Sunday, 28 February 2021

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Volunteers queue up to help local tattoo artist get creative

It was a bit of an experiment when tattoo artist, Lee Jones, advertised on social media looking for volunteers to provide a canvas for his own creative designs. Wanting the opportunity to combine his love of art with his tattooing skills, he hoped a discounted rate would persuade a couple of open-minded people to step up.

Within an hour, the post had to be taken down after a long list of willing bodies came forward to offer arms, legs and other parts of their anatomy. In fact, Lee discovered, far from being deterred by the idea of handing over creative control, people were excited at the prospect of a tattoo that they could never themselves have imagined.

“We realised there were a lot of people out there that really wanted to get a tattoo but were maybe being held back by not knowing what to choose,” Lee says. “They were so open to my designs. I’ve been wanting to start doing my own stuff for a while, so to have such enthusiasm from people is very exciting.”

Among those signing up was Blue Ginger Restaurant chef, Nik Brandt, who was one of the first to spot the advertisement and says the opportunity was too good to miss. “I knew Lee and his work and I already liked his style, so I wasn’t worried at all,” he says.

As we chat, Nik is two hours into his second day in the chair at Evolution Tattoo Studio in Whitianga. The tattoo was expected to take 12 hours, but Lee says it’s progressing well and he will probably finish in 10.

“This one ended up being a bit different actually,” Lee says. “Nik and I talked about various ideas and then I looked at how we could blend them together. So in terms of design it was about 50/50 which is the first time I’ve done that.”

Like many of Lee’s images, the inspiration has come from a face. “It’s what you might call a surrealist style,” he says. “I like to distort the face slightly so it takes on a moody feel. We also incorporated mountains at the top which represent Sweden where Nik comes from and we have a wave at the bottom to reflect his passion for surfing.”

While his designs are all pre-sketched so clients can see the overall concept and decide on the best placement, Lee says one of the best things about doing his own work is it can adapt and evolve during the tattooing process. “So you may see opportunities as you go along that will make it even better,” he says. “That’s happened quite a bit with this one and I’ve chatted to Nik and said, what would you think about doing it like this, you have the freedom to be able to do that, you are not confined to what’s in a picture.”

While he has been tattooing now for 15 years, Lee’s love of art and drawing goes back much further. The prospect of being able to now take his trade down this artistic route points to how far the tattoo industry has come in recent years.

“Tattoos have gone from being seen as a bit unusual to pretty much mainstream,” says Tiffany Reed who co-owns Evolution with Lee. “Perception around them has also changed. It means not only are we seeing an increasing number of people getting tattoos but there is also now a real trend towards larger designs.

“Close to 50 percent of our new clients are women and there is a real cross section of ages. For example, we are seeing more women in their 60s and 70s who are getting their first tattoos. Usually, it’s something they had always thought about but never had a chance to do before for various reasons.”

Back in the chair, latest customer, Nik, is feeling good as he nears the end of this process of creative collaboration. “I’m really happy,” he says. “For me it’s about telling the story of where I am at this time in my life and that’s exactly what Lee has done - aside from that it also looks super cool!”

Pictured: Chef, Nik Brandt, is one of more than a dozen people who volunteered themselves as a canvas, handing over full artistic licence to Whitianga tattoo artist, Lee Jones.

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