When I first came across Amy Duncan, it was quite by accident. A very happy accident, I must say. Tattooing for only six years out of Australia (please, someone keep me from making a “land down under” reference), this young lady is definitely worth keeping an eye on until she’s traveling to whatever nation you call home.
TattooSnob: Let’s make sure everyone knows the essentials–who are you? What do you do? What five things every person should know about you, tattoo-related or not?
Amy Duncan: I’m Amy Duncan, 29 years old. I learned how to tattoo about 6 years ago in Adelaide where I grew up, but moved to Melbourne in 2009 where I now work at Chapel Tattoo. I guess my style is somewhere between realistic and traditional – I like to put black outlines around everything and keep compositions simple, but I love doing finicky details and smooth colour blends as well. I prefer subjects that are timeless and beautiful – plants, animals, shells, girls, and anything with personal, historical, mythological or religious significance. I’m not really into forcing my style on people, I’d rather work with my clients to find images that will be meaningful to them, as well as fulfilling for me. Aside from tattooing I also take classes in botanical illustration, kit drums, and Tribal and Egyptian belly dance, and try to spend what time I have left with my husband Shaun and our two beautiful cats.
Amy: I first became interested in tattoos around the age of 15 after doing a research assignment on them for school. I bought a tattoo magazine that had an article about Paul Booth in it, and even though his style wasn’t my thing I was just blown away by what he was doing – that started my obsession with getting them, but despite being artistic I didn’t have the confidence to think about actually doing them until I was about 19, when I got my first big custom piece done. Watching the tattooist work made me realise that it probably wasn’t as difficult as I had previously imagined, and that perhaps I’d actually be good at it. I also read an awesome interview with Grime in Tattoo Life that really solidified my feelings about tattooing, and I became certain that this was the career for me.
From that point on I did everything I could to further my knowledge about the trade, and drew as much as possible; I knew that I wanted to learn from Shep at The Body Art Shop, the very talented artist who’d been doing most of my own work, and I waited several years for an opportunity to come up. Somebody told me that Dan Smith was leaving the shop to go and work in LA, so I approached Shep about a job and thankfully he (and our boss Gomer) said yes.
TS: Working at a shop like Chapel Tattoo certainly has to impact the size and type of pieces you’re doing on a regular basis. How would you compare the experience of working at Chapel to other shops in your past?
Amy: Because of the shop’s reputation here there’s definitely an inherent trust that people have in me for larger work, which is nice. But I actually did a lot of large-scale work when I was at The Body Art Shop, because our studio was one of only a handful that people would go to for custom work – everyone there was flat-chat all the time with big tattoos.
Even now around fifty percent of my clientele here in Melbourne are actually people travelling from Adelaide, so in that respect things haven’t changed much…I think the main difference is the pressure I feel to do work of a higher standard as a result of being in a city with so many great artists. The experience of working at Chapel is definitely different in a million other ways though, and has been more beneficial for me than I can possibly say. Being around artists with so much collective knowledge and experience has increased my understanding of the trade exponentially, and all my workmates here are talented and caring people who have worked hard to make the shop what it is. Spending every day with them is a blessing.
Amy: I think if anything I’ve narrowed the variety of tattoos that I’m willing to take on since I started at Chapel, which is probably one of the greatest benefits of working here. Back in Adelaide I pretty much had to do whatever came through the door, which was great experience for someone new to tattooing, but in Melbourne there are artists who specialise in just about anything you could want – if somebody asks me for a tattoo that I don’t think I’d be the best person for, I can generally refer them to one of our other artists here at Chapel, or I send them to one of our friends at another studio.
TS: I know you’re presently on a waiting list for appointments. How long can a new client expect to wait before they could get in with you?
Amy: It depends on the size of the piece, but generally speaking it’s around 8 months to a year. Finicky detail takes time! I’m trying hard this year to limit the number of pieces I take on to keep the wait at a minimum.
TS: For those not located in Australia, are there opportunities to get tattooed by you in the future?
Amy: I’m hoping to do a little bit of travelling mid next year, but nothing set in stone just yet. We’re lucky enough to have guest artists working here from all over the world on a pretty regular basis, and many of them have offered guest spots to me in return so I may have to take the opportunity to do that soon.. Europe and The United States are definitely on my list. I also might be doing my first ever convention in Melbourne early next year so we’ll see how that goes…if I enjoy it I may travel and do some more, but I’m incredibly shy and the idea of working in a crowded public place generally terrifies me.
TS: Which kind of work do you prefer: someone who comes in knowing EXACTLY what they want (complete with photo reference they want you to duplicate) or someone with a bunch of loose ideas they need you to somehow string together?
Amy: Definitely the latter, although working straight off a good reference can be like a holiday from drawing, which is nice sometimes. Every now and then I don’t mind doing a portrait or a similar piece from reference, but by far the most rewarding tattoos are ones that require some research and imagination. Too many specific requirements from the client will really stunt my ability to create a design in the way that my mind wants to, and that can be incredibly frustrating. The designs that work best are always the ones where I’ve been given an idea that I can then run with – I love learning about a new subject and finding ways to make it into a beautiful and meaningful tattoo.
Amy: My tattoo stories mostly involve a lot of crying – I find getting tattooed incredibly painful. I have various large pieces including a snake sleeve and some peonies by Shep, a bird sleeve by the lovely Geordie Cole, some shells and a tiger by my good friends Jakob and Dan respectively, who I work with at Chapel…I still have to get tattoos by all my other friends there. Aside from a ridiculously sentimental heart with Shaun’s name on my wrist, my favourite pieces are both on my legs; one is an ornate manekineko also by Shep, and the other is a big Tibetan skull by Chris O’Donnell. Chris has been my favourite tattooist for years so that one’s pretty special – I had it done during the London Convention in 2005 while he was doing a guest spot at Into You. He drew the whole thing on with a sharpie in about 20 minutes and it still amazes me how good it is.
TS: On your blog (http://pennywhistlesandmoonpies.blogspot.com) you mention you have a great love for tribal bellydance, gypsies, primitive cultures and voodoo. I know that influenced your piece with the Shamaness, are there any other tattoos or art pieces in the works influenced by these particular interests of yours?
Amy: There are always a thousand ideas for paintings floating around in my head, but unfortunately most of them will never see the light of day because I don’t have much time for my personal art, and I try not to shoehorn my ideas about those things into other people’s tattoos unless they really work well and the client is into it. Those are only a few interests out of many that inspire me, and probably next time I make a piece of art like that it will be based on different ideas again. I try not to force anything and just work with whatever is exciting to me at the time, which usually relates to whatever I’m reading or listening to. Certain themes will always be present though, and if my art is honest I don’t think I have much control over that.
TS: What are some other topics you’re intrigued by and have interest in representing through your art–tattooed or otherwise?
Amy: Magic, witchcraft, shamanism, folklore…at the moment I’m particularly obsessed with plants and how they relate to mankind. I’ve been into herbalism for years, and that combined with an interest in visionary plants has led to a general fascination with botany and botanical illustration. Aesthetically there is nothing more beautiful to me, and I think I could happily tattoo plants on people all day every day and never get sick of them.
TS: Let’s talk about Chris Conn for a minute: you love his work. How tattoo-able would you consider his pieces to be?
Amy: I don’t think they’re particularly tattoo-able at all, but they’re also not intended to be. I actually think the further he gets from his former career as a tattooist the more beautiful his art becomes; aside from being obviously personal for him in terms of subject matter, there are lots of details and embellishments in his paintings that simply wouldn’t be possible or appropriate for a tattoo, and I think that’s probably quite deliberate.
Amy: I’m generally more inspired by people and their thoughts, feelings and experiences than I am by artists per se. When I see amazing art it often just makes me feel sad and inadequate, but when I see glimpses of the person and the creative process behind the artwork it often then becomes inspiring. I particularly love hearing about people’s visions and impulses, their demons and phobias…the artists I’m most inspired by are people who live their lives with passion and sincerity, and whose work is imbued with those qualities, whether they’re musicians, writers, film-makers or visual artists. Recently my biggest inspiration has been Holy Sons.
TS: How do you feel about being the one to do the first “job-killer” tattoos on a person? That is, tattooing their hands, neck or throat.
Amy: I’m not crazy about doing those sorts of tattoos, but I don’t often get asked for them anyway. I figure it’s not my place to decide what’s best for another grown adult, so unless it’s clearly a really terrible idea I’m generally ok with it. I do tend to find people’s motivations for highly visible tattoos can be somewhat flawed and that puts me off, but I’m not at all against them on principle.
TS: With joke tattoos on the rise, I’m sure you’ve done at least a handful. Tell us about some of the more humorous ones you’ve done.
Amy: I must just radiate seriousness because I don’t really get asked for joke tattoos. Which is fine with me.
TS: What kind of changes have you noticed in your clientele when you compare the people that came to you when you first started tattooing to now?
Amy: I’ve only been tattooing for 6 years, so my clientele now is much the same as it was when I started…although the rising popularity of LA Ink and other reality TV shows has almost certainly had an impact on things, and not for the better. It’s hard for me to say as someone so new to the industry, but it seems that a lot more people want tattoos now who definitely would not have wanted them 10 or 15 years ago, when they were considered a little bit more rebellious. So now lots of people want really teensy-weensy tattoos, or plain white tattoos that you can hardly see, or they want them with no outlines, or they want them in this season’s colours…basically because they don’t really like tattoos for the same qualities that people did in the past. Tattoos becoming fashionable has definitely brought some different people through the doors, but hopefully they’ll move on to something else eventually and it will become the domain of misfits and weirdos again.
TS: How do you spend your time when you aren’t tattooing?
Amy: Hanging out at home with Shaun and the cats. Reading, drawing, painting, bellydancing, writing in my blog, drumming on my sad little practise pad because I sold my drum kit when I moved to Melbourne…obsessing over music and listening to my current favourite records over and over and over again.
You can see more tattoos by Amy Duncan & contact her via the following: