I’d love to get over to Milan and Rome next year to be tattooed and maybe even pay a visit to the States.