Name: Sera Helen
Location: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
How did you get into the industry? Was it hard to find an apprenticeship?
I started tattooing DIY in a warehouse in Melbourne shared with a bunch of artists and musicians. It was a great time tattooing the punks and queers in my extended friend circles but after a while I wanted to keep learning more and progress further. So I started pestering tattoo shops I had frequented with my portfolio. Clyde Peri at Tatt Datt gave me a shot and I worked for him for a brief stint before having to leave for Canada. I haven't had a traditional apprenticeship but I have learnt from everyone I have had the privilege of working beside.
How long have you been tattooing?
Coming up to 5 years shop time.
Who are your favourite tattoo artists?
I always love my tattoo artist friends’ work because that's a big part of it to me. The inextricable connection from their work to their character and who they are as a person that makes me appreciate what they make and see where they are coming from. That includes my whanau at Two Hands Tattoo, they all inspire and teach me every day. I have always looked to female/queer tattooists from history for inspiration to participate in a male dominated field. People like Maud Wagner, Cindy Ray, Phil Sparrow were so exciting to find. Ed Hardy’s life and work is really amazing to see.
Duncan X for his groundbreaking style carving out a space for many tattooists from our generation to exist. Sarah Carter’s precise amazingly rendered tattoos. Ruby Quilter's beautiful renditions of classic imagery. Tamara Santibañez’ work and ethos. Abby Drielsma's fearless approach to large scale intricate tattoos - I just got tattooed by her and she is so lovely. Brody Polinsky’s breath of fresh air queering up the tattoo community. Spider Death’s unapologetic rough punk style that is undoubtedly his. Javier Betancourt, Claudia De Sabe, everyone at Exhibition Street, I could go on and on.
How would you describe your tattoo style?
The tattoos I make are born out of a love for the history and iconography of tattoo culture from hard femme DIY punk roots. They pay homage to aspects of tattooing that attracted me to the craft early on. Bold placements and iconic motifs but with a different slant to them. I like to toy with the conflicting sentiments of uncouth, unsophisticated imagery of supposed ‘bad taste’ but execute them with a delicate approach of fine lines and decorative elements.
If you weren't tattooing what would you be doing?
Making art in another medium, perhaps printmaking or painting.
What advice do you have to people considering careers in tattooing?
One important thing to me that I would encourage people to do is to go out and get tattooed. Do your research and find artists whose work and character resonates with you. Go to them offering your time, money and skin. You learn so much through these invaluable and special interactions.
What are some of the best things you have experienced as a result of your career?
Having the autonomy to travel and work at my own pace. Also meeting like minded people, in particular through fundraisers we have done for community organizations. That’s always really special. Tattooing can be such an intimate, transformative ritual which is an honour to be a part of.
Where do you currently tattoo?
Two Hands Tattoo