How to become a tattoo artist
Fashion, Style

How to Become: a Tattoo Artist

Martha Smith is cool. We’ve met her – we’ve actually been tattooed by her – and we can personally vouch for her coolness.

A North London tattoo artist with a distinctive line-and-dot style, Martha is currently tattooing 6 days a week, building up one of the most impressive Instagrams around and breaking the mould as a woman in a male-dominated industry. So, it was pretty good of her to find time to chat to us about what it takes to make it in tattooing…

How did you get into tattooing?
I began tattooing professionally around 2 years ago after completing an apprenticeship at my studio. I studied illustration at Camberwell with the intention of becoming a tattooist. I always liked the idea of combining drawing with a trade, it’s a good way of getting a regular income and still being able to do something creative!

What does an average day look like?
My average day begins with lots of emails and a coffee. I start appointments from 11am and work through until 6pm. Inbetween tattoo appointments I draw up commissions for people, and occasionally create personal drawings, hoping someone will want something I’ve created from scratch tattooed on them.

What’s the best bit of your job?
To be honest there are many great aspects to my job. One, I don’t have to answer to anyone. It does mean I’m my own boss, and I’m quite a tough boss. I work 6 days a week with no break but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Another great thing is travel. This year I’m going to be guesting in studios. So far, I’m working in Stockholm and Portland…definite perk!

Are there any downsides?
One of the worst things about my job is the institution of tattooing. It’s very old fashioned in a lot of ways. Western tattooing over the last 40 years or so has predominately been run by men stuck in the traditions and techniques of the ‘old school’ tattoo world. I’m a female illustrator, not interested in regurgitating ‘mom’ in hearts and anchors. It’s difficult trying to break the mould of a narrow minded world, especially as a woman.

Martha Smith - cool London tattoo artist

Any odd requests?
Strangest requests, honestly, are the most generic requests. When a customer comes in with a screen grab off of Pinterest of an infinity symbol that hundreds of people have on them, that’s strange. Honestly, the more unusual request, the more excited I get about the tattoo.

“When a customer comes in with a screen grab off of Pinterest of an infinity symbol that hundreds of people have on them, that’s strange.”

What are your favourite tatts?
The tattoos I enjoy doing the most are my personal drawings. Derivative of naturalist’s studies, botanist’s studies and anthropologist’s studies. I love drawing anything nature based, I think organic forms suit the body as it’s an organic form.

What’s popular at the moment?
Amazingly for me, the most popular requests at the moment are botanical tattoos. And it’s not a gender-exclusive request either, lots of men are asking for floral tattoos which I love! Because my work is black and line based, you can get away with that kind of imagery not looking particularly girly and cutesy, they suit guys too!

Botanical and anatomical tattoos - tattoo trend 2016 - by Martha Smith

What advice would you give to somebody wanting to break into tattooing?
The advice I’d give to someone wanting to get into the industry, is don’t be a sheep. Create your own work with personal style. Don’t think about tattoos too much when creating a portfolio. Tattooists are after apprentices that show artistic potential, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have to draw like a ‘tattooist’.

Any tips for somebody getting their first ink?
For someone thinking about getting their first tattoo, my best advice is look on Instagram. It’s a direct and easy way of seeing someone’s entire portfolio. It’s the best resource for tattooists.

Check out Martha’s Instagram and Tumblr, have your mind blown, then book her straight away.

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