There’s a lot of reasons you may have heard of Guen Douglas–she’s internet savvy, a fan of fine baked goods and hands out some mighty fine tattoos to anyone that crosses her path.We caught up with Guen about where she’s at, where she’s going, and most importantly: where you can meet up with her for a tattoo of your very own.
Photo by: Angela Marklew
TattooSnob: For most of us, when we think of the name “Guen Douglas” several things: tattoos delicious baked goods, a cute girl, Canada and England. I’m sure there’s other things you’d like people to know about you, so please lay them out there for us!
Guen Douglas: I am mid-Atlantican, raised a little European and a little North American, as well as a little Anglo and a little Franco. I recently moved to Rotterdam, Holland from Ottawa, Canada. I fell in love. What can I say I am a romantic. And a nerd. I’m told all the time that I don’t look like a tattooer (however I’m not sure what a tattooer looks like, maybe I should dress in motorcycle leathers?) anyhow I’ve been working on my image, kidding. I collect everything (collecting is a great excuse to buy garbage and pass it off as a hobby), these days my faves are vintage and toy cameras, shoes and books. In storage in Canada I have many other collections that have been put on pause for the moment (antique bibles, religious kitsch and 45′s). I came to Holland with two suitcases of clothes, a bicycle, a box of tattoo equipment and a box of tattoo books. I have amassed an apartment full of junk in 8 months; a testament to my shopping skills.
TS: What is your art background like? Can you recall what exactly it was that drew you to tattooing?
Guen: My mother was an art teacher (she was also a graphic designer in her youth), so art was an important part of our upbringing. We are an artsy family; my brother has a degree in animation and I went to an arts high school where I took dance and visual arts. Dance was my first love, but it can’t always be a lifelong career, so my parents suggested I try something else career-wise. Initially I wanted to go into law (I think I read way too may crime and horror novels). I started university at 16 taking a double major in English and Criminology but after a couple of years I realized university wasn’t for me. I’d been spoiled in high school by teachers that pushed us to be free thinkers and treated us like equals. I had expected university help me think for myself and instead I found we were expected to regurgitate lectures in our papers. I was crushed. I had a fairly strict upbringing and always had my head buried in books in high school (I was a librarian for a stint) so when I left for uni and moved out I discovered the nightlife. It wasn’t long before I got my first tattoo. It’s an embarrassing/amazing one, I was really goth so naturally it’s a kanji that means ‘to mourn’, haha. And so began my interest. Back then people got tattoos to look cool not because it had any other deeper meaning. I just wanted to be badass. I remember trading drawings for piercings and jewelry and trying to get an apprenticeship. After almost ten years of getting tattooed, begging and harassing tattooers that I knew I eventually got an apprenticeship at Planet Ink in Ottawa, Canada. It was a long process and after two years of tattooing almost free kanji, small tribal and a lot of blood sweat and tears on both mine and my client’s parts, I was allowed to tattoo clients full time. Tattooing filled that void I had been searching for in university. Not only do I get to meet and learn from my eclectic group of clients but there’s so much research that goes along with tattooing. This is the degree I always wanted.
TS: I’m pretty sure you’ve been spotlighted on a few cooking blogs for your work involving aforementioned dessert tattoos. Do you love doing them? Will you do them forever?
Guen: I LOVE doing food tattoos although I’ve done so many cupcakes now that I’ve had to implement some rules. No more pink frosting. If the client can come up with an interesting and original flavour I’ll do it. Otherwise it’s like Groundhog Day. Everyday filled with pink cupcakes, which isn’t as bad as it seems but I’d like to do more savoury food, grilled cheeses maybe a little spaghetti! I love nostalgia and people are really connected to the food of their youth. I have my own food piece a huge cheeseburger tattooed on me by Dave Knight of PSC Montreal, I LOVE cheeseburgers. They are so quintessentially North American. As for how long I will do them, I will continue to tattoo food (and yes, cupcakes) until people stop asking me to.
TS: You moved from Ottawa to Holland–can you touch on what it’s like to start over as far as building a client base and how it impacts your ability to finish tattoos you’ve started on some fine Canadians?
Guen: Building a new client base can be challenging, when I started tattooing in Ottawa I knew a lot of people, I bartended at a big live music venue and nightclub for almost ten years so it was easy to convert bar regulars into tattoo clients. Here in Rotterdam I am unknown in any scene, and to be honest my partying days aren’t what they used to be so I don’t meet clients the way I used to. I am happy however to be making clients based on my work performance instead of meeting people haphazardly in bars. It’s more the way it should be. It also means I do more work in the direction I want to be moving towards. A happy customer is the best advertising. When I moved I gave everyone a 6 months heads up. The clients that cared to finished their work made a appointments and we finished them. I am planning to visit Canada once a year so those who want to continue pieces can.
TS: I often hear about differences in tattooing in various countries. Do you see a difference in the way an artist or client approaches a tattoo?
Guen: Clients here aren’t as afraid of big tattoos, but I think that’s also a street shop versus custom shop thing. When you are a client at an off the beaten path destination shop you’ve done your research and you are ready to get a tattoo, that’s not always the case with street shops where a person might walk by and enter out of curiosity. The clients at 25 to Life Tattoos where I work come mostly because of the fantastic reputation SlickNick has built up but I’ve been lucky to have clients travel from all over to come and see me.
TS: Would you say that geographically there’s a difference preference in style? Or subjects that clients are requesting?
Guen: Totally. In my experience North Americans like the unusual a bit more, especially in Canada where the tattoo scene is heavily influenced by graffiti (so many of Canada’s top tattooers are fantastic artists that came from that skateboard/graf scene) here tattoos are more traditional, leaning more towards classic old school (the really traditional stuff not the new school pass it off as old school stuff) and Japanese. I’ve done way more black and gray here too than I ever did in Canada. It’s cool though I love doing new things, like my new obsession, Delft Blue tattoos!
TS: When it comes to the tattoos you’d like to be getting personally, is there any particular style or type (I hate those terms too, trust me) you lean towards?
Guen: I love collecting tattoos, and I like many different styles. On my wish list right now; Lu’s Lips and Seth Wood. I also like to get work from people I love, so when I’ve known a tattooer for a time I like to get “surprise” tattoo from them… you end up with interesting stuff haha! That’s how I ended up with my Anton Lavey tattoo from Adam Turk, my art nouveau lady by Dave Knight and my left sleeve from my favourite tattooer, Joel Conroy.
TS: What’s your schedule looking like for tattooing outside of Rotterdam in the future?
Guen: I will be in Montreal at Tattoo Mania 2 in September as well as the convention there with Dave Glantz from Archive Tattoo,Toronto. SlickNick and I will be at the Paris convention also in September and Barbara (babalouta2) that also works at 25 to Life Tattoos and I are hoping to work the Dublin convention in October together. I had a really good time at Magnum Opus, Brighton in April so I would to go back too later in the year, and I’m hoping to work at One Love in Geneva and Bound for Glory in New York, so keep posted for updates in the future!
TS: Having had the opportunity to attend conventions in a multitude of different countries and on different continents, is there one place you’d say has the best conventions?
Guen: I’m actually still pretty new to the convention scene but the Montreal convention is amazing! So many talented artists from all over the world and such a great atmosphere, Val and Pierre from Tattoo Mania in Montreal have done a fantastic job over the years. Definitely my favourite place to visit.
TS: What’s going on inside your sketch book? Do the sketches you do for fun match the tattoo work you typically do?
Guen: I try to use the art I do to guide clients to what I’d like to be tattooing, it’s also a place where I can experiment with styles I am not necessarily that strong in tattoo wise it’s a good way to build new skills I can apply to tattooing once I feel more confident in them.
TS: Outside of tattooing and tweeting, what are you involved with?
Guen: There are a couple of art shows coming up Blood Money in California, curated/organized by Tim Shelton, Tattoo Mania has their 13th anniversary show in august and Gomineko books does these fantastic shows on Japanese creatures that are so much fun. Crystal Morey the owner later prints them in volumes. Check out her stuff she has amazing tattoo reference books! Fore movie nerds and porn fans (haha) I was in a movie last year (not porn!) directed by Ottawa’s Lee Demarbre, it’s called Smash Cut and stars Sasha Grey (sorry no nudity!) and David Hess it’s a fun one if you are into gore movies. Other than the usual art stuff I generally just like to drink wine eat good food, ride my bicycle and buy stuff (I’m an eBay/Etsy/Amazon junkie).
TS: Any last minute plugs?
Guen: I am also an internetz junkie. If you run into me on the web, say hi!
GuenDouglas.com (my website)
25tolifetattoos.com (the shop website)
Guen Douglas on Twitter
Guen Douglas on Myspace
Guen on Facebook
BloodBunnies.com (art and other crap blog)
TattooInkt.nl (I’m on there somewhere, great Dutch site)