Leah Gayton: Tattoo Artist

I originally met Leah Gayton in secondary school where we were both in the same group in guitar club. Whilst there we learned songs by Green Day and Nirvana and even, once, tried to write a song about odd socks (such was the fashion amongst the unpopular kids at the time).

 Nine years later, I frequently see tattoos pop up on my social networking sites that have been done by Leah herself, and I wanted to share her work with you. She spends her days creating masterpieces at SHADED LADY TATTOOS, and I caught up with her this week to ask her some questions about her career.

Have you always wanted to be a tattoo artist?

“No, I’ve wanted to be many things, and a tattoo artist started seeming a cool job when I hit about 17/18. I’ve always loved art and it seems like the best job to draw the things I like to draw.”

What did your friends and family say when you first said this is what you wanted to do?

“I think my grandparents were less than impressed, but my mum and dad were supportive and obviously the majority of my friends thought it was awesome as they’d get cheap tattoos ha!”


What is your favourite aspect of your job?

“I love that I get to meet new people everyday, I’ve learnt a lot from them, and I love the beautiful ladies I work with They make going to work fun, but I think the best bit is finishing a tattoo and seeing the clients face light up when they see it and thinking, yeah I did that!”

If you weren’t tattooing now, what do you think you would be doing?

“I did an animation degree, so maybe I’d have actually pursued, that and tried to do some sort of concept art or illustration type stuff… or done a tefl course and gone abroad to teach English.”

A lot of your work features a morphing between two creatures, when did this subject become interesting to you?

“Wow! That’s hard! I think I got inspired by a few different people’s work, like Matthew James and Jason Butcher, and I started realizing that a tattoo didn’t have to be one image, it could be different ones morphing into each other and that was really fun for me to start playing around with.”

At what point did you decide you wanted to incorporate the watercolour style into your portfolio?

“Last September I went up to the LONDON TATTOO CONVENTION, and met Lianne Moule, who does loads of watercolour stuff, and I thought it looked beautiful and wanted to give it a try. I really enjoyed doing it, so continued to do so!”

What is your response to people who say they want a tattoo but they “don’t know what”?

“I’ll generally give them some tattoo magazines to have a look at to see what sort of styles it is they like, and ask lots of questions like preferences to colour or black and grey and then for subject matter, just ask what they like, or if it’s for someone, what reminds them of them. Like, one guy wanted a memorial piece for his friend who passed away, and he was thinking about getting stars and we had a chat and I asked him to think about things that reminded him of her and we ended up doing a Nike trainer and some headphones surrounded by music notes and stars, which sounds kind of weird, I know, but it looks cool and he gets a lot of people asking him about it which is a great way to explain about his friend!”

Which other artists inspire you the most?

“Florian Karg, Silvano Fiato, Jason Butcher, Lianne Moule, Matthew James, Adam Kremer, Jeff Gogue, Luca Natalini, there are so many amazing artists!”

What experience have you been the most grateful for so far in your career?

“I recently got some of my work published in a tattoo magazine which was awesome, also being offered my job position at shaded Lady Tattoos.”

What do you think of the recent trend among young people to buy a tattoo gun off the internet and begin tattooing their friends?

“It is beyond ridiculous! It takes a long time to learn how to tattoo and without being shown how, they’re going to end up infecting and scarring their friends. Recently, I found out about a young girl tattooing (I say tattooing, but it was just scarring!) from home and rang environmental health, who said if they’re not advertising or making money from it they won’t do anything. This infuriated me! The council are all about money when it should be people’s health and safety they worry about.”

What would you say to someone who was looking to become a tattoo artist?

“Do not buy a machine online and start tattooing your friends, it’s an insult to the industry. Get together a good portfolio with varied work presented nicely and go around to all the REPUTABLE studios asking for an apprenticeship, or advice or anything that can help. Even if they don’t offer you an apprenticeship, most reputable studios are more than willing to give you advice and offer you help. I know a lot of apprentices have got their apprenticeship by, I don’t want to use the word harassing, but yeah, harassing studios! If you keep going in and offering to help out, then the studio will see that you’re actually really serious and passionate about it.”

Think about what you want, and save up to get it done by someone who respects your wishes. A tattoo should be a piece of art that you love forever.


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