Beauty is skin deep

Fiona Long of Feline Tattoo Studio, 8 Hickmott Road, taking part in Artists Open Studios Sheffield & South Yorkshire 2011
Fiona Long of Feline Tattoo Studio, 8 Hickmott Road, taking part in Artists Open Studios Sheffield & South Yorkshire 2011

ATTESTING to the broad range of art forms on display at Artists Open Studios Sheffield & South Yorkshire 2011 is the presence in the programme of Fiona Long and her Feline Tattoo Studio in Hunter’s Bar.

Fiona is a tattoo artist with an international reputation and includes UK’s Best Tattooist among many awards from around the world.

She studied art in her early days but came to tattooing by an unlikely route. “I started after someone said you can’t do it because you are a girl,” she says. “I was on the government’s employment training scheme, known as ET, which we called Extra Tenner because that’s what you got on top of your dole money.”

One of the requirements was to find a work placement and when Fiona turned the one she was assigned to, being attached to a dressmaker from whom she felt she wouldn’t learn anything, her supervisor got cross, telling her she would never get a job with that attitude.

“‘What are you going to do now?’, he said, and as he spoke I saw behind his head a sign which read Tiger Sid: Tattooist and Sign Writer. I told him I wanted to become a tattoo artist and that’s when he said I couldn’t because I was a girl.

“That just made me determined. At the time I didn’t like them, I didn’t have one and I didn’t want one but I wanted to show him – even though I still wanted to be a graphic designer.”

She discovered that at the time tattooists were a closed community and no-one was prepared to help her but in the end she persuaded the aformentioned Tiger Sid (John Siddons) of Worksop to take her on as an apprentice.

It was a question of watching him for a while and then having a go herself – which must have been quite a major step. “There’s no easy way, you have to do it and that’s the only way you are going to find out if you can,” she agrees. “From the very first one I knew it was for me. I was addicted.”

It was a while before she had her first tattoo, however. “For seven or eight months I wouldn’t let anyone touch me. I didn’t have many for years, the ones I have now are as a result of travelling. It’s been about meeting people and getting on with them and wanting them to do it rather than choosing a particular design.”

She is recently back from Switzerland with a new one to add to her extensive collection covering most of her body.

As a tattoo artist Fiona Long is known for her colour tattoo work and animal portraits in particular and is in great demand worldwide for many styles from New Skool to Japanese to Tribal and fantasy.

Since those early days the scene has changed out of recognition, she says. “In the old days people sat in their own corner and protected their own territory but now it’s in the open and there are different techniques, equipment and ink and people talk about the work they are doing.”

Fiona does not think there are necessarily more people having tattoos now since the time she started but that there are simply more on show. “The areas and size of the work has changed,” she says.

“Back then girls would just have a token piece but now full sleeves are common. The more you see the more accepted it becomes.”

Nevertheless Fiona does not believe in anything goes. “It’s not against the law but I refuse to do anything on people’s faces and neck. No-one can be under 18 but even so people don’t seem to consider this is something that will be with them for the rest of their life.”

Since the opening of Feline Tattoo, Fiona has appeared in national and international news and media and her award-winning work adorns the pages of tattoo and body art magazines. How exactly do these international competitions work? “You can either take people with you and show work you have done or else do something when you are there.”

Visitors can see Fiona at work at the Feline Tattoo Studio in Hickmott Road on Saturday as part of Open Up which continues this weekend across South Yorkshire (see Telegraph Listings).