Interview with tattoo artist Amy Hazel

  Hello Amy Hazel! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your background. What inspired you to start tattooing? I’ve always studied art and been generally drawn to it, like all of us I suppose. As a teenager I used to spend a massive amount of time making art, drawing on my friends and myself with sharpies, looking into the industry and watching YouTube videos of tattoo influencers and apprentices and things like that and watching all the TV shows none stop. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else other than being in a creative field, it was actually my Grandma who first showed some support for my interest in tattooing when I was younger, she told me the local studio was always busy and it seemed like a good career option, and my auntie who has always shown so much enthusiasm for anything I wanted to do creatively when I was much younger.

Q: What was the most challenging part of becoming a tattoo artist? What kept you motivated?
A: The most challenging part for me was, and still is, putting yourself out there and receiving the criticism for what you’re doing, both online and by people close to you. Aside from actually learning the skill of course, I think building a thick skin has been the biggest challenge for me personally. Its hard to keep motivated sometimes, but it really helps learning to take the criticism as fuel to do better, every achievement is really fulfilling when you know you’ve proved the people who don’t believe in you wrong in my opinion.

Q: What kinds of tattoos you use to do as a beginner? Would you re-do some?
A: When I first started I started with more trad designs, and quickly moved on to neo-trad which I stuck with for a few years! Id definitely have another go at using some of the concepts I had back then, but I wouldn’t attempt the execution again!

Q: Did anyone help you to learn the basics? How long took you to gain confidence and regular clients?
A: I did a traditional apprenticeship, but I learned under black and grey artists, so a lot of my colour work was definitely independent trial and error. My clients definitely gave me all of my confidence, I’ve been so lucky to have the most wonderful clients who kept me going, especially when I was shot down a lot in my first few years. A lot of them have been with me the whole time I’ve tattooed! I wouldn’t say I’m absolutely confident or comfortable even now, it’s been 6 years since I did my first tattoo, but I think as artists we should always be ready to critique ourselves and be absolutely prepared to learn and grow. I think a lot of problems can come from becoming content with your skill, but my confidence has definitely grown tenfold since opening my own studio and having more freedom to travel and work at conventions, meet other cool artists and spend more time in a positive environment that works for me and my clients.

Q: I really love your style. I think it's a great mix of tattoo realism and some cartoonish vibe, really creative. How would you call it?
A: I have no idea! I’d like to think I’m a realism artist. I think that’s why I chose to incorporate cartoons as stickers rather than just the standalone cartoons, to try and give it that definition as realism, but I definitely have other elements too. It’s hard work trying to pinpoint the exact style, but people have described it as surrealism, pop art, realism etc, any of those work for me! To me, it’s just my own style.

Q: What do you like the most about this style?
A: Definitely the portraits! I’ve always worked with female portraits, and it never gets old for me. I just love working with them! Every part of it is interesting to me. I also really enjoy the balloon lettering, the first time I did one I was so shocked at how shiny looking and effective they can be!

Q: Color tattooing only? Would you experiment with black and white tattooing, or a completely new style?
A: Absolutely! Believe it or not, I work in a small town in the UK, so the majority of the time I worked in black and grey until recently as there wasn’t much call for colour realism. It was quite rare that I would be able to work in colour, it’s only now that I’m getting more recognised for my preferred style that people are travelling to come and see me to do what I love doing, so I can do a lot more of it which is super cool. I do enjoy black and grey, and I’m very competent with it having learned to tattoo in a black and grey studio! One day I’d really like to try my style in black and grey, but the opportunity hasn’t come up yet!

Q: Is it true that color tattooing is a bit more challenging technically speaking? What are some of the most difficult parts to work on while doing a portrait tattoo?
A: I definitely think that tattooing in colour is much more challenging technically, it really requires a lot of knowledge about colour theory, mixing colours, and composition. It’s not like other forms of tattooing where you work with a few shades exclusively (which is of course difficult to master in its own right for different reasons), you have a massive colour palette to pick out, different skin tones and undertones to work with, and with colour you have to work in a certain order to avoid staining your lighter colours. Not to mention having to clean out your needles every 5 minutes to change colours and knowing how to layer those colours and saturate properly without overworking the skin. Colour tattooing is very complex and time consuming, but I find it so rewarding!

Q: Tattooing is a really fun job for most time, even though, it requires a lot of patience and practice. What happens when you have a creative block? How do you get inspired?
A: It’s definitely a lot of pressure to stay at the top of your game every day for every client, it definitely takes a lot of self care in your personal life to be able to work like this. For inspiration, I don’t really know where it comes from specifically. I don’t really hunt for inspiration, I think you kind of stumble across it. For example, I wanted to do something to make my work stand out when I started doing this style, I wanted something original that would make my pieces clear it was mine at first sight, eventually I came up with using my signature sad smiley faces on the cheeks. The inspiration for that came from snapchat filters, believe it or not. I saw a filter with stickers all over the face and just rolled with it, and it became a staple in all of my designs. Scrolling on Instagram helps a lot, but it’s a slippery slope. The last thing you want to do is find an artist you admire, but end up ripping off their style, so I try to draw inspiration from things like concepts, composition or colour choices from artists rather than a specific style, I think that’s one of the main reasons I chose to find inspiration from wherever it comes rather than seeking it out.

Q: Do you draw a lot? How important is to have good drawing skills?
A: Not as much as I’d like to any more, I don’t have the time and I choose to tattoo friends and family for free for practice rather than use other mediums now. I used to draw a lot though, I actually studied art at university where pencil drawing was my main discipline. I used to draw huge realistic portraits, like A0 sized paper, and try and get it as realistic as possible. I spent a lot of time learning how to draw pores and individual hair strokes so that I could do them on a massive scale. I think that experience has been absolutely invaluable to me now, as I spent years studying tone, colour theory and how to create realistic textures. I think it’s so important to have a good understanding of these things if you want to be able to tattoo realism, but I don’t think you need a formal education, just knowledge and practice, which you can get from anywhere. YouTube is a big help. Although I don’t draw much, I spend a lot of time watching artists who do to see how they work with skin tones or draw wrinkles and things like that. Anything I feel I need to work on, I’ll take it to YouTube to see how it’s done and see what tips I can pick up, it can all be transferred into tattooing once you know how to use your machine the same way they use pencils or paint. I think you can learn to tattoo without being able to draw first, I’ve seen it done, but I definitely think it’s much more of a process.

Q: Any creative hobbies like painting, digital art etc?
A: Definitely digital art, I’ve only started using digital mediums since I got my first iPad for my work, so I’m somewhat I beginner, but I absolutely love doing it. Call me a cheater, but being able to undo a paint stroke or line really takes the stress out of it for me when I’m doing it for fun rather than work. I tried to learn to paint at university, someone I was in the studio with was an amazing painter, and he tried to teach me, but it was so frustrating for me for some reason, I just couldn’t pick it up at all, I really would love to be able to oil paint though.

Q: Do you have like a sketch book with ready-made designs for some clients who simply don't know what?
A: I don’t actually make premade designs often. I will sometimes if I have a really cool idea, but I usually choose to work with the client one to one to make them something custom. If they don’t know what they want I usually ask their permission to have a look at their socials or have a conversation with them about what they like and try and make something that I think will fit their personality. It’s really important to me that the tattoo suits the client and really works with who they are as a person so I love doing everything on a custom basis.

Q: Do you have a favorite tattoo you consider as a "creative highlight"?
A: I definitely do have a levelling up piece, it was the first one I tattooed in the style I do now. It’s the one that really propelled my Instagram, since that one I’ve gained over 10,000 followers for the style, so I’ll be forever grateful to my partner, Connor, for letting me tattoo that absolute experiment on him! Otherwise, I’d say my favourite piece is always my most recent. I was once told that every piece you do should be your best piece, which is a bit of advice I’ve lived by since!

Q: Do you have any favorite artists?
A: Absolutely! For colour, definitely Amy Edwards (@amyedwardstattoo), Sam Barber (@sambarbertattoo), Beth Rose (@bethrosetattoo) and Alex Wright (@alexwrighttattoo) I really love black and grey artists too, especially Neil Dransfield (@neil_dransfield_tattoo), Anrijs Straume (@anrijsstraume) and his apprentice Hollie (@erotttik.funeral) My wonderful friend Rakhee (@Rakhee_Tattoo) is such an inspiration to me and she’s been so kind to me. She was my first collaboration with another artist, and it was such a good experience. I’ll also be working with Jesse (mohawkjessetattoos) and Brandon (Brandonbond11) in the US this year who have been so nice to me so far.

Q: How do you see the tattoo scene today compared with just ten years ago? Do you see progress? In my opinion, I think the artists, the magazines, the events, and the seminars etc I think all of us have a special piece of the puzzle. I see progress and I'm really happy. Do you think we can do more? What would you change?
A: I think there is definitely so much more progress within the last few years, I think the industry is so much more mainstream now and, unpopular opinion, I absolutely love it! I love the public being involved in what we’re doing, Obviously there’s drawbacks to it, like Tattoo Fixers and scratchers tattooing without any training, but for the most part I think it’s such a cool part of the industry that the public care enough about what we do that we can put on conventions and shows and have fun! But I think it’s made so much more room for artists who do really interesting, individual styles to learn to tattoo and come up in the industry, I think the inclusivity and diversity within the industry now compared to 10 years ago is astounding in my experience. I’m really glad that the public perception has changed from being something that is linked to gangs and violence in some places, which is maybe more than 10 years ago but you catch my drift, to an art form to be admired and respected.

Q: Any advice for the new artists?
A: Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it, never forget it takes practice and doesn’t come overnight. Surround yourself with kind people and look after yourself! It’s so important to have a happy working environment. Good luck! My DMs are always open for beginner artists who need some motivational words or advice. o focus on my own style, but I’m always looking at and studying other types of tattooing. I have my favorite tattooers in every style, so if I’m struggling with an element I can refer to someone better than me in a different style and try to problem solve an answer for what’s best for my design. Long story short, there is no right way or wrong way, you just have to put in an honest effort at getting better and learning more. That seems to be the only thing that truly matters.