Claire Reid

Tattoo [node-title]
Published: 18 October, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 185, May, 2010

I literally stumbled on Claire’s work some time ago on the internet and from the first moment of seeing her incredible colour-work, there was something in her tattoos that I had seen before but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. As you can see by the photos on these pages, she has a very unique style unmatched by any other artist. Eventually after talking to Claire she mentioned that she had shown me her portfolio a few years previous. Was this fate that we should meet again via her artwork? I think so.

My job is to bring you, the reader, the best tattoos from around the globe and with Claire’s amazing almost Mucha-esque tattoos, interspersed with colour of such softness and vivacity, I feel my work here is done.


Claire is one of those lucky tattooists who not only has an obvious talent for tattooing and painting but has an unquenchable thirst for travel and, as such is never in one place for long, choosing to constantly be on the road; meeting and experiencing other artists along her road less travelled. 


Where and when did the tattoo bug bite?

I think my interest in tattooing was ignited from the age of 16 when I used to hang out at Quiggins in Liverpool. Quiggins was a funky underground four-story building full of retro second hand, moth eaten shops, with tattooing and piercing on the top floor, all the Goths used to hang out there. Ever since I can remember I've always painted and drawn, and was naturally attracted to the imagery used in tattooing from the first time I saw it.


I went to university in 2001 to study sociology and completed the degree in 2004, my main passion has always been the arts, so when I left university I opened a contemporary art gallery selling glass, ceramics and paintings in order to study on the side as an artist. I ran the shop for a while but was working 24/7 and not practicing as an artist or breaking more than even financially. A week after I closed the gallery I got a job that I LOVED piercing in Luton market. I continued to pierce for about eighteen months after that, this also re-ignited my love for tattooing that had somehow been forgotten after three years of university.


In 2005 I nagged and nagged my boss to let me learn tattooing, but she didn't think that my drawings were good enough and only gave in after another employee got sacked. She gave me six weeks to learn to tattoo and would make me go back to piercing if I couldn't do it in that time. So I worked my ass off, tattooing and practicing as much as I could under the wing of another tattoo artist, who emigrated, so after the six week apprenticeship I was full time in the studio from there on. I moved to a studio in Peterborough soon after and really loved my time there, but was still working alone most of the week and had no one to bounce things off, I didn't really have a clue what I was doing!


How did you follow up your interest in tattooing?

I had two apprenticeships but I consider the time I spent with Paolo Acuna in Phoenix Arizona to be the most influential. When I started my apprenticeship with Paolo I had to start tattooing again from scratch. I stopped tattooing and began scrubbing tubes, making needles, answering the phone etc, this really helped me kick all the bad habits I’d picked up from my first eighteen months of tattooing. The best thing about working under Paolo was that he had very high expectations and pushed me extremely hard. I'm very grateful to have had the experience of studying with Paolo, not only because I was exposed to his technique as a tattoo artist but also his artistic vision as a fine artist and sculptor. I feel really lucky to have had that opportunity and believe that an apprenticeship was, for me, the best way to learn. 


You travel extensively; have you worked any tattoo conventions as well as visiting and working in many foreign studios?

I got the opportunity to start doing conventions with Paolo in 2007, and from this, all the doors started to open. For the last three years I have been invited to do guest spots around the world, this came from meeting other tattoo artists at conventions.


I've had really good feedback at the conventions I've worked. I've always been drawn to the painterly and more realistic aspects of tattooing and people seem drawn to that in my work. 


Conventions are a great place to learn, there's such a concentration of artists and there are so many different approaches to the art, there's always something to learn from everybody. I love to sit and watch other tattoo artist's at work too, this is also why I love doing guest spots and picking up tips along the way from all the great artists that I've had the opportunity to work with.


Do you find exploring the world via your art and tattoos has influenced you in any way?

I've been working and travelling all over the world for the last three years and have been exposed to many different cultures and practices. Recently I was in Indonesia, it's one of the richest places for art, and everything in the society is infused with amazing exotic imagery. Everywhere I looked there was something to draw from.  


For any kind of art I believe travel and exposure to other cultures is essential to acquire a rich and varied source of inspiration. I find that from all of my travels my styles and technique are greatly affected. I sketch most days and I really see the influence of where I am on these sketches. In hindsight, I've noticed that subconsciously I've picked up imagery from the various places that I have travelled without being aware of it at the time.


I think my other artistic practices affect my tattooing the most. I really notice a lot of my painting technique creeping into my tattoo technique, the way I blend colours or work an area to get a certain effect is similar to how I would paint the same thing. I used to use a lot of clay when I was at school and I'd love to pick this up again, or sculpture of some sort. I think that this would really help with my understanding of 3D forms and relate well to my other mediums.


I've noticed a big difference in how different countries respond to my tattoos and tattoos in general. Canada, America and South America are really accepting, in Bali people loved my tattoos, and there is a really good scene in Australia. Most Australians are tattooed and are willing to travel long distances to get big pieces done. In Europe I find that in the cities people are fine with tattoos, but sometime in small towns in say, Italy or Spain I get a few funny looks!


Would you say that painting, drawing, and art in general helps to shape a tattooist?

I took art at school until I was eighteen and since then I've been trying to pick things up along the way mainly from other tattoo artists. Paolo Acuna was the one who got me back into painting, saying that it would teach me how to tattoo and help develop my style. I've also picked up tips from Jeff Gogue and have been to a seminar, in Montreal, with Shawn Barber. I think that any kind of art training is beneficial to a tattooist.


My influences change a lot, but at the moment I'm really influenced by impressionist and post-impressionist art. I love Van Gogh and Gauguin, their colours and techniques. There’s a lot of tattooists I'm influenced by, at the moment I love large Japanese work and hyper realism. 


Do you feel you have developed a distinct style of your own?

I love anything organic with a good flow. I don't know how to describe my style and want to stay flexible with where I'm going so am trying to explore as many different approaches as possible. At the moment it's realism, Japanese and painterly techniques and style.


I try to think of the tattoo machine as an extension of the paintbrush, I'd love to achieve the depth, texture and shadings that are possible with oil paint; I try to aspire to the looseness and fluidity of painting in tattooing.


Do you like to work freehand or prefer to work within the confines of a stencil?

A lot of the work I do is free hand, I find that this enables me to achieve a looser tattoo that fits well to the flow of the body, from here if I'm doing a realistic piece I’ll stencil on the subject and then go from my drawn design, I don't do that much prep work, I tend to prefer to develop the piece as I go.


My clients vary a lot in how they want the design to be, sometimes they're very definite and give me little creative space, where as other's tell me to go mad and do what I feel. I love it that no client is the same and I have such a diverse range of people to work with.


The ultimate tattoo for me to create would be a body suit; I would love to have a project like this. If I were to have this opportunity I would approach it from every angle and use all the various mediums at my disposal to prepare for it. I would use a full sized painting of the piece sketches of the areas, and then tattoo it all out, "balls deep" as my friend would say! 


The subject matter would be a whole story, so the tattoo took you on a journey from start to finish, I would have to collaborate and brain storm with the person getting tattooed to finalize this. Technique would involve very large mags and very tight detail to achieve sharp focal points and boundless backgrounds.


Tell us what Claire does on her time off...

I cant relax, I'm a workaholic, when I'm not tattooing I'm painting and when I'm not painting I'm drawing. I love my travelling lifestyle as I have a dual holiday and work life, for example where I'm working at the moment in Australia, the beach is opposite the studio, Tea Tree Lake is down the road and rain forests surround the whole area. I also really love music and try to see live bands whenever possible, 


You have a good tattoo coverage; can you tell us about your collection?

I have a full back by Paolo Acuna, which we started in 2007 and have tattooed it all around America, in Canada, Italy and London. A full leg by Jeff Gogue which has a portrait by Mike Demasi on the inside calf, a portrait by Robert Hernandez and a small one from Lez Barlow and Rico Schinkel. My back and my leg still have a while to go so I'm trying not to get anymore until they're finished.


What do you like about your chosen career path?

I love being an artist; it’s all I've ever wanted to be since I was a kid. I get so much out of this because it’s my passion, and when you’re that passionate about something, you give it your all. I'm also really lucky in the fact that I can travel so much with my work, the freedom is incredible, I would never have dreamed of being able to work in so many places.


I have so much to learn still, and really want to work on my technique and design, I love that there is no ceiling in tattooing, you can take it as far as you want and even if you get good, there's always a thousand people better than you to learn more from.


What do you feel about the evolution of the tattooing so far?

I've noticed great changes in the time I've been tattooing, people are a lot more educated and go out of their way to research an artist that suits them. They also seem to want bigger work and have more unique ideas, which I love as I've been able to work with some really interesting concepts lately. When I was younger, I only saw flash shops and never got a tattoo as I didn't like anything on the walls and they wouldn't tattoo custom work. It was really limiting, but now the imagination is the only limit!


I'm really excited about where tattooing is going, its amazing what people are creating zzat the moment, it blows my mind every time I see new works from artist's I know and then see incredible work from people I've only just discovered. I can’t wait to see what people will be doing in the next ten years if things have come this far in the last ten.


The only thing that worries me is the amount of young girls I've seen with stars, flowers, hearts, diamonds etc tattooed on their faces. I went to some conventions in the UK this year and I was really surprised at how many there were.


Who would you like to 'big up'?

I have experienced constant help and kindness throughout the time I've been tattooing, all the people I've had the opportunity to work with have helped me so much, and I’m so grateful for their openness and willingness to help answer my questions and let me sit and watch. There's so many people I need to thank, but mainly Paolo Acuna, Mike Demasi, Josh Carlton, Filip Leu, Benjamin Moss, Robert Hernandez, Ethan Morgan, Tim Kern, John Montgomery, Jeff Gogue, Boris, MG Venom Tattoo, Rico Shinkel and Pierre Tattoo Mania.



Interview: Neil Photography: Claire


Skin Deep 185 1 May 2010 185