Tattooed Travel Photographer Kym Ellis

We chat to 29-year-old Kym Ellis, a technical marketing lead and travel photographer, about her tattoos and work. At the moment Kym has no fixed address and instead chooses to slow travel around the world – right now she’s in Chiang Mai in Thailand…

Kym Ellis

When did you get your first tattoo and what was it? It was on my eighteenth birthday and it’s a small pisces star sign symbol at the bottom of my nape. I wanted it when I was 16, but my dad who has very old tattoos which he hates, told me to wait until I was old enough. It’s not a very good tattoo but I still kept it as part of my back-piece.

What inspired you to start getting tattooed? Music mostly, I grew up in my late teens with MSN and MySpace and getting into punk and metal was the first time I felt like I had my own identity. I actually kept my music tastes a secret from my school friends for quite a while because I knew they were not into that scene.

Then when I turned 16 I decided enough was enough and changed my style overnight. I never looked back, it was extremely freeing to express myself in the way that I wanted to rather than trying to please others.

Kym-budapest-2

Have tattoos changed how you see yourself and your body? Absolutely – getting tattoos gives me agency over my body and I definitely became more confident as I started to get more big pieces. Whenever I get a new tattoo, it only takes a few days for it to become a part of me. I often forget I have so many, and when I see old photos of a less-tattooed version of me I find it very strange to look at.

I still have some big gaps on my arms and legs that I want to fill up, but I am just taking it steady and enjoying the proces.

Stomach Piece By Romain Labordille

Do you think your tattoos affect how others see you?  Yeah, in both good and bad ways. To be honest I don’t get too much negativity about my tattoos these days, but it can happen occasionally because I travel so much and different places have a different perception of tattoos as a whole.

What sorts of reactions do your tattoos get? For the most part I get a lot of compliments about my tattoos and people often ask me where I got them done, how many I have, or how long they took. Sometimes people want to touch them, that’s kinda weird!

There are still certain places that I visit where tattoos are less accepted and I definitely notice people staring at me. But it really isn’t the majority of people, and my way of dealing with it is to be proud and confident.

If people ask me what the meaning behind my tattoos are, I show them the tribute portrait of my cat that I grew up with. I carry her memory around with me everywhere and yes I am aware that this puts me firmly in the crazy cat lady category.

Cat tattoo by Sam Stokes

My cat Tess, by my friend Sam Stokes

How do you find your work and tattoos mix? Can you show them freely at work? In the earlier days of my career when I worked for companies in the UK, I mostly had to cover my tattoos up. It’s not the worst problem in the world to have, but I never felt like I could take my full self to work and it did wear me down eventually. In hindsight I should have just had them on show. It probably wouldn’t have done me any favours in the workplace but I also don’t think it would have got me fired.

Ever since I started working remotely for technology companies, it’s been the complete opposite. I’ve always been accepted for who I am by all of my colleagues. I wouldn’t take a job where I have to hide my skin again.

Is your photography a creative outlet that allows you to share the real you? It used to be, when I started out with photography about eight years ago I did a lot of portraiture and used myself as a subject when there was no one else around to photograph. Alongside building my tattoo collection, this was a means of expression.

Travel photography is my main focus now, because that’s such a big part of my life. I share a lot of my photos for free on Unsplash.

Arctic

What future career plans do you have? I have made some big career leaps in the past couple of years, from finding my first remote job to becoming more of a technical marketer and improving my coding skills. I’m really happy with my career at the moment and in the future I’d like to move into senior leadership or marketing operations.

I’m going to keep travelling too – being able to work from anywhere is such an incredible opportunity. My next project is to learn how to sail a boat. Then my nautical tattoos will really come into their own!

How do you find travelling and getting tattooed?  It’s really hard to get tattoos when you travel a lot. From living in places where there aren’t many artists who do the style you’re after, to trying to get a booking when you’re only going to be around for a few weeks. I have a full back-piece that is still missing it’s colour because I need to get back to the UK so Ben Stone can finish it up for me.

Back Piece by Ben Stone

That said I’ve managed to get some really great tattoos during my travels. I got a mountain range on my arm when I was in the Arctic Circle, a beautifully gothic traditional tattoo at a convention in Cape Town by @jarretcrosson, a gorgeous snake and florals from @mooreahum.tattoo in Vancouver, and my stomach piece was by @romain_labordille in Bali.

tattoos by jarret crosson and moorea hum

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