Aurora Tattoo

Published: 08 February, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 136, August, 2006

One of the first things that becomes obvious as you enter Aurora tattoo in Lancaster is that this isn’t your stereotypical tattoo studio. Thankfully most of the ‘old school’ dark and dingy tattoo parlours are disappearing, giving way to bright, sterile studios. The ladies at Aurora tattoo have gone that extra bit further. 

Walk through the door and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d walked into a top fashion boutique. The studio is exquisitely fitted out with a big comfy sofa, soft furnishings, loads of tattoo reference books and flash to browse through, soft lighting and that special touch that can only come from feminine hands.

Emma Kierzek and her loyal band of amazons have created one of the most friendly and welcoming tattoo studios I’ve had the pleasure of entering. Just the laid back and welcoming feel of the studio will calm the pulse of even the most nervous client.

As well as the atmosphere that the ladies have created, Emma is a supremely talented tattooist, having worked for quite a few years at many of this country’s tattoo conventions. Apart from her tattooing talents, she has a very wise head and has packed an awful lot of tattooing experience into a relatively short period of time, winning many awards for her own unique style of tattooing.

Emma has done what only a handful of females have managed to achieve and has carved a place for herself in the somewhat testosterone filled world of tattooing and has gained respect from many of her elders and comrades.

Welcome to Aurora Tattoo....

How did you start off in the tattooing world?
I went to art-college after school; I’ve always been into art from a very early age. I did a year but at the time I got a little bored and took a year out and partied hard. But I then knuckled down and went back to college. After doing the college course, I saw a TV programme about tattooing and this kindled my interest in the subject. I just started phoning round tattoo studios and I can remember people being really rude to me. As soon as mentioned an apprenticeship many of the artists would clam up on me. Which I try not to be now, if people phone up I try and help them in any way possible and hopefully point them in the right direction. Tattooing is quite an elite thing and I personally don’t want there to be tattooists everywhere like hairdressers on every corner, so you really have to work at becoming one.

If you do get an apprenticeship you have to be prepared to be a bit of a skivvy for a while. You have to earn your stripes!

I was very lucky in the fact that one of the places I went to had a vacancy and they took me on. The studio was in Morecombe and I worked there of about five years. Not long after this I started working some tattoo conventions and I progressed from working conventions to ‘settling down’ if you like, to setting up Aurora tattoo.

So how long have you been here?
I’ve been here for three years now. Had I not have gone to conventions and started meeting so many artists I don’t think I would have opened up my own studio. The chances are I would have stayed where I was, but I met so many great artists at the shows doing some really great work, it got me thinking about my own place, you know? Just by going to these conventions I learnt so much about the industry and how things worked. Loads of people gave me encouragement and showed me some tricks of the trade.We are located just out of the city centre, which is good as we don’t get folk coming in straight out of the pub and we don’t get too many browsers. I’m still amazed at the amount of interest we get and the people, who come here, come here specifically to get some work done. I thought it would take a bit longer for people to find us as we are hidden away a bit but I don’t know what happened but we have been busy from day one. We’re not the only studio in Lancaster either. The other studio in the centre of town only does flash based work and they are fantastic as they send anyone who wants custom work up here. 

So you did a formal apprenticeship then?
I did in Morecambe. I enjoyed it immensely, but I think Morecombe, as a place is very different to Lancaster. Lancaster is much bigger and I get a lot more work. And it’s my own studio. If someone comes in with something that looks really naff I can say well have you thought about doing this or that to the design, whereas if I was working in someone else’s studio I would be obliged to do the design as it was or more or less.And being my own boss means I can decide what colour to paint the walls!

The moment I walked through the doors, I could feel the chilled out relaxed atmosphere of the studio. Was that a conscious decision?
We’ve tried so hard to get the place like that. I’ve just been so lucky with my staff. It’s just wonderful how the studio works. The girls downstairs Tracey & Amanda are superb, we have little staff meetings and if anyone’s got anything to say or any problems we work it allout and I think just the friendliness of the folk who work here rubs off on anyone who comes through the door.

I think there are so many people have been scared to get a tattoo by the imposing nature of some shops. I get guys in here who have wanted work for over twenty years but have not had anything done because there is a bit of a stigma attached to it, but not everywhere is like that and you can show that it’s not all scary gruff blokes waiting to get you into the tattooists chair.

Where do you think your interest in tattooing comes from?
Do you know, I don’t really know, it kind of just happened. I never grew up around people with tattoos and it wasn’t something I consciously wanted to get into, it really did just happen. Call it fate if you like. I never expected to be here. It is great though, sometime at the end of the day I’ll go down stairs and look around the studio, my studio and think blimey, how did all this happen? I love it!

And you are busy here?
It’s absolutely heaving, I literally can’t do any more than I already am, which is why I’m looking to get in another person. It’s just finding someone who fits in with the rest of us. You also need someone who is going to makethe customer at ease and ultimately, be a superb artist.

As of January this year Andy and Mary opened their piercing studio with our team, and can cope with all aspects of body piercing.

So did you find that other tattooists were open about the industry to you?
Oh yes, definitely. I think I was dead lucky, my very first convention was Glemgormly, run by Snoopy and |Bribs and I look back now and think if it hadn’t have been so friendly, I might well have been put off. After doing a couple of shows, I noticed it was pretty much the same click of people who were working. Names like Andy Morris and Simon for the Isle of Mann who were a great help to me and after a while I started tofeel comfortable attending conventions. It is a real close-knit community.

Did you have any problems being a female tattooist in a predominantly male Environment?
No, Not at all. I think I was aware of some ‘Sniffines’ shall we say but I think I was more nervous from my point of view, not the other artists.

That was quite a bold step for you.
It was as I was quite young really. I was only twenty-one when I did my first convention, I’m twenty-five now. The other good thing about being a girl is I tend to find more people notice you at a show. Especially over here as I don’t think there are that many female artists in this country. I do most of the shows with Emma Grech from Lady Luck Tattoos in Portsmouth, which is great as it’s that little bit of moral support for each other. Every body knows that now and they are always asking where the other Emma is, which is really nice.

I noticed your mum here. Does she help you out in the studio?
She does! My mum works here on a Friday and it’s great because she is a DIY expert and the amount of work that she has done on the studio is fantastic. 

I’m looking at training my brother up as he is a superb artist, but he needs to get that ‘youthful exuberance’ out of his system first!It is a real family affair here at Aurora.

I know I can rely on all the girls here, my mum included, to be my best critics, which is great as I know they are telling the truth and not just being nice because I’m the boss or their daughter. 

Can you tell us a bit about some of your influences?
I like a lot of art Nouveau. I love Mucha’s work, I really like the artwork of Joe Chiodo, he does fantastic Manga comic art images and I’d love to do some of that on people.

As far as tattooists go I love the work of Robert Hernandez. I’m saving myself to get a couple of really big tattoos and I can wait until I get the chance to get some work from him. His work is so gorgeous. I like his style but his subject matter is a little strong for me so hopefully he can do something a little more feminine! There are so many goods tattooists that I couldn’t even start to mention them. They’re all good for different things. You’ve got the likes of Darren Stares and Andy Morris for their portraits and I like Gary Weidenhof from Perth’s work too. There’s just so many aren’t there? There are a lot of new people on the scene, which is really refreshing but equally I hope the likes of Darren Stares keep on the circuit for any years to come as they have so much experience to share with the rest of us mere mortals!

I’m not so keen on these courses that advertise to teach you how to tattoo in a week. It’s just people out to make a few quid at the sake of belittling what is a very old and special industry.

Do you get nervous before you start a new tattoo?
No, not really, I just make sure the design is the right shape and size for their body and that they are not going to regret the tattoo. At the end of the day it’s pretty much there for ever and if I feel it’s not right I will say. And we sit down and try and work it out so that it is right. The girls downstairs are very good at that, obviously I’m very busy working up here but they can work something out with a customer for me. I don’t get nervous about work on someone but I do appreciate that the client can get nervous so I will take ten minutes or so to talk him or her through the whole process to hopefully put him or her at ease.

When I started working conventions I was petrified, purely because I was working alongside all these artists I’d seen in magazines and I was like ‘Oh my god, there’s so and so’. I was working next to Spacey at one of them, but he was really sweet. The one thing I do find difficult at conventions is making enough room to work comfortably on folk, as the booths can be a bit small.

One other thing about conventions is the fact that all people see of you and what you’re about is the table in front of you. Where as the moment they walk through the door here, they know that we are friendly and willing to help. A messed up table at a convention doesn’t portray the artist very well.

You are very well known for your fairies. Do you have a favourite style?
I love working in colour and soft shading as well as Manga style pieces. I’d like to do a few more portraits. I do have a very ‘girly’ style but I can do all techniques. I like doing my fairies and I think once one person has had one, then the whole thing seemed to have a domino effect.

So what do you do when you are not tattooing?
I spend a lot of time in the gym and I’ve just bought a new house with my boyfriend Alex, so I have plenty to do there. Go out for a few drinks with mates, that’s about it really. I also spend lots of time with my family as I feel that it is very important.

Have you noticed any changes in the world of tattooing over the last few years?
Definitely for the better. I don’t know whether it was because of where I was working but it was tattooing a lot of bulldogs and panthers to going straight to conventions where you’d see the most incredible pieces of artwork. Also the more conventions I go to the more folk I meet from different parts of the world, which is fantastic. I’m really only a relative new comer. 

For me, I feel using the numbing cream has opened the door for more people to get work done. I know some artists don’t like it but for me it works. I know some say there is a right of passage to tattooing or whatever and that’s absolutely fine with me but if someone is going to get something big on their ribs, they need all the help they can get. And from an artist’s point of view it’s easier not to have that person wriggling around and I feel it cuts down on a lot pain whilst doing the outline and they sit better.If you want pain, I can stamp on your foot before we start if you like!

What would you like to say to people thinking about getting a tattoo?
Get out and go to conventions, it’s not all scary bikers, you’ll have a great time and everyone there will bend over backwards to help you.Also when looking for an artist to do your work, look through their portfolio, you might go into a superb looking shop but it might have four students working out the back who have only been working for a few weeks. Be sure to check out the artists actual photographs of their work.

Who would you like to thank for helping over the years?
Emma Grech from Lady Luck in Portsmouth and Simon from the Isle of Man, just for being there at all the conventions and for all the support. My family and all my staff. They are absolutely incredible and I couldn’t do any of this without them.                                                                                                                                                             
Massive thanks to my Mum & Dad for helping me refurbishing the shop, Charlie & Jo from Sunderland body art for all their support and advice, The tattoo studio for giving me my career opportunity.

Bribs and Snoopy or giving me my first break into the convention scene. But mostly to all my staff and customers, because without them the shop would not be the success it is today.


Artist Profiles: 
Skin Deep 136 1 August 2006 136