Meet Hannah Graves
In the years since we published our first showcase of tattoos and the artists who carefully craft them, waves of new niches and cultural fads have washed over the globe. But which are here to stay? Tattoos are forever, and they always have been: Our new book Forever More traces the deep grooves and fresh scenes that define the modern history of tattoos. For a taste of what’s in store, we spoke with co-editor Hannah Graves ahead of the book’s release to find out what the book has to offer.
Forever—our original showcase of tattoos and tattoo artists—was first published in 2012. How has the tattoo industry changed between then and now?
I went to the launch event for the Forever, and so much has happened between now and then. I never like to speak on behalf of the industry as a whole. In fact, I don't even like the word industry when used in relation to tattooing—is it an industry? Absolutely. Is it big business today? Yes. Is that something that I am interested in being a part of? No, and I think the answer to your question lies there.
In 2012, tattooing was fashionable and big business, and it still is. The change though is in community’s response to that posturing over the last five years. I think what we've seen happening over the last five years is a reclamation of what tattooing means. Artists today are far happier to break from tradition in terms of pursuing what tattooing means to them and it's creating this huge, fractured, disoriented image of what tattooing is or should be. Maybe there never was a rule book—but if there was, it's been flung out the window.
Is the tattoo more of an art or a craft?
I think think it should be both, but this is a huge question and one that we have tried to address in the book. Forever More is certainly a conversation starter as well as a touchstone for just how diverse tattooing has become.
What was your first tattoo? Could you share the story of one of your tattoos with us?
I was 15 when I had my first tattoo—it was the outline of a star on my hip. I have so many tattoos today and they have all become a roadmap of my life. Ironically, my favorite tattoos are my “worst” tattoos—the ones I've done on myself, or the ones that were done by my friends who had never tattooed before. I have punk rock stick and pokes on my fingers that I did myself assuming they would fall out; I have tattoos from treasured tattoo artist friends; I have memorial tattoos for people I loved who are no longer with us. I got my throat and hands tattooed within six weeks of each other during an intense period in my life; I have learned how to have a relationship with my body by applying tattoos to it. There isn't really one stand-out story, it’s more the sum of all the stories.
What trends do you hope to see the end of in tattooing, and what would you like to see more?
I would have had so much to say about this while I was still managing a shop, but I'll just say that I would like tattoos that simply won't age well to end. Things that are simply too small or tiny to be done well, for example, and I personally can't stand watercolor tattoos. For me, a tattoo has an outline and coloring inside of the lines is a basic level of ability we're taught as children. I'm also not a fan of people using symbols or patterns without doing their research, but cultural appropriation is another massive conversation in relation to tattooing. The trouble with trends is that they get tired. There is a saying used in relation to traditional tattoos—“bold will hold”—and I truly believe that it's these tattoos that look best with age and stand the test of time, regardless of what is in fashion. So I'd bang the drum for traditional tattooers with solid technique long before those who do more abstract work. Also, if I have to squint to see that it's a stags head, then you’re doing it wrong in my opinion.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get their first tattoo?
Do your research. Find an artist who works in the style that you are looking for, and be sure about what you want and why you want it. It’s okay to get a tattoo just because you think it looks cool—that's why I started getting tattooed. Just be aware that what is cool today won't be cool tomorrow, but your tattoo will be there forever. Never get a tattoo with the plan of having it removed later. Go as big as you are prepared to go, as what people most often regret about a tattoo is that it is too small. Listen to your tattoo artist: If you have done your research and are happy with your artist choice, then you should respect their opinion. They don't want you walking around with anything less than their best work. Be aware that the number of Instagram followers that someone has is absolutely not a measure of the quality of their work. I know so-called artists with thousands of followers who cannot tattoo their way out of a paper bag; others—who consistently create some of the best quality work I have ever seen—have just a few hundred followers. So follow your instincts, be prepared to pay for quality, and treat your artist as a person and not a machine.