In the lead-up to the Australian Tattoo Expo at Brisbane Convention Centre July 12-14th 2019, we chatted with Drea Darling, a Brisbane-based Tattoo Artist from With Love Tattoo
How did you get started in tattooing?
A few months after I decided that tattooing would be my future, I met my future boss by chance when I served her in my retail job. It was like fate. I began working at her studio as a receptionist where I was hired with the view to later become an apprentice. It was a great way to learn the ropes before I was fully immersed into apprentice life which is really tough. I worked four days in the tattoo studio and the other three days in retail and at an office job.
When did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
I’ve wanted to be a tattoo artist since my early teens and even went into a studio with a portfolio of work when I was 16 years old to get feedback on my work. The artists were very kind and gave me encouragement but warned me that tattoo artists do not get much free time for partying.
Long after I’d got over partying, a few years down the track I was studying fashion design. I was skipping pattern making classes to finish a painting in time for an art show. That is when it dawned on me that I should be making artwork for a living and that I should pursue a career in tattooing.
Do you have a formal art background?
By the time all my peers were going to university I was utterly absorbed in the lowbrow art world. The idea of spending a five-figure sum to study fine art and write wordy essays about art theory completely flew in the face of my artistic identity at the time. I have always been more of a practical learner so the closest thing to formal art education would be my tertiary illustration and drawing classes that I took as part of my fashion design course. I also attended lessons outside of school at a studio of local artist Jennifer Andrews during my high school years. Her focused tutoring in practical drawing and painting was a huge turning point in the development of my skills.
How would you describe your artistic style?
In tattooing my preferred style is known as neo-traditional which takes the bold outlines of traditional tattooing but also incorporates thinner lines to show more finer details and has more nuanced colours and shadings. My shading and colouring tends be more on the realistic side than the typical neo-trad.
When oil painting I tend to vary on a spectrum of realism to painterly depending on my mood. When I colour with pencils I love to go full realism.
What’s the most interesting story you have heard behind a tattoo design?
I think my favourite story was when a client requested a shark wearing spectacles. When I asked why he wanted to go with that design he told me a lovely story about how he and his father would often go fishing together. On one trip his father peered over the side of the boat and his glasses slipped off and sunk into the ocean, never to be seen again. So their running joke ever since that day was that there was a shark swimming around the ocean wearing the father’s spectacles!
How do you approach designing a custom tattoo?
I receive all the details I need from a client by asking them to fill out a consultation form on my website. Sometimes it is super straight forward and the form details are all I need to go ahead t draft the design. If it’s a little more complicated times I organise a further consultation with clients to discuss the design further and take tracings of the area if there is a tight gap to be filled or if the design is going to be a cover up.
What was your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo as soon as I was legally able to, and it was a pair of traditional style swallows. Very much 18-year-old me!
That’s a hard tie between my Arabian horse in desert regalia tattooed by my former co-worker, Tom Bartley or the Sakura flower that I got tattooed in Japan by Ichibay.
I really need to get my almost but not quite finished tiger completed. The unfinished part is high on my hip where I can’t see easily so I keep forgetting about it!
For new designs, that depends on how the cards fall. I’ve always got multiple ideas I am sitting on. Sometimes the tattoos you get are spontaneous, because you just fall in love with a flash design you see, or one of your co-workers gets bored on a slow day.
Tell us about your online shop?
It’s a handy place on my website where I can throw up any prints, t-shirts or original artworks that I happen to have for sale in one centralised place.
Who or what inspires you?
My bosses who I currently work for at With Love Tattoo, Mitch and Malika Love who are tremendously skilled and talented. It is really great to see what they do and draw from their knowledge and experience on a daily basis.
I am also very heavily inspired by the natural world around me. So most of my work features Australian animals, plants and flowers. A couple years into tattooing I really got into drawing them, as the whole deer, fox, wolf thing didn’t really resonate with me as much. I thought drawing all these natives was a new thing but then I unearthed a plethora of childhood drawings of mine that contained echidnas, dingoes, fairy penguins, quolls, cockatoos and the like.
Do you have any predictions for the industry?
In order to maintain a clean and sterile procedure there are a lot of single use items made of plastic which results in a lot of waste. As the whole world moves toward a more waste free way of living, I foresee a lot of the consumables and the way we use or dispose of them will change in the future. One supplier we work with, Blackclaw, have started using recyclable steel, natural cork and biodegradable friendly packaging for their products. I am really interested to see what other innovations the tattoo industry will come up with next.
What’s next for you?
As much learning and development as possible! You never stop learning and improving and my intention is to do just that.
I would also like to make some more merchandise and prints of my art for the lovely people who are fans of my work but don’t want a tattoo.