Tattoo Art: A Different Canvas

Tattoo art is a job that requires a lot of skill, and a lot of patience and dedication to learn the craft, which can take many years of on-the-job training.

Megan Oliver shows us around the Inner Vision Studio where she works, demonstrating artworks and tools, and how she creates the tattoos for customers.

Megan tells us about what it takes to be a tattoo artist. There are many people interested in the work, but few have the dedication or motivation to spend 5 years learning their craft with little or no income, while first learning about sterilisation and working with a needle to techniques or tattooing, and design and consulting skills. Tattoo artists also are reluctant to give away their secrets, so apprentices must earn their trust to fully learn the trade from their teachers.

Megan was born and raised in New Zealand, in a family of artists where creativity was always encouraged. While studying at the School of Fine Arts (ELIM) in Auckland, she discovered that her preference was for the world of comic books, tattoos, club flyers and graffiti and so left before graduating. So she searched for someone who would take her on as an apprentice. Finally getting her first break by Mark Lee of Realistic Dermagraphics, on the Portobello Road in London, in the early 90's, Megan spent three years as an apprentice. This was a long and difficult process, spending a lot of time watching and learning from a distance without getting paid or even touching a tattoo machine for years.

Returning to Australia in 1996, Megan went on to do a further apprenticeship with eX de Medici at Deus Ex Machina in Canberra, and then moved to Sydney and finally settled herself at Inner Vision, where she has been working for the past 7 years doing 5 or 6 consultations and designs per week, and potentially 4 designs on Sunday when she does walk-in tattooing.

Inner Vision first opened in 1995. The studio is situated in a double-story Victorian terrace on Crown St in Sydney's Surry Hills and has built its reputation as 'Sydney's best' custom tattoo studio through a combination of highly artistic, skilled tattooists with true passion, great client communication and hospital grade sterilization procedures. The studio has thousands of pre-drawn designs in a variety of classic and contemporary styles and an extensive reference library to facilitate custom designs. There are also numerous photographic portfolios of all current studio artists that represent the varied styles that the studio is skilled in. Work is usually done on an appointment basis, however the traditional 'walk-in' service is available on Saturdays and Sundays.

Q&A with Megan on her career choice:

What do you like about tattooing? Tattooing is the most fascinating and challenging medium I've ever worked in. I like the collaborative, personal, sincere nature of tattooing - it avoids the crass marketplace motivation of commercial graphic art and the ego tripping of institutionalised fine art. You get to use your artistic abilities, not just to flaunt them for their own sake or to enable some greed merchant to make a huge pile of money, but to make someone else happy and add a little colour to their journey. Each tattoo is a marker of the passage of time, a meditation on impermanence, a funky hand-made one-off in a world of slick, computerised mass production.

Who are your influences or favourite artists? Mark Lee, eX de Medici, the Inner Vision crew, Los Bros Hernandez, Dan de Carlo, Alex Grey, Mike Mignola, Masami Teraoka, "Ed the Happy Clown", "V for Vendetta", the Dadaists, Buddhist art and iconography, Club Kooky, Gurlesque, Nina Hagen.

What type of tattoo do you most enjoy doing? Anything graphic, meaningful, unique and personal. Dislikes - snatch-and-grab cultural misappropriation, tattoo as fashion trend. Likes - tattooed legs in high heels, rap music, rollerskating and running amok!

How to get into this industry? Tattoo Artists are initially taken on as apprentices directly with an established artist, and will only be considered if they are foremost an artist and can show a portfolio of artwork: therefore, anyone interested should first look to completing a graphic design course at TAFE or a Fine Arts College.

VJ Rodney Meier