There was a time when sporting a tattoo would mark you gangster, sailor or punk. Today they’re adorned by young and old, rich and poor, straight and rebellious alike. In this series, we meet London’s finest tattoo artists to discuss the growing appeal of ink. Meg Stedhead is an artist who draws solid, clean lines at Velvet Underground Tattoo. Photography by Rory James.
What first hooked you about tattooing?
I don’t remember feeling hooked, it was a natural progression. It’s always been there and was going to happen. Now I’m enjoying it, and the hook is dragging me through the water, whether I like it or not. It feels good.
Tell us about your journey to tattoo artist.
I drew tattoos for people way before I had any, knew anything about them or had ever stepped foot in a studio. After accepting that I was going to be a full-time artist, I got an apprenticeship at Santo Cuervo Tattoo. But it didn't work out. It wasn't the right time; I was working part time as a cook and doing other art jobs, so I couldn't focus on an apprenticeship as well. It takes a lot of time and patience – something I didn't have. It also wasn't the right studio for me. Since then I've become fully self-employed with my art, painting murals, doing exhibitions, commissions, illustration jobs… and then a friend tagged me into a post from Velvet Underground Tattoo who were looking to hire an artist. At the time I’d only tattooed myself and friends at home, but I thought, fuck it, might as well give it a shot, tell them where I'm at – be honest. Worst thing that could have happened was that they said ‘‘Nah”. And after a trial they took me on as an apprentice. It's been all gravy ever since.
When did you get your first tattoo?
October 2015. My mate Ali Hamish inked one of my old “Stedheads” on my foot. It was a spur of the moment thing; he’d posted something like “who wants a tattoo?” and within the hour I was round his warehouse smoking a joint, listening to Marvin Gaye and pulling weird faces while he inked me. I love it even more than the day I got it.
Any advice for first-timers?
Keep it small. Don’t think about it too much, but enough to be okay to live with it forever. And preferably something that means something to you, or something that you like! Maybe consider where future tattoos may go before you go ahead, you only have so much skin. Then again, the ones I’ve got have been fun because I didn’t have time to worry or think too much about it.
How frequently do you get new ones? What’s next?
Not very often. Though from the few tattoos I’ve got – “Bloody ‘Ell” written on the back of my ankle and an almost full-sized Mackerel on my calf – you might not think so. Next is another bird, or fish. I like fish. I want something quite big.
Tell us about your personal style as an artist?
I like to use a black ink brush pen for pretty much everything. I like solid, clean lines in my art, so I'm working on adapting that style for my tattoos. I like blackwork tattoos, but I'm also playing with solid colour fills. I really love traditional japanese tattoos, but clean, simple ones are a favourite.
What other artists do you admire?
Deno Tattoo, I love his work – the colour fills, clean lines, and the clever simplicity of some of his pieces – I can see a similarity to some of my characters there. I hope to be as good one day! A couple of others I've been admiring on Instagram are Warriorism and TeideTattoo – skillz.
What can you tell about someone by the artwork on their bodies?
I think everyone's different, some people really don’t give a shit. They might have a tattoo of shitty, joint-smoking titties squirting milk onto a crucified baby Jesus... I see the funny side to that dark stuff – I inked the shitty titties. Others would judge straight away, think he’s some horrible, twisted weirdo. But he’s actually a super lovely dude.
Is there such a thing as a bad tattoo?
I believe so, yes, but that doesn't mean that it's not right. I’ve seen some really shitty tattoos, usually funny stupid ones, and loved them more than the best I’ve seen – purely due to their crappyness. It’s a shame when someone feels like they need to cover them up. I say embrace them. Keep them for the stupid memories. It breaks my heart!
What style of tattoo artwork excites you? What do you dislike?
Clean, solid tatts are awesome – ones that are going to stand the test of time are the best. I'm really not a fan of watercolour or sketchy tattoos.
What’s your experience of the tattooing community?
I work in an awesome studio with only female tattooers. I was a little worried about it at first, but they’re all amazing and really supportive. There’s zero ego bullshit!
Are there assumptions from the “straight” world about people that have tattoos? Is there a tension?
I'm sure there probably is. Unfortunately most of the world is made up of judgemental, opinionated idiots. If only everyone could accept each others differences and give less of a toss about other people's choices and appreciate them instead. Thank fuck we’re all different.
Are there still taboos in tattooing? Do you ever tell clients to think twice?
I wouldn’t recommend getting “Cunt” tattooed on your forehead, at least not for your first one…
Are you more into the craft or the art?
Right now I’d say both. I'm still learning the craft, and probably always will be. Same goes for my art. I’d say it's a balancing act; I love them both so much – but tattooing is my new baby.
What's your proudest moment?
I recently drew my biggest and best tattoo on one of my best mates. The lines are really clean, and it's the first tattoo that I feel I’ve considered all the important factors in the design and the craft. We’re both chuffed to bits.
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