Chantale Coady - Electric Barbarella

Published: 28 May, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 212, May, 2012

I’ve known Chantale Coady going on two years now and every time I’ve seen her she has either been bent over a stencil sheet coming up with a killer design or laying some ink down on a very happy client. And at other times, it’s her name popping up on competition winner lists at conventions around the globe that catches my eye.

Finally getting around to finding out more about the person behind the tattoos, it becomes clear that in a world of continual flux, Chantale’s presence in tattoo seems to be one of the few constants.

“Eversince I was little, I’ve sat on the sofa and drawn, even when everyone else was watching TV; my Mum used to buy me plain wallpaper to draw on because I would go through so much paper all the time. I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind, but it wasn’t until I remember looking in a magazine one day and seeing a girl in tight leather trousers stood by a motorbike with a tattoo going around her waist that it clicked. That same night, I designed something to go on my stomach and went to the local studio the next day and got it tattooed. I was 14 and hooked! I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.

“I’m still great friends with the artists and I used to go into that studio almost every weekend from that point, begging them for an apprenticeship; I would draw some flash for them and offer to be their general dogsbody, but they were having none of it. No matter how much I bugged them, they would not give me an apprenticeship. I still give them shit about it now and they say it’s one of their biggest regrets.”

And so began a journey that would lead Chantale around the world, chasing that demon dragon of machines and ink.

“When I turned 20, I moved to Spain and managed to get an apprenticeship in a small studio, but unfortunately I had to move back to the UK as I had no money. I kind of gave up on my dream for a while thinking I would never get an apprenticeship and not wanting to go down the ‘scratching up in my room’ route.

“A few years later I moved to Australia with my now husband, Joel, who is Australian. Once there, I decided to study fine arts with the ambition of becoming an art teacher. I loved every second of my course and passed with distinctions. I was about to go on to my degree when Joel suggested I try getting an apprenticeship in tattooing again. It was like a flame inside me grew into a massive fire at the very thought. The next day I went to the local studio with my art portfolio and was offered an apprenticeship on the spot. When I called my Mum to tell her, she cried and screamed down the phone as she had always wanted me to become a tattoo artist.”

Nothing like a loved one to give your arse a kick in the right direction – hey we all need it sometime – but unfortunately, Chantale was about to find out that there is a darker side to the tattoo world.

“I saved like crazy so that when I started in the studio, I had a set of good inks and equipment. My pride and joys were my Time Machine machines. They were Flatliners and came in their own coffins. I loved them!

“Everything started off great. I was in the studio five days a week and on my days off I worked as an assistant manager for a restaurant, working 16 hours a day. It was tiring but worth it. Unfortunately, the owner of the studio was only interested in making money and had me pick up my machines after a couple of weeks and start practicing. Three weeks later he told me I was ready to start tattooing clients. I went home terrified at the thought. I thought my apprenticeship was going to take a year and I felt I was not ready to tattoo paying clients. Also the man that was supposed to be teaching me didn’t want to show me anything; I don’t think he ever wanted to teach me but was made to by the boss. I stuck it out there for nearly a year but it got to the point that I didn’t want to go in which made no sense as I was supposed to be doing my dream job.

“Then one day, Joel came home and told me he had been speaking to a lady that owned a studio – Platinum Ink – in Sydney. She wanted to meet me as she was looking for a new artist. After some persuasion I went to meet her. Her name was Jo and we got on straight away. She had just one artist working in the studio at the time, a girl called Jane. I knew that’s where I wanted to work, but also knew the shit I was going to have to go through leaving where I was. I had been told stories of other tattooists who had their wrists broken when they tried to leave and how others just grabbed their stuff and disappeared. I have always prided myself on being honest, so decided to do the honest thing. I organized a meeting with the owner and told him to his face how I was unhappy and that I was moving on. I offered to finish any jobs I had ongoing and that in the future if he ever wanted me to cover any artists, I would try to help out. He said he was cool with it and wished me luck. I was so happy and relieved I went straight back to work, only to be thrown out at the end of the day, being threatened that if I didn’t move out of the area I would indeed get my wrists broken. They stole all of my stuff. I didn’t even own a pencil by the time I got home.”

Thankfully for Chantale, and the tattoo community as a whole, her new boss Jo was to prove that the good win out, and helping a fellow artist in need, was how they would work together.

“I called Jo and told her what happened and that I had no machines (my pride and joys) and so couldn’t start work. She told me to be in the studio the next day where she sat me at her computer, told me to buy everything I needed using her card and I could pay her back whenever. Three days later I was back tattooing and in heaven; Jane, who I was working alongside, was awesome and became one of my best mates, Jo was a dream, and soon to come along was a shop apprentice, called Laura, who was a total nightmare – she was like the worst little sister ever but we loved her. It was a great little family. Whilst working there, an artist called Mikael Schelen, from Sweden, came in did a guest spot for a few weeks. While he was in the studio, I literally sat on his shoulder the whole time watching everything he did and asking 100 stupid questions an hour. I learned so much from him – he is quite honestly my idol and mentor. I get tattooed by him every year at the London Convention, and every time, I go home having learnt more. I never stop learning. We all have a laugh together and swap tips and secrets at conventions, so when I get back in to the studio I’m buzzing with new ideas and knowledge.

“Then one day I got the dreaded phone call to tell me my Dad had died. I flew home the next day. After a couple of weeks, I was back in Oz and working again, but the homesickness became too much. I just wanted to be closer to my family, so Joel and I moved back to the UK. I still go back to Platinum Ink every March and do a guest spot and work the Sydney Convention with them. I miss them like crazy!”

Back on home turf, Chantale found a new, brief, home at Timeless Ink before moving on to her current studio, Electric Vintage.

“I was there for just under two years before I moved on. I am now working at Electric Vintage in Bath and loving it. I am also the studio manager there and Sara – the owner – is amazing. She reminds me of Jo back in Oz. I have a great team around me; Jesse Rynor and Vicky Hooper tattooing, Sal Acquaviva piercing, along with apprentices, Danni and Mandy; we have a riot in there together.

“Joel, he’s just as obsessed with tattooing as I am even though he isn’t a tattoo artist. He comes to every convention with me and goes off and chats and helps all the other artists, occasionally bringing them over to meet me. I actually think he has more friends in the industry than me! I’m so extremely lucky to have a husband as supportive as he is.”

And that wraps up Chantale’s journey; not only taking her from England to Australia and back, but also through the good and the bad of this crazy community of tattooists. And the future? It might be a little more settled, but knowing Chantale, there is much more to come – she has already made herself known by winning Best of Convention at this year’s Tattoo Freeze. So if you see Chantale at a convention, no doubt hunkered over her next design, pop by and say hello… and if she’s busy, Joel’s always about to get the party going.

Electric Vintage Tattoo

14A Westgate Buildings
Bath Ba1 1eb

01225 789911


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Chantale Coady