Interview with Abigail Tonge – Things&Ink

We love the ornamental tattoos of blackwork artist Abigail Tonge, who tattoos at Ultimate Skin in Leeds. Usually she’s incredibly busy traveling, guesting at other shops in and outside of the UK, but during lockdown she had some time to talk to us about her style

How long have you been tattooing, what inspired you to start an apprenticeship?

I have been tattooing for five years now, the time has flown by and so much has changed both creatively and personally. I tend to live my life at 100mph, there is never enough hours in the day.

Before getting into tattooing, I was a fashion graduate and working in the industry but it was obviously not for me. I missed the creative life so badly, I spent a lot of my spare time drawing at home, drawing mostly tattoo designs and getting tattooed by various artists that worked in very different styles. Hence why I’m covered in in all sorts, this really helped me understand tattooing more and what there was to be explored.

At university I studied the construction of garments, how people wore them and how to draw them, but I think my tutors got bored of me incorporating tattoo related designs into my work in whatever way I could. I even wrote my dissertation on ‘the history and Renaissance of tattooing within my generation’, as I found links between fashion and tattoos and I found this so interesting. I love the history of tattooing, it’s fascinating and beautiful how everything’s grown and adapted in every aspect from the technical standard of tattoos, equipment, the type of people who have them and people’s attitudes towards tattooing.

From the age of three or four I was obsessed with drawing. I used to spend my Saturdays off school drawing copies of Beatrix Potter illustrations out of books. As I got older I started to notice tattoos on people and I just fell in love. Tattooing was an unknown world that I wanted to discover but I never considered myself anywhere near good enough to be able to do it as a career.

Some people stumble into tattooing and go from there, but for me it was by no means easy. I’m a firm believer that in life anything that’s worth having or doing, requires a hell of a lot of hard work and perseverance!

How would you describe your style, did you know you would always tattoo in this way?

When I first started tattooing I did a bit of everything, which is super important when you first start out. I worked in colour and did some blackwork until my tattoos started to evolve naturally with my interests in pattern and my love of Asian; Indian, Polynesian, Thai, Tibetan artworks. I always knew I wanted to specialise in patternwork in some form, I had to do a lot of adapting, researching and growth before I got onto the road I wanted to be on. Saying that, you never stop learning and growing, I still have a long way to go but I love that! If I could have gone in any direction in tattooing, this is one hundred percent where my love and passion is. I would describe my work as intricate, bold ornamental blackwork.

What do you love to tattoo and what would you like to do more of?

I really enjoy tattooing anything with a heavy line weight, even then mixed with smaller needle groupings to create more intricate details; like in the Thai inspired designs I’ve been doing. I would love to do more large scale Tibetan projects, in placements that are not so generic, like big torsos connected to the back or both full legs. I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve, the limits are endless! I also love to tattoo in another style, floral blackwork. I did a lot of this in my first four years of tattooing. I still love to take on floral projects but prefer to do large scale work when it comes to these concepts. I like to add solid black elements, mixed with dotwork and negative sections to create gradient differences and depth.

What inspires your work?

I find inspiration in literally anything with a cultural background! Patterns, motifs, embroidery, paintings, buildings, temples and home wares. I take inspiration from anything really especially when I travel around other countries. Life itself is surrounded by references and inspirations that we don’t always realise are around us.

I always feel so inspired by artists that I’ve looked up to from the beginning; Tomas Tomas, Guy Le Tattooer, Jondix, Thomas Hooper, Curley, Jack Peppiette, Mckenzie, James Lau, Aaron Anthony, Cal Jenks, Kieran Williams, Savannah Colleen, gosh there are so many more!

Can you tell us about your own tattoos, how do these make you feel? Do they affect how you see yourself and your body?

I started to get tattooed at the age of 18 (on my eighteenth birthday to be exact). What was popular in tattooing in 2008 was very different to what is popular now. I have a lot of neo-traditional tattoos from when I first starting getting tattooed, I have things on me that I definitely wouldn’t get tattooed now, however I wouldn’t cover or re-work most of them as they are just another layer of who I was and once adored.

Nothing in life is consistent, we as people are forever changing and growing, including our tastes and interests. I think I’d be one big cover up if I kept changing things to match what I liked at the time, saying that there are sections of me where there are and will be cover ups as I love a good blast over. Like on my chest I had a really ‘scene’ chest piece of script, roses and diamonds done when I was 19 that now has a black patternwork blast over the top, I love how it looks as you can see the layers of shapes, shadows and colours underneath.

I know I have a good mixture of good and bad tattoos, I think this is good because it makes you look at them in a way we’re you can learn what works and what doesn’t, what looks good and stands the test of time and what doesn’t on different areas of skin. This helps you be a better tattoo artist for your clients in my opinion.

I wear my tattoos proudly, I love how tattoos look on the skin full stop hence why wanting to create them on other people’s bodies.

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