Black Holes & Revelations - Miss Jo Black

Published: 26 March, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 223, April, 2013

Back when I was in my teens, all the ‘old’ people would bang on about ‘how time flies’ the older you get, and of course, I never believed a word of it. So why does it seem like yesterday and not the three years that it really is since I first made a call to the sleepy town of Frome, Somerset?

In the blink of an eye, I’m 30 years old and no closer to being a millionaire playboy. On the other hand, that artist from Frome – known to the world as Miss Jo Black – has had a whirlwind of a time. Her work has featured steadily in all of the main tattoo titles. She’s received invites to some of the best shows in the country. And she is now about to start a guest spot adventure in which everybody wants a piece of her.

Let’s not forget she was also nominated for Best Female at the 2012 Skin Deep industry awards either – all of which means that she’s basically having a hell of a lot more fun than me. Sour grapes on my part aside, over the last 18 months in particular, I’ve come to know Jo rather well. Like most quality artists out there today, Jo found her interests in tattoos at a young age.

“My first memory of being fascinated by tattoos was on a trip to America with my family as a young kid. We visited muscle beach in California and there where all these huge guys covered in tattoos. I’d never really seen people with a lot of coverage before so it was a real moment of being captivated by the colourful pictures on these scary looking men and wanting to see more.

“As a kid, I was always drawing; on my bedroom walls, on my exercise books at school and on my own skin. Luckily I come from a family of artistic types; my dad’s a music journalist and my mum has always been artistic because her father was a designer, so I was encouraged to pursue that passion from an early age. In primary school I won competitions and in secondary, I was allowed to drop a humanities subject in order to do two art subjects. I was commissioned to do murals on public walls and was always involved in local art projects.”

She then went on to do a foundation degree in art and design leading to a BA hons in graphic communication (Swank! Ed), but then the tattoo bug bit down hard and that was Jo hooked for good.

“I started getting heavily tattooed when I lived in Kingston-Upon-Thames at shops in Camden mostly, but always with my own designs that I had taken to the artist who would then smarten them up and turn them into proper tattoos.

“Then, just before I started at university, I got really interested in becoming a tattoo artist. My first instinct was to just buy a kit and try it out on my own legs. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to do so and I started to butcher my thighs, which are now covered in rubbish tattoos of my own.”

I’m sure this sounds familiar to a lot of tattooists out there – unfortunately, and realistically, an apprenticeship doesn’t always work out as the greatest way to start off. But the same story rings true time and time again; Jo soon realised that she needed proper guidance and that’s what she found.

“Gradually, I got better and eventually a studio called Cherubs Tattoo Parlour, owned by a friend named Celi, which was near my family home, asked me to come and work Saturdays – just doing the really basic stuff that she didn’t really have time to do because she was booked up for months in advance. She’s a fantastic artist and I still get a lot of my work done by her. She saw something in me, maybe my passion more than my ability at that point, and knew I was capable of doing the simple things. I did a lot of tribal, football badges and names. With Celi’s help though, I learned the basics and she really encouraged me to work hard.”

However talented you are, there’s never a substitute for hard work. A principle that Miss Jo has also stuck close to even to this day – she gives her all too every tattoo she creates and this shines through in the finished pieces. Jo eventually started ‘proper’ tattooing in 2010, and after some ups and downs, Black Inc was born.

Jo specialises in (what I like to call) ‘vintage new school’ (cheers mate – like we didn’t have enough genres that people like to put things into, Ed), but to be honest, it’s hard to put any form of tag on it because I’m seeing plenty of variation every single day. But the core of the style is still centred on that vintage feel. Jo sums it up much better than me…

“I have found that a lot of my inspiration is drawn from Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian style and fashion. I love the little details in art so I always try to put as much effort into the little things as I can. I guess that’s what makes my art mine. There are so many amazing artists, tattooist and otherwise that I draw inspiration from; Eckl, Shaun Bailey, Sneaky Mitch Allenden, Claudia De Sabe and Valarie Vargass to name a few, and I have always loved Escher and Dali, and any of the pre-Raphaelites too.”

All of this goes towards making Jo’s work distinctive and it’s always easy to spot in a crowd. Her line work can’t be faulted and she works at a pace that all ‘sitters’ appreciate. She’s also starting to give back and has recently taken on an apprentice.

I mentioned earlier that Jo was nominated (only officially tattooing for two years, remember) for Best UK Female at the 2012 Skin Deep industry awards. This really is a great achievement and although this time wasn’t her time, just to receive a nomination in any of the categories is a massive high five in itself, but to be nominated so early on is something really special.

“Other things that I have been incredibly thrilled to achieve so far where when Skin Deep put me in their top 50 UK artists list; it absolutely made my year. And then to be nominated for the Best UK Female award at Tattoo Jam… I was blown away! Just to be nominated was such a huge thing for me. I’ve had a few things printed in magazines and it always makes me very proud. Seeing your work in print is both humbling and motivating!”

Jo is also a massive convention fan and it’s sometimes near impossible to keep her away from the next big show. Working hard and playing harder has always been one of the best philosophies when it comes to staying sane through the shows. Jo finds a real balance. So 2013?

“I’m working Tattoo Jam and The Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention this year. Conventions are incredible, I meet so many amazing people there and I feel like we’re all one big family. I’m always happy to stop and chat to people at shows and really love it when people come and introduce themselves.”

With Jo being so busy, it’s hard for her to take the time and guest everywhere she’s been invited, but I guess there are worse occupationally hazards. For now you may be able to catch her in Manchester at Loaded 44 Tattoo studio in April, otherwise keep an eye on her Facebook page for any other last minute guest spots.

The Boys: Back In Town

“I was invited to Coleston Hall to go back stage and tattoo Thin Lizzy before their show. As it transpired we didn’t have time to tattoo the band as they were all busy, but I did a couple of little things on the road crew, and two of the band members and more of the crew said they would love to get something if I can make it to another show some time.

"We hung out back stage and met the band, did some cool tattoos and caught the show after. It was a very surreal day!”

Black Inc Tattoo Studio

22 king street, frome, Somerset. BA11 1BH


Text: Mr. Marks; Photography: Miss Jo Black


Artist Profiles: