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More than just needles and ink - Tattoo artists create living art

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The artist at work .. Candice Davis creates a tattoo.
Inked to the skin ... tattoo by Candice Davis - Photos by Amitabh Sharma
Tattoos by Phillip Shaw -Photo by Amitabh Sharma
Phillip Shaw stands in his home studio among some of his creations.

Amitabh Sharma, Contributor

"This is the needle that I am going to use," announces Candice Davis, pulling out a long, fine, metallic needle from a sterile pack. She inserts it into the machine as she revs the motor from a foot pedal to check its speed.

As the whirr of the motor resonates, Davis meticulously, with a steady surgical glove-covered hand, gets down to work.

This is no teeth-grinding or cavity-filling scenario; Davis is a tattoo artist. She uses her skill, imagination and creative acumen to etch a piece of art, only that the medium is the dermis of human skin, which is transformed into myriad abstract designs, words of wisdom or calligraphy in Persian and scriptures in the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit.

"Tattoos do carry some form of stigma," says Phillip Shaw, aka Tattoo Phillip.

Shaw, who has been a tattoo artist for more than 12 years, believes that tattooing involves the same nuances as any other art form. "The process is similar. We are all artists, just that our medium of expression is different."

Davis and Shaw are among a set of artists who are an amalgamation of a dextrous painter and a meticulous sculptor, expressing their creativity by embedding human skins with monotones or a multitude of hues.

Davis, who is bubbly and vivacious, works from a shop in Half-Way Tree, while Shaw, packing the sombre persona, plies his trade from his home studio.


Both come from diverse backgrounds, but are bound by a multitude of ideas, tinge of eccentricity, and flight of imagination that transcends boundaries.

"I had decided that I would be an entrepreneur and used to sell sweets in school," says Shaw. "I experimented with couple of things - I was a graphic designer and my interest grew in tattooing.

"I picked up books and started reading about the design and the medical aspects of the tattooing and slowly moved into being a tattoo artist."

Davis, who is from Ocho Rios, says her inspiration came from a lady who had a tattoo shop next to the prep school she attended.

A self-professed 'wild card', she practised her skills on herself. "At high school, my hands used to be covered with Paper Mate ink. All my teachers were constantly reminding me that what I was doing was unlady like," Davis added, chuckling.

But behind the colourful façade lies the serious face of creativity at work.

Tattooing is a multipronged process, the artists explain. The first step is brainstorming the design.

"Clients come with ideas, I sit with them and advise them on the best fit," explains Shaw.

"I ask about blood disorders, allergies and if someone is anaemic," informed Davis. "We have to be careful when working with people with anaemia, the blood is thinner and we have to work carefully."

The needles come individually packaged, which are destroyed after every tattoo job. The area to be tattooed is cleaned with alcohol and shaved.

The designs are first sketched on stencil paper and then transferred to the part where the tattoo is to be made. Either the outline is etched first and then the colours filled in or, for some designs, it's the other way around.

Both artists use their imagination and exercise creative licence to develop the patterns. "I don't use tattoo books. I want to give uniqueness to my designs," says Davis.

They say since tattoos are permanent, people should be careful in choosing the theme. The choice of placement is a personal choice, but if one is working in an office, then it is better to get the tattoo done where it can be concealed by clothing. "They are seen as a sign of rebellion," says Shaw.

"They ... tell (about) a journey, but not its horrible parts," exudes Davis.

For Shaw, this art is work of self-expression. "Every child is an artist, the challenge is keeping it (as) you grow."