When you’re in school, it’s super hard to have to decide on your future career. There’s already hours of homework and study and you’ll soon be making decisions about college courses and what to do after school. At KISS we’re chatting to people in different industries about how they’ve landed their dream role, what they actually do, and their advice to you. This week, we’re chatting to Ali Campion, who is a tattoo artist.
What is your current role?
I am a full-time resident tattoo artist at Malahide Body Art Studio.
Can you describe what your general day at work looks like?
I’m self-employed at Malahide Body Art Studio so a day in my working life is usually a lot different to what people would normally consider the typical ” tattoo artist lifestyle”. As wonderful as the job is, there’s usually a lot of background work involved. I would normally start the day by preparing our studio, making sure the place is a clean, sanitized environment, with sterile equipment to ensure the safety of our clients. I set up my working station with the equipment required for whatever tattoo/piercing I would be starting with that day. My designs are prepared prior to our appointments so I do a quick scan over my drawings to make sure I’m ready to go for the tattoo. There’s always admin work and restocking to be done before we open doors. I try to get through some of that before our clients arrive. My day begins with any consultations and I’ll sit with clients interested in getting some work done and talk through their ideas, advising them on what might work best. Then the actual tattooing begins! Pending on what kind of tattoos/piercings I’m doing that day, I can sometimes deal with up to 15 clients a day, if I’m working on one large piece, I’ll stick with that for the day. There’s never a guaranteed closing time as it all depends on the client you’re working with, but once we finish our appointments for the day the clean-up begins again and we head home ready to start again the following day.
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How did you decide on this type of career?
Tattooing 11 years ago wasn’t as mainstream as it is now but I always found it fascinating that you could permanently put artwork on other people’s skin. I loved the idea of body decoration and found the concept of tattooing very beautiful from a young age. It was difficult to get into the trade and I was hesitant at the beginning, due to the stigma attached, but I couldn’t help my curiosity and eventually decided to take the leap and really give it a go. I was studying fashion at the time and just didn’t feel the artistic satisfaction I had desired, so I started exploring work in the tattoo industry until I finally found my own way.
What did you do to get to this point in your career?
I did a mixed media portfolio preparation course before moving on to a fashion degree, when I finished my leaving cert. I wasn’t sure what area of art or design I wanted to study and it was very difficult to get a tattoo apprenticeship in Ireland at the time, especially as a female. I figured having a well-rounded portfolio would give me options as to what route I wanted to take. In college, my artistic training was focused on a more illustrative style but I was able to carry that through to my tattooing. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a tattoo apprenticeship in the USA and this is where the journey began, I then went to London for two years and worked under another artist there before returning to Dublin.
What are the ups and downs of the role?
I have a fabulous environment to work in, with a great team. I get the honour of putting my art onto people’s skin on daily basis and playing a role in their journeys. Having such a social job and getting to meet so many wonderful, interesting people is amazing and I’m so grateful for the trust my clients put in me. Every day is a challenge and there is constant opportunity to learn, grow and develop your style. It’s also a great skill to have if you want to travel as you can carry it with you to different cities and take inspiration from different cultures. The downs, like any creative career, is that it is hard not to put a lot of pressure on yourself as an artist and just enjoy the ride and grow slowly. There’s a lot of “behind the scenes” work that goes into self-employment and it can prove stressful at times. You need to be able to set professional boundaries but also have a lot of self-motivation at the same time, so it’s all about finding the right balance.
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What advice would you give to a student looking to get into your line of work?
My advice would be to not be afraid of the journey, but embrace and enjoy it. It is a long and challenging road to get to a point where you can make a living off an artistic skill, but the rewards of having a career you love are worth it. Work hard on your portfolio and always make sure your presentation is clean and professional, this is just as important as the quality of your work when approaching job opportunities. Get to know artists in your area and become familiar with a style you like. Always be mannerly and have good communication skills as your relationships with your clients are 50% of their experience. NEVER take a short cut into tattooing because you will pick up bad habits and potentially damage someone, find a good mentor and put the time into work in a professional manner.
For more career stories and details on finding your dream job, check out our series here.