How to find a Tattoo Artist

Andrea Giulimondi from The Family Business, London

I’ve just booked an appointment for another tattoo! In London! I am finally going to get some work done in the city where my heart beats a little faster. I am so excited.

I’ve been asked by a few people to write about how I choose an artist. Especially in a city where I don’t actually know that many people, let alone many people with tattoos. So that is what this little quite long post is supposed to be.
Not the final word on choosing an artist but perhaps a guide, a starting point.

I currently wear eight tattoos. Of these, I have the work of six artists on my body*.
Not intentionally, mind, that’s just the way it has turned out.

But I digress! How did I choose my artist in London? You’ll see. But more importantly, how do YOU start finding the perfect artist for your tattoo?

Tattoos Themselves

Word of mouth is invaluable. Ask someone you know who has amazing tattoos; ask someone you DON’T know who has amazing tattoos. Chances are, if you are nice about it and explain why you are asking hi, I just love your tattoo, I’m looking to get one done myself and was just wondering what artist you used? then they are unlikely to mind.

If they are quite heavily tattooed they are most likely going to be used to people coming up and talking to them about their tattoos. They are, when on display, quite the conversation starter**.

Remember to look for the same style of tattoo you are imagining. It is probable that an artist can be equally proficient at realistic and traditional-tattoo style tattoos, but don’t bet your money on it. Don’t go to an artist who does only black and grey realist portraits and ask them to do a traditional Japanese style koi & Hokusai’s The Great Wave piece. Artists specialise for a reason.

However, I didn’t really know anyone who has been tattooed in London, and I wouldn’t have enough time when I was in London to go looking for strangers. So this option wasn’t much of an option for me.

I had watched the first season of London Ink in 2008 and through the show discovered Nikole Lowe (a Kiwi artist living in London!). It was through a subsequent profile on her in Inked magazine that I found out she had opened her own studio and discovered the work of Saira Hunjan.

The Internet

Use social networking to ask for recommendations. When I was looking for an artist to do my rose tattoo I was completely stuck. I turned to Twitter for recommendations. Through them I found Sacred Tattoo in Auckland and Dan Anderson, who did my rose.

I suppose I could have crowdsourced recommendations for London tattoo artists through Twitter but I don’t have that many followers in the UK, I don’t think, and to be honest, it completely slipped my mind!

With Nikole Lowe in mind I searched for her tattoo studio, Good Times. I emailed and requested an appointment with Saira Hunjan if she had space available during the week I am in London. I sent the email and went to bed. The next morning, my inbox empty, I decided that I was leaving it a little late*** to rely on only contacting one studio, I needed to find another artist.

Honestly? I then turned to Google. I searched “tattoo studio London”. I know, it’s kind of ridiculous in its simplicity, but I swear this is what I did.

Thankfully, one of the first links was to an article on Time Out called London’s best tattoo studios****. SO HANDY!

So then I had a list. I clicked through to all the individual tattoo parlour’s websites and came to this conclusion (yet again): tattoo parlours have, by and large, TERRIBLE websites. Oh lord. The fonts, the busy backgrounds, the animations. SO bad.

Luckily, I did not want them to design me a website.

Use the About or FAQs page to get a feel for the studio. Do they assume that you already know a lot about tattoos? In that case, they may not be the best choice for your first tattoo, especially if you are nervous.
Check for waiting periods, do they take walk-ins? what rate do they charge? do they need a deposit? do they charge for artwork or is that built into the hourly rate? is there a minimum charge?

I always like to have a look at the Studio photos to see the kind of environment I will be being tattooed in. You can’t necessarily tell how sanitary a place seems from photos which are probably taken when the studio is looking its best, but you can get a feel for the place.

This time I even looked the studio up on google maps, just to see what area of London it is in. Close to my old work!

I should note that The Family Business, the studio I chose, has a damn pretty website.

The Artist

The studio website should have links to portfolios for all their artists. This is definitely the most important part of the process. You need to love the other work your artist has done.

I was looking for an artist who leans towards the traditional style tattoos, as that’s the aesthetic I like, but who could also do quite delicate or “feminine” work. I fell for Andrea Giulimondi’s work immediately.

I also loved the tattooed baby, the sparrow, and the lady with the roses.
View his portfolio here.

Like with any art, you are looking at work that speaks to you. I had looked at the work of many many artists and thought it’s fine but or he’s a good artist but something was off. Something didn’t work with the mental image I have of the tattoo I want to get. There were only a few artists, say 4 out of the 30 or so portfolios I looked at, whose work I actually loved enough to email for an appointment*****.

Hopefully the portfolio will be either all healed tattoos or a mixture of healed and fresh. Understandably it is easier to get photos of tattoos as soon as they are done, but you really don’t know exactly how a tattoo is going to look until after it has healed. Often artists will ask their customers to come back in to show them the tattoo or to send them a photo once it’s healed.

Pay particular attention to the line work. It should be the same thickness all the way along, and not fuzzy around the edges – the fuzzy bit is called a blowout and can ruin delicate linework or text tattoos.
Check out large swathes of colour – is it evenly coloured or is it splotchy? Is it all primary colours or does it look like they mix their own. What kind of colour combinations do they use, is there anything unexpected?

Also remember that the work in the portfolio is what the artist themselves considers their best work. So if you don’t like it, or it’s not that great, then you don’t even like that artist at their best.

Finally, once you have decided on an artist, give them a little bit of freedom to work. Unless you are an artist yourself, or the tattoo you want is a replication of a famous piece of art, recognise that your tattoo artist is an ARTIST and let them do their thing.

Take in images of similar tattoos or the styles that you like. Take in examples of colour schemes or paint techniques you like. I took in a photo of a plate for a colour scheme for my rose, as well as images where I like parts of the rose – the middle of one, the curls around the outside of another, the different interior and exterior petal colours from a third.

I took in outlines for my first two tattoos – the cupcake and the crown – which was fine as I was looking for straight replicas. However by far my favourite tattoos are the ones where I gave the artist guidance and reference images and asked them to come up with something.

With my sugar skull for example I took 4 or 5 examples of the kind of sugar skulls I liked and he talked to me about the colour scheme I was looking for (girly, bright, similar to my rose) and the particular elements I liked (heart shaped sockets, tudor roses, sacred heart, flourishes) and he designed me something beautiful and completely my own. I couldn’t have come up with better.

Sometimes the artist can save you from yourself. My side piece I had initially wanted with a horizontal orientation, about 2/3 the size I ended up with, but still retaining the details of peonies, roses, my camera, and in omnia paratus in a banner. It never would have worked the way I was thinking. The detail would have been too small and it would have looked too busy.
But I couldn’t see that. The artist could though, and I am glad I took her recommendation.

So yes. Don’t accept a tattoo design that you don’t absolutely adore, but maybe let the artist help you find something that is both beautiful, and the best for a tattoo.

To conclude this session I leave you with this anecdote.

I let Gill choose the colours for my lock and key tattoo, I trust him enough to do that, and he chose gold and teal and a little bit of aqua. I loved it. The next day I was showing a girl in the office and she said “aren’t those the colours of [where I worked]” and YES! YES THEY WERE.
Oops. But I love the tattoo. And I no longer work there. And it is an amusing anecdote. Tattoos do not have to be serious.


* Dave McEwan – cupcake, Michelle Mac – crown, Dan Anderson – rose, Manu Edwin – sugarskull and Jitterbug Perfume quote, Erin Chance – side piece, and Jeremy Gill – St Paul’s Cathedral and my lock and key.

** Personally, I don’t mind people talking to me about my tattoos, as long as they are respectful. If they touch me? That is NOT cool. If you can’t see my entire text tattoo, ASK me to move my hair. Don’t brush my back. That’s just creepy, ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU ARE BEHIND ME.
Oh also? Do not rubbish someone’s tattoos. Once they are there, they are THERE, treat them like an unsightly mole or a broken nose that wasn’t set properly. Yes, they could get plastic surgery to fix it, but do not give them a hard time about it.

*** Most excellent artists have waiting lists. My guy in Wellington? About 3 months at the moment. Rose Hardy, one of my wishlist artists? A 12 month waiting list. When I found out that Saira Hunjan was the favoured tattoo artist of Kate Moss? I realised that the chances of her having only a 3 month waiting list were … pretty slim. About as slim as Mrs Hince herself.

**** I loved their description of The Family Business’ studio
Everything about The Family Business is sharp, from its boutiquey location in Exmouth Market to its suited and booted staff and vintage swing soundtrack. Its blood red interior, adorned with Roman Catholic imagery, is inspired by owner Mo Coppoletta’s Italian heritage, and contrasts with the bold Japanese screens separating the work area from the waiting room.

***** the artists I emailed about were: Saira Hunjan at Good Times Tattoo, Lucy at Into You Tattoo, and Andrea Giulimondi and Andrea Furci at The Family Business


366 in 2012

366 in 2012

Sunday: a rainy day spent planning our european excursion
A rainy Sunday on a long weekend was perfect for planning out the stops on our European Excursion.

Monday: poison at the Parents place
Went to dinner at my parents’ house. This lives on a windowsill. Doesn’t everybody’s family display vintage poison bottles?

Tuesday: Oriental Bay fountain
A beautiful morning on the waterfront, I was surprised that the fountain at Oriental Bay was on so early.

Wednesday: Office Detail
Mask detail from my office.

Thursday: outside my window
Looking up outside my window. Beehive and Parliament House.

Friday: Chris bought a LOT of tear
Chris bought quite a lot of tea.

Saturday: photo of Chris photographing the Hobbit crowd
We went out to the casting call for extras for The Hobbit. We lasted about 20 minutes before giving up. There were thousands of people there. Two hours later the police shut it down as a hazard.



88 days and counting

Our hotel in Venice
A: our Hotel in Venice

This morning I cried.
I was sitting at my desk and I read something that brought me to tears. Happy tears! But I was lachrymose all the same.

The Tate Modern is hosting an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama from 9 February – 5 June. From 4 April – 9 September they are hosting an exhibition of Damien Hirst.

So for the 8 nights I am in London, my favourite city in the world, my favourite gallery in the world is hosting exhibitions by two of my favourite artists.

It’s like they know I’m coming home for a visit. They’re putting on a show.

I was so happy I cried.

Also, this morning I was trawling looking for deals on accommodation – just the other day I found a well-reviewed hotel in Primrose Hill for the price we were going to pay for a shared-facilities hostel room! – and found, to my shock and delight, a rather budget but very well-reviewed hotel in Venice.

It’s kind of close to St Mark’s square. Sort of. About 150 metres. No big deal.

Pa Pa Paleo Recipe: Lamb and Bacon Dumplings


I essentially gave up on Paleo just before Christmas
I kept the basic principles as much as possible but there were just too many sweets, so many refined carbohydrates, a lot of smooth peanut butter on whole grain toast. I started feeling bloated after almost every meal. My jeans started getting just a little bit tight. But mainly, I felt unhealthy after I was finished with a meal.

So I’m heading back to the caveman life, back on the Paleo diet.

With that in mind, I give you one of our favourite all time Paleo meals*.

Lamb and Bacon Dumplings


Meatball ingredients
6 rashers bacon
1 small onion
1 tbs olive oil
2 tsp sage
1 tsp ground paprika
1 egg
salt and pepper
500g minced lamb

Sauce ingredients
400g canned diced tomatoes
2 tsp basil
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 spring onion
salt and pepper


Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180 celsius/350 fahrenheit.


Finely chop the onion and bacon


In a pan on medium/high heat fry the bacon and onion for 5 minutes or until the onion is tender


Add the sage, paprika, salt, and pepper and cook for a further two minutes. Remove pan from the heat and leave to cool.


In a large bowl combine the bacon mixture, egg, and minced lamb. Mix well.

5 7

Roll the lamb mixture into balls and place in a tray lined with baking paper. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until well cooked.

6 8

To make the sauce, place the tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a medium sized pan** and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the spring onion and simmer for a further minute.


Add the cooked meatballs and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Serve with a sprig of basil.
Note: if you are not on the Paleo diet I’m sure this would be a good spaghetti and meatballs recipe. I would just double the tomatoes, basil, and garlic for the sauce.

10 - plated

* Adapted just a smidge from the free pdf book “Recipes for the 21st Century Hunter Gatherer” by Nikki Young
** I just use the pan the bacon mixture was cooked in, so you get all the excess spices and whatnot

366 in 2012

366 in 2012

Sunday: Civic Square in a bit of a mood
I was in a bit of a mood. Not even the blue blue sky at Civic Square could fix it. I think it was end-of-holiday blues.

Monday: mint green tiles in my new work bathroom
My new job is in a very old part of the Parliamentary complex. I love the vintage mint-green tiles in the bathroom.

Tuesday: new id card, hallelujah
Thankfully I was allowed to get a new ID photo taken. My last one ended up looking nothing like me.

Wednesday: died fetching keys. Terrifying.
He died fetching keys he’d dropped down a drain. That’s a nightmare right there.

Thursday: photos for my Irish passport
Black & white photos for my Irish passport application. Despite having to pin my fringe back? I didn’t mind these so much.

Friday: walking to the Waterfront
Walking by the waterfront. It’s still only January but the wind is getting increasingly chill.

Saturday: popped in to work, gave Craig a tour
I had to go back to the office to send an email (it slipped my mind on Friday) so Craig came to see my new office. Turns out that he’d never seen around Parliament in the three years I’d been working there. So I took him on an impromptu tour.


Blue and Chartreuse

Thoughts become things

It feels like a million but it was only two years and nine months ago that I posted my 2009 birthday wish list. I came across this by accident and I realised something surprising.

I was hoping for:

2009 Birthday Wishlist

This beautiful copy of The Bell Jar, Protea charm & Protea ring by Meadowlark, Cupcakes (!), Peonies, the permission for Craig and I to live in the UK for as long as we like, beautiful underwear, a Kodak Duaflex vintage camera, St Paul’s Cathedral back in my life, a traditional peony tattoo, a black retro-style scooter, Chloe Sevigny for Open Ceremony Wedges, Meadowlark pyramid stud bangles, a Marc by Marc Jacobs bag in a berry berry hue.

And two years, nine months later? honest to anything, it would be easier to list the items I do not have.
I do not own that copy of The Bell Jar, I do not have a black retro-style scooter, my Chloe Sevigny for Open Ceremony Wedges are Jeffrey Campbell knock-offs but besides that?
The permission to live in the UK was really just the best.

I was surprised. I am a fortunate fortunate person.

It was nice to remember that.

(It hasn’t been two years nine months of presents, it has been two years, nine months of working hard and saving harder. And a couple of presents)

I got 99 problems but a trip ain’t one

... Not Quite.

So. Europe!

Forever and a day ago I met Aly. We became friends when I lived in London and, thanks to the wonder of the internet, we are still in touch (HI ALY!). One of my memories from when I was last in London (2008! SO LONG AGO) was telling her that she really should reply to Arthur, maybe even go out with him.
Now they are married. I am essentially psychic.

Their wedding was in Canada. Craig and I were invited but, you know, life and money and whatnot. We couldn’t go.

THEN! In a fantastic confluence of events, I found out that I was coming into a little bit of money. THEN! I received a “Save the Date” email from Aly. She and Arthur are having a second ceremony*. In London.
Where do I ALWAYS want to go? London. Where do I not have the money to go? London.


99 days from today Craig and I leave Wellington. 100 days from now we land in London. I am so excited I might die.

And since it is SO very very far from this little corner of the world, we kind of decided to make the most of it. To make up for the two years we lived in London and didn’t manage to travel. To see (a small portion) those cities we have wanted to visit for years.

We are spending a MONTH in Europe**.

The plan is, at the moment, to spend a week in London, 3-4 nights in Edinburgh (to see my favourite Kat), then fly to Berlin and, via train, spend the next 20 days travelling from Berlin to Munich, Prague, Florence, and ending up in Rome.
We fly out of Rome, spent 12 hours in Singapore, and land back in New Zealand at midday on a Sunday.

I predict that following Monday will be a fun day at the office.

* Yes! Well remembered. This WILL be my second second ceremony of the year.
** Seriously, SO excited. It’s ridiculous.

366 in 2012

366 in 2012

Sunday: Sodden sisters
It was raining so hard when we left Napier that this is what my sisters looked like after less than two minutes outside.

Monday: TRIKE is everywhere
Heading home after coffee with Andy.

Tuesday: barely left the house
At 3:30pm I realised I hadn’t left the house at all so dragged myself down to the waterfront on my way to the supermarket.

Wednesday: a trip to Te Papa after booking flights
After a morning spent in Flight Centre booking flights* I went to Te Papa to see the Unveiled exhibition from the V&A

Thursday: coffee dates along Lambton
Two coffee dates. Opposite ends of town.

Friday: headed home, officially employed
Headed home along the waterfront after signing my new contract.

Saturday: anniversary picnic
The annual Burke wedding anniversary picnic at Bolton Street Cemetery


Anniversary photo 2012

* Yes!! I will tell all soon enough. I am so excited I might die.

Presented without comment


An email from the inimitable Kat:

Oh! Btw, last night’s dream we were all on a cruise together and you had brought 5 Craig lookalikes on with you. I asked you why you needed 5 men and Craig just sighed and said, “I get tired.”
And there was a ceilidh on the boat.