October 12, 2017
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
Tatiana Kartomten Fox, Northern California, 1988.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I fell out of the wizard’s sleeve, like everybody else.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I work at Saved LA. I worked at Sang Bleu before that.
How long have you been tattooing?
Almost 3 years. I started doing stick-and-pokes 7 years ago.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and in what style did you initially learn how to tattoo?
I wasn’t attracted to tattoo shops. I preferred tattooing at home, with my friends or by myself, using materials that I already had around the house. I sew and illustrate, so I had sewing needles and India ink already at my disposal. I have only ever hand poked; I do not know how to use a machine.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
No, I did not do an apprenticeship. I wanted to when I lived in San Francisco but I thought it was impossible, that no one would take me on. I couldn’t afford to volunteer my time without being paid—and besides, I was always on my way to another destination.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I did not go to college. I didn’t go to my high school graduation, but I am pretty sure I graduated. I got kicked out of my art class in sophomore year for talking, but I became the teacher’s assistant in photography and printmaking for a couple years. I also took ceramics, which was great because my teacher let me draw for the majority of the class with my headphones on, super blazed. I would make the occasional ashtray.
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
I developed it by taking LSD, mushrooms, smoking a lot of weed, and being deeply influenced by music. But when I started thinking about how to draw tattoos that I would be able to hand poke, I had to simplify the designs a lot—which was a new experience for me.
Could you say more about that process of simplification? How do your designs account for the technical capabilities of the stick-and-poke method?
My illustrations are minutely detailed, so I had to simplify and abstract by creating simple line drawings that didn't have too much detail. Hand poking takes longer than using a machine and lends itself more to stippling rather than small line engraving styles—which is probably a technique I would use if I used machines. I like the attributes of stick-and-pokes. Their limitations are what make them special. There are some images that I didn't think I would be able to do in the beginning, such as pieces with a lot of black, but with time and experience my capabilities are expanding.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
No—the whole reason why I began tattooing was to “do it yourself” and, as they say, “practice makes perfect”.
What do you look for in a shop?
Friends and nice people.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Trying to play the guitar, embroidery, hunting for vintage items, drawing, walking.
What inspires you generally?
Anything and everything, really.
Where can we find your work online? What are your usernames on social media?
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
Books and music are very important to me.
Is traveling important to your work as a tattooist? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
Traveling is important as it’s what I wanted to do when I realized I didn’t want to be a fashion designer: I wanted to be a traveler. Traveling as a tattooist is great— I’ve done a bit of the West Coast, NYC, and I just did a little Europe tour. Most of my interesting experiences abroad are from when I was living in my van for two years, on a trip to Tierra del Fuego from San Francisco. In itself, that was quite an adventure.
Does fashion design influence your current work?
I didn't study fashion design—I just drew "fashion designs" all the time when I was a little girl. It doesn’t really influence my current work. I do appreciate style and dressing and I think it correlates to a lot of the tattoos I give, as they are almost like jewellery.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
All of the old dudes who talk about how it’s changed so much. (Just kidding!)
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
The only constant is change. My old property manager, Jacob, is an expert frame maker from Yugoslavia and he asked me what I would do if the world gets overtaken by totalitarians who condemn tattoos and threaten to chop off my hands!
Interview Stick and Poke Traditional TTTism Issue 1