The Art of Inking with Tattoo Artist – Sammy Kent (@startattooist)
The art of inking permanently/semi-permanently on a human body is a very precise and unique branch of art which needs a lot of skill, professional knowledge, dedication and passion. Tattooing or tattoo art has been present for as long as 3370 BC and it has much history associated with it. Previously, tattooing in the body has been regarded as a very “Unsocial” thing to do. It has been condemned, it has been associated with witchcraft and black magic and it was the general consensus that “Respectable” people don’t tattoo themselves.
But all that is History now. Tattooing is a hugely popular culture thing to indulge in now and over years it has been legalised and widely accepted across all social strata. A tattoo is a very personal, intimate and physical thing for a person sometimes bordering on spiritual. To get something permanently inked in your skin, you need to feel connected to the subject of your tattoo.
So keeping all these in mind, let us get to know a few professional tattoo artists and their views about their craft. Today we are talking with Sammy Kent from England, UK. Being a tattoo artist has always been her dream career since childhood and despite many hardships and rejections in this male-dominated field, she has emerged as a very successful and well-loved and well known Tattoo artist. With over 12 years of industry experience, she loves her work and talks out her heart to us. Read to know more.
Follow Her on –
Instagram – Startattooist
P.S. All the pictures and videos are owned by ©Sammy Kent and reproduction in any form, without prior permission, is prohibited
Q. Please introduce yourself.
I’m Sammy, I’m 30 years old and have been tattooing for the past 12yrs. I grew up in a small town called Westerham in Kent. Most of my family still live in and around that area, but I moved away, closer to the studio where I work.
Q. What made you start your work as a Tattoo Artist? Please share about your journey and how long have you been doing this?
When I was a lot younger, perhaps 5/6, I used to sit and colour in my Dad’s old faded tattoos on his arms and legs in pen. I was a tattooist in the making. I always loved drawing, colouring and anything crafty. I knew when I was in school I wanted to do something ‘arty’. It was the only thing I had any real interest in. I was actually told by my art teacher in secondary school that I would never be a tattooist and I didn’t have what it took. As much as I was disheartened by what she said, in all honesty, it made me want it more. It pushed me to make it happen. It’s all I ever wanted and the fact that I proved her wrong just makes it all the more worthwhile. I started helping out at a studio in Sevenoaks, between 6th form and the part-time job I had at the time. The studio was fairly small, with only two artists at the time and they literally didn’t have space nor time to offer me a proper apprenticeship, but they let me come in and get some shop experience which I’m obviously really grateful for. I used to go in, get the shop cleaned and make sure everything was sterile. I burnt my fingers most mornings, helping make needles. It was a very time-consuming job, and although most artists use pre-made needles these days, I’m glad I learnt how to do it the old school way. I learnt how to use the autoclave, make stencils and just get a feel for the tattoo shop environment. I spent a while at this studio but knew I had to start looking for a different studio to do my apprenticeship at. I phoned around a lot of the local ones to me but they all had apprenticed at the time or weren’t taking anyone at that point. I spent spare time building up a portfolio of my drawings, ready to take to any studio who would take me on.
I was getting ready to think of a new career path as it was so hard to get an apprenticeship. I think tattooing has become so much more popular now so I think its easier now as there is probably a tattoo shop in most towns. It was also quite hard being a female, applying for jobs in a predominantly male profession. It’s nice to see now, just how many amazing female tattooist there are out there.
I was going to Erith, and I knew there was a tattoo shop there so as a last chance, I decided to take my portfolio with me and try one last time to get an apprenticeship. That’s when I met Paul and Mel. They were more than happy to offer me an apprenticeship. I had a part-time job back then and was only able to go to the studio perhaps twice a week at most on my days off. I spent a lot of time watching at the start and generally doing the shop duties that come with tattoo apprenticeships. I spent a lot of time taking machines apart and rebuilding them to learn how they work and how to repair them, as well as tattooing pigskin. Within 6 months, Paul felt I was ready to move onto real clients so he put me through to the council who came and assessed me and officially registered me as a licensed tattoo artist. I started off doing small walk-ins, little hearts, names, initials and simple ones. Slowly and surely the tattoos became bigger and more detailed, up to sleeves, legs and backpieces which I do now.
Q. Is it necessary to have a specific set of qualifications to become a Tattoo Artist?
You dont necessarily NEED any qualifications to become a tattooist, but it obviously helps if you can draw, and have some sort of artistic eye. Other than that, you need to be qualified and registered with your local council.
Q. Is being a tattoo artist your full-time profession or do you work elsewhere? Is it possible to make a sustainable career out of this craft?
This is my full time job. It’s pretty much a 24/7 job. It takes over your life completely. When I’m not tattooing, I’m generally drawing up designs ready for clients who are booked in, or generally designing new pieces that I want to tattoo.
Q. What would you consider your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement is actually doing the job I love. I love every day because its different. I think one of my favourite pieces I did was a Millwall backpiece which I designed. It took around 40hrs and the client even let me tattoo my name on it. It was also shared on a Twitter video by BBC Radio London which was great coverage. I think it actually became quite a popular talking point at Millwall. Most of the fans had seen it online, it went crazy! Even Millwall fans from other countries had seen it. From this, I actually ended up tattooing a few of the Millwall players, which I still tattoo now fairly regularly.
Q. What is your signature style of art that represents you as an artist? What does your work aim to say?
I have never been a tattooist who is set to one style. When I started my apprenticeship, I had to learn all styles and basically do whatever came through the door. Theres a few styles which I absolutely love to tattoo but I’m happy to take on anything.
Q. What is the one thing that you like about your work and one that you dislike?
I am very critical of my work. Even if its ‘good’ I always see something which I could have done better or differently. I think this is the only way to progress and improve.
Q. When a client is unsure about which tattoo to get, how do you get the idea/inspiration/reference to suggest them? How long does it take approximately to finish one piece of art?
Most people come into the studio with a set idea of what they want so it’s fairly easy to suggest ideas or come up with a final design. I generally think that if you have zero ideas of what you want/like then you’re not ready for a tattoo. It’s a big thing, it’s for life so make sure you think about it. We can help and advise but we cant pick tattoos for you.
Q. Who are your biggest influences?
Growing up watching a lot of Miami Ink, Kat Von D was a massive inspiration to me. I loved watching it, and again, it was nice to see a successful female tattooist. From being in the industry, there are hundreds of artists who’s work I absolutely adore. The likes of Steve Butcher, Nikko Hurtado, Ash Higham, Owen Paulls have always been huge inspirations to me! I tend to watch them work at different tattoo conventions and I’m just in awe.
Q. How do you manage your family life along with other commitments and schedules?
It’s hard. I used to eat, sleep, breathe tattooing but there came a point where the people who meant the most to me, weren’t getting the time they deserved so I had to ease up a bit. It just meant that instead of getting home and drawing designs, I will wait until I am at work. I have always had customers who feel the need to know my schedule at 3 in the morning and message me. I tend to ignore any messages/emails that are sent after studio opening times and reply when I am back at work.
It’s still hard, if I’m out with my missus, family, or anyone, in fact, once people know your job, they feel the need to undress and show me all their body parts and tell me what they want tattooed. I love my job, but I have working hours and private life like everybody else so it does get a little annoying when you’re out and people want to talk about work.
Q. What are the biggest challenges that you face as an artist? What is the biggest misconception that Tattoo artists face?
The biggest challenge is fixing tattoos that have been done in some basement or bedroom somewhere. People go to their mates who have bought a tattoo machine with not a clue on what to do. They go for cheap tattoos but don’t realise that cheap is not good and definitely not the way to go. We’ve seen people with deep scarring from unqualified artists and generally just awful work. It’s always hard fixing other peoples work and sometimes it’s not even possible. Another challenge is seeing a new loved up couple, walking in wanting each other’s names done. It’s always hard making sure that they know of the ‘tattooists curse’ and making sure they are 100% sure. The biggest misconception is that sleeves can be done in a matter of minutes. From these reality tattoo shows on TV, people generally think that tattoos can be done quickly because they see it done quickly on TV. They don’t understand that there’s been hours worth of footage edited out to scale down to a one hour programme. I have been asked if we can do a sleeve in an hour before. Like….come on. I couldn’t even outline a sleeve in an hour. It’s not possible. Another misconception against actual tattooists is that we are all thugs, and that’s simply not true. We are lovely people! 🙂
Q. How do you ensure that clients do not suffer allergic reactions to the ink used in tattoo applications? How do you deal with an anxious client?
All inks we use are vegan friendly and made with natural pigments. Allergic reactions are extremely rare these days. The inks are a lot better now. Generally, if there is any sort of allergic reaction, antihistamines or hydrocortisone tablets help. It just takes longer for the tattoo to heal in most cases.
Q. Sometimes, when doing a tattoo art on intimate parts, how do you make sure that you and your clients are comfortable?
To be honest, we don’t generally get a lot of intimate tattoos. I could probably count on one hand, the amount I’ve had over the past 12yrs. Our studio is open plan with all artists at their own stations but we have popped up screens available in the studio if clients need a little privacy while being tattooed.
Q. Apart from being an artist, what are your hobbies?
I love going to watch Millwall F.C with my fiancée whenever I can. Again, because of work, I only get to go to as many mid week home games as I can. We also both love carp fishing, so likely to find us down at the lakes on days off too.
Q. Please share your experience with different brands/projects you have worked on?
I’ve worked on a few large projects and like every tattoo, each is different. From the style, the colouring.
Q. There are a lot of shoddy people on social media or as clients who either try to discredit others or stalk them. How do you deal with such people or negativity in general? Does it bog you down or affect your mental peace?
Apart from sharing my work on social media, I don’t use it for anything else. And if it wasn’t for advertising my work, I don’t think I would. I generally think that negativity is a society problem. Obviously social media doesn’t help but people are too busy being keyboard warriors and hating on people than being nice. I don’t like it. I’ve always been raised with ‘If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it’.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Be ready for it to take over! It really does. But, go for it! I wouldn’t change it for the world. I absolutely love tattooing and couldn’t see myself doing anything else now.
Q. What are your future plans? Are you happy with the way your career has shaped up?
I’m more than happy with where I am at right now. It was something I always wanted to do, so to wake up every day and do a job I love is all I can really ask for. My dream will always be to have my own studio one day, but I have been at the same studio since day one, so it’s kind of become home.
Q. Lastly, any word for our blog? Thank you for your time!
Thank you for having me.
Thank you, Sammy, for taking out time to talk to us, and having such a wonderful and heart-to-heart conversation. We got to know a lot of things and we are sure that our readers would be much benefitted from this. Team WeekendTrivia wishes you all the best for your future endeavours.