Once in a while, somebody special comes along who fulfils a need on more than one front. Whilst we were whittling down potential cover models for this issue, we also had in the back of our minds something that we hadn’t touched on recently that readers quite often mail in about and that was how people with a lot of ink get by in their regular jobs. So when we discovered that Cardiff’s Hollie Bryant was a nurse (and not a member of Torchwood), how could we resist!
Cardiff has really turned itself into a fun place to be these days. The last time I came here – quite some time ago – it was a city on its knees begging to be put to sleep. It’s hard not to fall in love with the place. The same can be said of Hollie – fiercely proud of her art and more than willing to tell the whole world about it, I don’t even have to ask her anything before she gets going…
“I got my first tattoo at 15 whilst truanting from school! A small, poorly designed Celtic piece on my stomach which thankfully, today is almost nowhere to be seen. Four years, three bad tattoos and an awful lot wiser, I set my eyes on the work of Dawnii Fantana (Painted Lady Tattoo Parlour). Her work was so bright, bold and original I was entranced immediately. I knew I wanted work done and it all went from there. Over the next four years Dawnii did my chest piece, side piece, Hawaiian sleeve and many a lower leg piece at various conventions. She’s awesome!
Later, Phil Kyle at Magnum Opus did my left sleeve including my egg timer and gypsy mirror and the roses. I really admire his work and have a good collection of his paintings over my walls at home. I also have pieces by Jo Harrison and Simon Erl on the same arm – again, both artists whose tattoo and artwork I adore.
I love old school imagery and try to incorporate those elements into my ideas for ink. I always have the initial ideas but leave it up to the artists to interpret them in their own way and make the tattoo their own. I’m definitely not regimental in any particular style however I do love colour and all of my ink is pretty bright. Animals also tend to feature a lot in my ink partly because I’m vegan, partly because I’m fascinated with birds. I’m like the crazy bird lady with seven birds scattered around the place!"
I assume you’re not quite done yet…
“I’ve got a lot of work to go yet! I’ve just had my Vegan tattoo started by Chris Hatton at Physical Graffitti. They are the cutest thigh pieces, that guy is super talented! I can’t wait to get them finished. Then I hope to start my back piece next year. I’m traditional Japanese at the moment but who knows what might happen with that - there are so many awesome artists out there! Sometime in the future, I’d like to get work by Buena Vista Tattoo Club, Uncle Allan, Matt Difa and Leah Moule – there’s more but those spring to the front of my mind.”
For better or worse – depending on which side of the fence you’re on - the public profile of tattoo art is possibly the highest it’s ever been thanks to the media, does it affect you professionally?
“I’m a nurse - a regular nurse that looks after ill folk. I started getting heavily tattooed whilst in my nurse training. Everyone tends to assume I got all my tattoos before for some reason but most of them came after I qualified. It doesn’t make you a shit nurse to be tattooed but there’s still an awful lot of misconceptions surrounding tattoos and people definitely tend to perceive you differently. I’ve learnt that over the last few years. People don’t expect to see a heavily tattooed nurse when they walk into a doctor’s surgery but I’m doing my best to change views. I’m good at what I do and tattoos don’t change that.”
So what’s the big plan? Are you quite happy being a nurse by day and modelling when you can or are you looking to push the modelling so that you can maybe give up nursing and come back to it later?
"I love nursing, it’s my bread and butter but I love modelling equally. I think I’ve managed to find a happy medium to be honest. Nursing is work that I love to bits but modelling is more play and a chance to relax and get creative. I think I’ve found the right balance that allows me to do both. I’d love to have more time to shoot though. I have a lot I want to achieve in the next year modelling wise and slowly but surely, I’m working my way through a big list. I don’t intend on giving up nursing but I definitely intend on pushing the modelling side of things.
There’s no set plan, I’m just going with the flow right now.”
From all of the things you’ve said here, it’s evident that you’re very much in charge of where you’re going – does that translate into the kind of shoots you like to do?
“I do like to have a lot to do with the production of the shoots, but the whole team tend to contribute creatively. I like to take an active role in the process but you have to value the photographer’s direction and opinion. They’ve taken a million pictures before and know what looks good and what doesn’t. It’s really important to find a good team to work with. Experience is a prerequisite but most of all for me, they need to be fun to work with. It’s nice to bring your own ideas to the shoot but it’s really helpful to take advice. That way you can keep things simple and be yourself.”
I confess to Hollie that when the contact sheets landed on my desk, I split her into two different piles. Both made the “extremely possible for the cover” pile but I filed her as two different people and it wasn’t until later in the day that I figured out they were both her…
“Charming! I agree though. I do look really different. I try to be versatile and not just stick to one look in shoots. It’s fun changing the way you look to suit particular briefs. I like a challenge! It’s important to be able and willing to do that. No one wants to see the same thing over and over again do they? I don’t have different personas as such - I’m always just Hollie Bryant. I just like to mix things up a bit every now and again. This is definitely not all of me though – there’s more where that came from!”