Ashleah Cummings meets Devon Lee, an up and coming tattoo artist based at Dark Angel Ink, Scarborough.
AC: How did you get started with tattooing?
DL: I decided I wanted to get into tattooing a year before I got my apprenticeship. I was studying at TAFE for a while doing graphic design and it was just a bit too structured for me. We had a few illustration courses and it really stuck with me so I ended up drawing a lot of stuff in my free time and came to the conclusion that tattooing was what I wanted to do. I spent a year creating a portfolio of some of my best work, and ended up seeing an advertisement for a job here (at Dark Angel Ink) I showed them my portfolio and they liked what they saw and gave me a job and I’ve pretty much been here since.
AC: How would you describe your style?
DL: My style is illustrated realism because a lot my stuff is photo-realistic, achieved with a certain texture – like dotwork or woodcut. But to really narrow it down I’d say it’s blackwork.
AC: What was the first tattoo you ever got?
DL: When I first started my apprenticeship here I had no tattoos at all, and was told to go get some tattoos of my own. The first tattoo I got was on my ankle – it’s a little orange rose done by an artist named Chris Rigoni at Holdfast Tattoo in Mt Lawley.
AC: How do you go about practicing tattooing?
DL: When you first start out as an apprentice you tattoo yourself, and rely on close friends to tattoo them for free – and hope that they trust you enough to let you practice on them.
AC: What process did you go through to develop your style?
DL: It honestly goes back to when I was studying at TAFE and doing a lot of illustrated stuff. We did a lot of work on Adobe Illustrator on a tablet, which worked a lot with perfect lines and symmetry and I found that I was spending a lot of my spare time sitting on that messing around making different patterns and sort of incorporated them into my designs. I get a lot of inspiration from tattoo artists around the world. I take note of what they’re drawing and the techniques they’re using and try to incorporate things I like into my own work.
AC: What’s with the headlight? (Devon wears
a headlight when he’s working)
DL: The headlight is because I find that even when you do have good lighting your head kind of shadows your work – and the better you can see the better you can understand the depth of the needle - I find that it just makes a better tattoo.
AC: What does your family think of tattoos? Are they supportive of your career choice?
DL: Yeah, they’re supportive now but weren’t that keen on the idea when I first started. My parents are conservative Christians and aren’t big fans of tattoos at all, and weren’t happy when I got my first tattoo. They’re starting to understand it now and have come to terms with the fact that this is what I want to do and are just dealing with it, but every time I get a new tattoo they’re crushed.
AC: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
DL: I guess the ideal goal, as a tattoo artist is to have your own shop working closely with people who inspire you and to be able to pack up your machine and travel around the world taking up guest spots at other shops that you really admire and to work with all your favourite artists around the world.
AC: What is your opinion on TV shows like Ink Master etc?
DL: Shows like Ink Master that portray this idea that every tattoo artist should be amazing at every style of tattooing is ridiculous – it’s not how it works. Most artists have their own style that they like to do and excel at and will specialise in that style. Every tattoo artist I’ve ever met have been some of the nicest, most genuine people – but the show seems to make tattoo artists out to be really pushy, bossy, arrogant people which is really not the case at all. I think they also give people who have never got a tattoo before this skewed idea of what getting a tattoo is like. The shows never show the process involved when getting a tattoo – the endless sketches and changes that are made to a design to suit the client and on screen the tattoo may look as though it only took minutes to complete when in reality it can take hours and quite often there’s screaming, blood and pain involved.
AC: What’s the tattoo industry like?
DL: Everyone is really supportive of one another, particularly here in Perth as there aren’t many artists around. If you go on Instagram people are constantly commenting positive things on each other’s work – it’s honestly almost like a family.
AC: Do you have an all-time favourite tattoo that you have done?
DL: I don’t think I have an ultimate favourite but I definitely really like my larger pieces and sleeves that I’ve done. I really enjoy large-scale work and physically being able to see all the hours I’ve put in to something.
It’s a good feeling when you finish.
AC: Are there any downsides to tattooing?
DL: Business isn’t guaranteed – you can have a week where no one feels like getting a tattoo and you don’t make any money. I don’t get a lot of downtime either – I find it hard to relax because I feel like the more I draw and upload to Instagram and Facebook, the more work I get – I’m constantly wanting to better myself. There’s also a lot of homework to be done – you spend all day tattooing and then go home to sketch the following days tattoos – so your day ends up being 11-12 hours long. You get a few health problems as well – like carpel tunnel in your wrists and back problems from being hunched over all day, but at the end of the day the pros outweigh the cons for me.
Dark Angel Ink 160 Scarborough Beach Rd, Scarborough WA 6019 - call 9245 9706 or visit Devon’s Facebook page: facebook.com/devonleetattoo/