Enchanted Waters: Marija Ripley - The Sailor's Grave

Published: 06 February, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 208, February, 2012

In 2008 Marija Ripley opened up The Sailor’s Grave in Copenhagen with her husband, Judd Ripley. In 2011 they moved to a new location and now she has a hard time imagining a workplace without him…

Marija Ripley grew up outside of Copenhagen where her childhood was characterised by riding and drawing. Unfortunately her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a horse, making drawing her primary pastime.

“My parents always supported me in my early interest in drawing, she says. They took me to art exhibitions and always supplied me with the material I needed. I attended my first drawing class when I was 11 years old and obtained a dispensation to attend a class for adults.”

Artists in her family have been plentiful, making her choice to become a tattoo artist less of a surprise to her parents…

“I think my parents expected me to become something within the art community. After graduation I went to different art schools and spent my time with people sharing my passion for drawing. I was doing a bit of everything, graphic work, art and illustrations, and already at 15 years of age, I knew I was going to get heavily tattooed. This was back when new school started appearing in tattoo magazines and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I remember reading an article about Kim Saigh (probably best known from LA Ink), who at the time was new in the tattoo world, and I devoured everything I read.

“I suddenly realised that I was to become a tattoo artist, since that’s what I was drawing. So I spent the following two years trying to get an apprenticeship. Some of the oldies in the business checked out my portfolio, while others just chucked me out. As an 18-year-old girl with a binder filled with pseudo new school, it was pretty hard to get my foot in the door. Finally I was offered an apprenticeship at the studio where I was getting tattooed. That was March 1, 2000.”

Although tattooing has become her profession, she hasn’t quite let go of the riding. Nowadays she has a horse and two dogs.

“I don’t compete – yet, but at the same time I don’t want to say I’m just riding for fun. I always try to get better, but it’s also my sanctuary. I have my riding buddies and we rarely talk about work, which is nice for a change. When three or four of us take a ride in the woods or on the beach, it’s like a meditation. It’s also good for preventing back, neck and wrist problems, which many of my colleagues are suffering from.

“It took me many years to find my ground and my own identity in the tattoo world. In 2003, I got a job at the then newly opened Frith Street Tattoo in London. Besides learning technique there I also learned how to incorporate old school values in my work. It was the most hectic year of my life, but thanks to the high level of quality in the studio and Nikole Lowe’s hard but well-meaning critique, it was also the year where I learnt the most. Slowly, people started to request my pin ups, the ones I’ve always drawn. One thing led to another and today I’m fortunate enough to be drawing what I love the most, different variants of pin ups… and animals.”

Another popular tattoo design of hers is mermaids, which she also collects.

“Mermaids are simply magical. I love the fact that they have a bitter sweetness to them, that they can be beautiful and innocent as well as unpleasant sirens. I generally prefer to draw stuff that is not just beautiful, but also has a twist of ugliness, or the other way around.”

In 2001 Marija met her husband, Judd Ripley. Six years later they got married and a year after that they opened The Sailor’s Grave in Copenhagen together. In 2011 they moved to this new location in the centre of the Danish capital where they really enjoy working together.

“Judd has always been my favourite person to work with. I used to laugh my ass off at his ridiculous jokes, and now we run a studio together. It’s fantastic. We have two floors and we work on one floor each so I don’t have to hear his jokes every day – but when one of us has the day off, we miss each other. It’s great working together. Judd is still my favourite colleague and a constant source of inspiration on my behalf. I can’t imagine not seeing him at work every day.”

But can you talk about other stuff besides tattoos?

“Of course. But sometimes when we’re out at a romantic restaurant or something we do have to agree not to talk about tattoos or the studio...”

Beware the Sirens

Claimed sightings of dead or living mermaids have come from places as diverse as Java and British Columbia. In some of the earliest accounts of Blackbeard’s sail logs in the BBC documentary Pirates, he instructed his crew on several voyages to steer away from charted waters which he called ‘enchanted’ for fear of Merfolk or mermaids, which Blackbeard and many members of the crew reported seeing and documenting. These sightings were often recounted and shared by many sailors and pirates who believed the mermaids were bad luck and would bewitch them into giving up their gold and dragging them to the bottom of the seas. In August 2009, the town of Kiryat Yam in Israel offered a prize of $1 million for anyone who could prove the existence of a mermaid off its coast, after dozens of people reported seeing a mermaid leaping out of the water like a dolphin and doing aerial tricks before returning to the depths. The prize has not yet been awarded.

The Sailor’s Grave

Møntergade 4,
1116 København k

Tel: +45 33143434


Text & Photography: Simon Lundh