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Q & A With a Tattooist in Lockdown

Tattoo artists, like all non-essential professions reliant on person-to-person contact, have not had an easy time with Coronavirus. With tattoo studios across the world closing their doors, tattooists have had to increasingly depend on alternative methods of income; like down-payments for future tattoos, Centrelink assistance, or selling merchandise and commissions in order to get by.

Photographer: Laura Sawers

Samantha Blick — a resident artist at Canberra’s Outkast studio — has been working in the profession for over 5 years, and in that time says she has not once taken a real break, until now.

I took advantage of her new spare time to catch up and see how she was doing.

Q: So, how has the lockdown impacted tattoo studios?

Basically, the lockdown has impacted them by shutting them all down, so street studios and private studios have both been told that they can’t operate at the moment due to social distancing, which is fair enough, but we usually rely on week-to-week pay so it does affect us quite a bit. We go off a subcontracting basis, so we pay a studio a certain amount agreed to per week and then the remainder we get ourselves.

Q: Are you on any unemployment benefits now that you cannot work?

As subcontractors and sole-traders we actually can either apply for being a Jobseeker or Jobkeeper, but obviously not both at the same time. It’s really up to how organised you are and how many things that you keep on record. Some people aren’t very good at keeping tabs on what they’re making and they just give everything to their accountant at the end of the financial year and then just let them take care of it. So, it’s really whether people have enough money to pay their accountant to do all of their book stuff so that they can get their Jobkeeper [payment], or whether they just get their shit together like I did.

Q: Have you found it to be an adequate income replacement so far?

When it finally came in it wasn’t too bad. Since we’re not really doing anything, you’re not going out and doing all these other extra-curricular activities. Because we’re in lockdown all you really need is money for food, electricity, water and your rent. So just the basic things, and it does cover the basics. But if I wanted to, for example, take up another course online while I was in the pandemic it wouldn’t really cover that.

Q: Do you think that the Government has overlooked contract artists like yourself?

I think so. The Government doesn’t really care about tattooists that much. It’s mostly filled with people who wouldn’t usually get tattoos. From a taxation perspective, we work as subcontractors, so we are our own individual business and we work out of a company and we earn a certain amount, and we give a certain amount to the company we’re operating under. But, I don’t think that any of those industries would really get a second thought from the Government.


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Gang gang 🐓

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Q: What can we do to support local artists in times like this, when their income might be on the line?

What a lot of artists are doing at the moment is selling prints and stuff instead. So they’ll be selling paintings that have a certain run of prints — they might have other kinds of merchandise as well. That’s a really good way to support your local artists. Some people might also do designs of tattoos, and then when everything goes back to normal they can actually get it tattooed. So, without that kind of guarantee that somebody is going to book in … if you want to get someone to design a tattoo for you, offer to maybe pay for half of it, or pay for at least a deposit.

Q: Has it been difficult to make new appointments, or reschedule old ones, as there isn’t really a clear date of ‘yes, you can officially start tattooing again’?

It is a bit difficult. We’ve had a few clients who were booked, or do want to book in because they’re bored at home and went crazy on Pinterest. We’ve basically just had to tell them: keep an eye on the news, keep an eye on our Facebook page, because we will back, it’s just ‘when?’ is the question. You could get a date, and then suddenly have a second wave outbreak and we’ll have to postpone that.


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There’s no wombat emoji

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Q: How has the lockdown affected you specifically?

I had more than one job. I had this job and I had a hospo job, and both of them have been put on hold. I know that once everything goes back to normal that both of those jobs will be able to open back up, but I was unfortunately in two industries that were seen as non-essential. It’s totally understandable. I’d put people’s lives before being able to tattoo somebody, and before being able to serve people alcohol, but it makes you realise, in the grand scheme of things, how insignificant some things can be, and how significant some things can be as well. Just being able to go and hangout in your workplace and build a community — that is something that positively affects your mental health, so when you no longer have those places to go and you’re seen as non-essential … it does affect people. I’ve never had to go onto government payments in my life, and I didn’t plan on doing it, but it’s what I’ve had to do in order to stay where I am and keep the rental property that I’m living in.

Q: If you could give advice to an aspiring artist or tattoo artist who wants to pursue the work, especially in times of underemployment like now, what would be your advice?

Have a look into studios that you like. Have a look at the artists that you like. Start learning about the industry before you actually get in. Find out what style you like but try your hand at drawing everything. You might get an opportunity at a studio, but it might not necessarily be the one that you want to be at. It’s basically just getting all of the foundations up so that if you do get an apprenticeship, then all you have to focus on is applying that to tattooing. You don’t want to be still trying to draw somebody’s face, or trying to do script, when you could have done that before and then had more time to actually learn the application of tattooing.

And get used to cleaning, because it’s something you don’t ever stop — even after you finish your apprenticeship!

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