Triskele Tattoos

Published: 01 November, 2007 - Featured in Skin Deep 153, December, 2007

Janine Ashton is a fiery redhead with a quick sense of humour and a wicked smile. Thirteen years as a tattooist sees Janine producing tattoos today that have her own style stamped firmly on them when they leave her Triskele Tattoo studio in Enniskillen.  Janine is probably the most passionate tattooist I have had the pleasure to meet. She literally eats, sleeps and breathes tattoos and is probably the best advocate for the art currently working in the industry.


Over the years I have seen many examples of Janine’s work and each one has uniqueness to it that I cannot quite put my finger on. I think she uses colour in a very bold and individual way. Neil the editor says he sees a feminine softness there. Whatever it is, when coupled with the quality of her tattooing it is prize winning, as attested to by the many trophies in her studio. So when I was recently in Ireland I just had to take the opportunity to interview Janine, so you can all have a look and decide for yourselves.


The Studio
Janine and her husband Rick moved into the studio 6 years ago. It has not all been plain sailing. Janine explained, ‘All the churches are up Darling Street, it is still a big part of people’s life; it might not be my cup of tea but you have got to respect that. So this woman comes in with the lease and A) Didn’t want a tattoo shop, thought it was going to lower the tone of the place and B) Especially didn’t like it because it was a woman tattooing.’    

The building itself is beautiful and old; Janine has managed to keep the atmosphere open and friendly, with a gallery for local art. The gallery is in memory of Anna Kerrigan She was part of a music collective and Janine wants to keep that spirit going. You don’t have to be a young person to put stuff in the gallery and anyone who wants to bring something in can do, stuff that one of the other galleries in town would not dream of showing, because of snobbery over art. As long as it is not hugely offensive you can stick it on the wall for free. Many of the pieces are for sale.

‘We are in the hugely fortunate position of being the first people in the town to run a good studio with good work coming out of it.” Janine explains.” When we first opened up and Rick would be helping me a lot and when he was on the desk, he would book people in and then say “Go through to get tattooed” and people where shocked that it was me, the woman, tattooing and not Rick. . It is not an issue at all now but at the start it really yanked my chain.’

The Work
So moving into an area where there had been no established quality tattooist meant one thing, yes you’ve guessed it “cover-ups”. Janine has had a lot of experience of re-working and cover-ups, from several of the studios she has worked at. She started her career in Manchester and ran in studio in the city centre, after usurping the previous tattooist by proving his ineptitude to the studio owner. She explains ‘It was a great learning curve because I spent the first couple of months in there fixing cock-ups from the bloke who I had replaced. You know what Manchester was like for drugs, anything goes. He was starting work on gullible students lined it very badly and said come back, then he just fucked off. I not only filled it in but corrected the line work as well. I did a lot of work for free to get a reputation. I know that you are interested in how I got started but only a very small amount of it has any relevance to how I work now and my studio.’

As far as Janine is concerned tattooing is still a service-based business, which means that a service is what you have to provide. Tattooing is always a meditative process for her because it is the only thing she thinks about when she is doing it. It is nice when she can get a bit of a craick going but the tattoo is her main focus and it is lovely to switch off from everything else. She knows given the position of her studio she would never have survived if she had decided to become a custom only shop and that is not taking anything away from custom only shops because she knows that is hugely hard work. But for her to be in the place that she is and survive Janine has to do the day-to-day stuff.  She explained that “It is not that I have got a problem with custom only places, I have got admiration for them but if we had said that here, we would have come across as just real snobs and died on our arses from the word go, it just wouldn’t have worked at all.’

The Influences
‘When I started I remember reading about marked for life (a female only tattoo convention) in one of the American magazines and going ‘wow, look at that, look at what she has done.’ I know by me saying that, by saying it matters to have good female role models and all the rest of it; some people are going to say about me crying the minority bit and blah, blah, blah. But there weren’t a lot of women tattooing, especially in Britain when I started out. I had only read about Fiona Long and can remember thinking “fucking hell look at the stuff she is putting out”. Over here we were throwing down the gauntlet and saying “Right we can do this.” On the other side of the pond I love Madam Lazonga’s work, I absolutely love it. Her abstract point of view, the fact that she could can put that in the centre of her tattooing. And Julie Moon. Getting to meet her was a real buzz but reading about them and seeing the shit they had to go through for other people, you know? To see them go through all that hardship and still put the work out there and then to see your rock star ones now going “I’ll be the mouth piece for you now” that’s just pissing all over them from a great height. There are a lot of things knocking female tattooists back. Women do bring a different thing to tattooing on a load of different levels and it doesn’t mean to say that male tattooists do not influence me. You only grow and learn by being around other people and you never stop learning. When you think you know it all, hang your fucking machines up and go home.’

The Apprentice
Janine’s own apprenticeship in Manchester was 2 years of hell. She learned how not to tattoo and how to scrub floors on her hands and knees, because the studio owner was too mean to buy a mop for the floor. She is grateful to John Williams from Southampton, who was her tattoo lifeline. When wanting help or advice she would ring him and he would always give her the support she needed. So she is now pleased to be in the position where she can offer Grace, her front of house and apprentice, the apprenticeship that Janine should have had. The apprenticeship has only just started and already Janine has found a new spark in her own attitude to tattooing and is having a blast teaching Grace. She confesses that it helps that Grace is “like a proper wee sponge and a joy to be around.” The girl is not called Grace for nothing she has brought a lot of NICE back into tattooing where I was losing it.”   

Grace has already been warned that tattooing is not the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that it is sometimes portrayed to be. She will face heartache along the way as well as the roller coaster of emotions. Janine has had to reign in her enthusiasm already but Grace respects her advice. Janine feels there needs to be fresh blood in any industry and young people do bring vitality with them. Grace coming into the shop has brought that vitality. ‘I did fall into the trap when she first started by letting her go out front and charm people. I was cool; I can be grumpy old fart in the back of the shop. That’s bad for me to do that so things had to change.’


Tattooing Today

It is not easy to encapsulate Janine’s passion for and her concerns about modern tattooing on these few pages. In her own words ‘Opinions piss people off. Anyone coming along saying “Who the fuck does she think she is – well I think I have been at it long enough to have a wee bit of a voice now.”

About people getting tattooed Janine says ‘Yes it has become more mainstream and in all the time I have been doing it, 13 years and that is a big chunk of your life, it always used to make you a bit different and it became that tattoos were not just for whores and sailors. Now it is tattoos are for everybody and they are more accepted but we are still in danger of heading down that path were we are producing that generically tattooed person who has all the same stuff.  This week they get this and next week they get that and it all becomes part of a uniform. I know that there are traditions behind certain uniform tattoos but today I think that people aren’t looking at these traditions at all. It is all about face value. People are buying a tattoo as fast as they are buying a pair of jeans. By the same token not every tattoo should have to have a story. People should be able to have this put on just because they think it will look good. I am amazed sometimes when I have seen people and said ‘who did that?’ and they have gone ‘I don’t know’ and I am ‘what the fuck do you mean you don’t know? Did the tattooist knock you out, were you fucking unconscious when they did that to you?’ It does cheapen tattooing when the customer just wants something there and then and no thought has gone into what and by whom. I am going to piss somebody off by saying that a cup cake on the side of your neck may be cute when you are really young and hot. There is too much here and now. Is it a fucking race to get heavy coverage, is it a race to have your uniform put on before everybody else does. And as far as I am concerned that is taking away the originality from tattooing. Amen to Skin Deep trying to get as many different styles as possible into the magazine. Some magazines are ramming one style down people’s throats because it is in vogue again.’

About the industry Janine says, ‘This industry is so full of paradoxes and duality it can be really hard. You cannot just have one fixed idea about everything tattoo wise because it is too wide a subject for that. It is also great because it does cause so much debate, discussion and argument. It does make you into a bit of a hypocrite, you think and speak one way but when the chips are down you can react in totally the opposite way.  A friend lives a hop skip and a jump from Miami and he heard that Miami Ink was happening and that Chris Garver was coming down. He loves Chris Garver’s work and was busting to get a tattoo off of him, thinking to himself, ‘fantastic, it is only up the road.’ He rings up and asks about a tattoo, only to be told he would have to send in a videotape of himself. His answer ‘I am not auditioning for a tattoo.’ I hope this is not going to spill over into everyday because there are some spoilt fuckers in this business and I don’t mind you putting that in the magazine. There are an awful lot of spoilt fuckers in this business. Are they going to get to the point where they are going to be interviewing people to see if they are fit to be inked or not.’

The Conclusion
Her favourite film is The Quiet Man because it reminds her of her father, even though she is very aware of how cheesy that seems. She would like to be remembered for doing her job well and being able to laugh and keep joy about her. Her thanks go to Martin, Donald, Tommy, Lisa, Wes, John and Benelin (this last one was caused by Rick coughing in the background, trying to muscle in on the thanks). She would also like to thank all those out there who are not so far up their own arses as to be approachable and help me. And not Gerry Carnelly (joke).   

Janine has offered me some ink and I will be taking her up on it, but I want to get the right design for her style, something in blue I think…


Interview: Nesta Vipers and Neil Photography: Neil and Janine


Skin Deep 153 1 December 2007 153