Suzi Q

Published: 28 December, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 139, November, 2006

So how does one school teacher from Wales go halfway around the world to become one of Australia’s hottest tattoo properties? Skin Deep caught up with Suzi Q to find out…

Suzi Q, how on earth did you get from School teacher to Tattoo Artist?

Teaching to me seems like a former life – even though it’s only 6 years ago. I was a teacher for 8 years and I don’t regret a moment of it as it was a teaching contract in the States that led me to my tattoo apprenticeship. I had heard about Lea Smith at a tattoo convention in Greensboro, she wasn’t actually attending but her name was mentioned a lot, for being a really good custom artist and someone who really cared about the art of tattooing. So, my husband Nigel and I visited her studio – Lucky Lady – and got a few tattoos from her. I was bringing my own designs in and building up a rapport, and after about 3 or 4 visits she asked me if I would like to become her apprentice. Nigel really encouraged me towards this and helped me decide to go for it. I had a real old school apprenticeship and worked like a demon for the first year!


Where did you go after that first year?

We relocated to Florida, to a Studio called Feelin’ Lucky about half an hours drive outside Orlando.


Lucky Lady – Feelin’ Lucky…. You must have known it was on your side!

I have had a lot of luck!  No more studios with Luck in the name but I do realize how fortunate I have been getting to where I am now. I spent about a year in Florida, at both  Feelin’ Lucky shops, and after about 4 months I became shop manager so I had to learn fast. It was mostly a custom shop, with just a small amount of real quality flash so I got to cut my teeth on some really good pieces.


Back to the UK after that – where about’s?

To the Midlands, I had never been there before, but while I was in the States I contacted the owner of the studio (he had advertised online for an artist) and when we got back to Britain we went and checked it out and I started work about 3 weeks later. I worked there for about a year and a half, then we got itchy feet and decided to go off on our travels again. We applied for our visas for Australia and as soon as they were in order we took off!


Why Australia?

Why not! I guess speaking the same language was an advantage, and it was somewhere that I could get a visa to live and work. I knew a couple who had emigrated to Perth about 5 years previously and we kept in touch. They told me what a great lifestyle they had out there and I guess that swung it.


Did you have a firm job offer out there?

Just a few guest spots lined up - and in a roundabout way after talking to Ben at Tradition 180 who had visited Perth, I came across Reilly’s Studio. I went and checked it out, it was a great place, scrupulously clean and with a great laid-back atmosphere and custom orientated. Initially I was supposed to do a two-week guest spot…Two years later I am still there!


How did you handle the transition from the type of work you were doing in the UK to the work you are known for now – when did you find your niche?

I would say around 18 months ago, the change from working in a busy street shop to a custom based appointment only studio was incredibly liberating. The studio was very busy but the emphasis was on designs drawn up for each person with time allowed for this. Also the other guys who work at the studio are very artistic so being around them brought my drawing skills up a level, not in a competitive way, simply being around other artists and learning, definitely a natural progression.  I have always enjoyed doing bright and bold tattoos, and the fact that Nigel wears a lot of my work has helped generate a lot of interest - he’s my walking portfolio!


Where was the first convention you worked?

State of the Art, Derby 2003. It was nerve-wracking, I hadn’t yet found my style and I felt like a real newbie, but the artists there made me feel welcome and I had a really great weekend. I attended Mantra but didn’t work it – I was really impressed with the standard of work and it inspired me to work more shows. I then worked the New Zealand (SINZ) show earlier this year – the first convention there in 9 years – it was a great show for me. I picked up a couple of awards there and the coverage in the Aussie magazines really helped to raise my profile. I also got to see the tattoo museums there and see a lot of the beautiful traditions they have for the art.Then the next show was Amsterdam in June. I came back to see my family and tied that in with working my first European show. I was lucky enough to have bookings via the internet and meet up with a Dutch couple I had tattooed previously in Perth while they there on holiday – the world is a small place sometimes! The timing was really good as a U.S magazine interview with me had just came out, and it helped generate more interest in my work.

I am looking forward to working the Derby show again after 3 years, catching up with old friends and meeting some more Artists. And buying some shoes!


Any other places you have been to on your travels inspire you?
Definitely, I traveled to Borneo last year, primarily as a vacation but tattooing has a tendency to take over your life! I saw a lot of art there that influenced me – we took a steam train journey out of the city and we stopped at a small village that had a fair sized Chinese community. I was very fortunate to go inside their temple and from the floor to the ceiling was some amazing artwork, beautiful renditions of Gods and Goddesses from their tradition – all painted by the locals.

To find that in the middle of a tiny village in Borneo when I was supposed to be relaxing on holiday just made me want to get my sketchbook out and start drawing! Your mind is always on creating when you are committed to tattooing.


So where would you like to travel to next? 

Definitely Japan. Being in the Southern hemisphere I reckon I owe it to myself to get there and absorb some of the culture, there are some phenomenal artists there I would love to meet.

Well back to the teacher thing I reckon some of Suzi Q’s homework will be to learn some Japanese!

(gulps!) Yes, a little, enough to get by on I hope!

Where do you see your work going in the future?

I would like to take on bigger pieces, I would love to do more sleeve work, using the flow of the body and incorporating negative space etc. A lot of customers start off with small tattoos and then sleeve out, it would be nice to go the other way around and plan the big picture first, but I realize people have to test the water first!


How would you describe the tattoo scene in Perth?

Very healthy and switched on. I was surprised at the subject matter that our customers bring in. A lot of Americana and music related things, the old skool/new skool style of tattooing is popular there. I worried originally as I thought that there might be a lot of sun damage to the tattoos but the Aussies are very clued in about using sun block so it’s not even an issue. It’s a great place to be at.


Who would have had a major influence on you tattoo wise?

Lea – obviously, she taught me respect for the industry and to be 100 per cent dedicated. 

I was tattooed by Sarah Peacock in 2003 and I learnt a lot by watching her work, and even though it sounds corny – my husband, for his 100% support and willingness to relocate to new countries every few years! His belief in me helped me out in my first few years – an artist is always their own worst critic and I spent a lot of sleepless night worrying whether I did a good enough job or whether I should have done things differently.

We have to ask – what does the Q stand for??

Well – it’s a nickname my dad called me as a kid and I used to hate it! But when I got to Perth, Nathan my co-worker started to call me it out of the blue one day and I guess it just stuck… I like it – it’s easily recognized.


Do you miss Wales? And aren’t you from the same town as Micky Sharpz??

Yes I am!! Chepstow, I actually think he bought one of my relatives houses! I miss my family and friends a lot but I have to say I don’t miss the weather!

Your work has taken you to three continents – are you ready for number four?

Well, that would be Asia. I am very happy where I am for the foreseeable future, it’s good to put my roots down after traveling so much and I am very fortunate to be able to take time out from my work to travel from time to time so I will get there yet!


So there you have it – from Blackboard to Tattoo machine! To contact Suzi Q through her myspace page and check on future travel plans, conventions & guest spots go to check out more of her work at




Skin Deep 139 1 November 2006 139