Interview - Penelope Tentakles
Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles.
Meet Penelope Tentakles, a tattoo artist who can do pretty much anything but specializes in intricate fantasy characters and scenes that blend whimsical and spooky elements. She works at Peril Tattoo in Melbourne, Australia. The Mood 51: When did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist? What was the process like becoming one? Penelope Tentakles: I started becoming interested in tattooing in high school because I mostly didn't want to do any more schooling and thought it would be a cool job. To become one I took my portfolio around to some local shops and asked for feedback, and one agreed to take me on. Pretty standard, and the industry wasn't as saturated back then plus being in the right place at the right time made it not too hard for me.
Tattoo concept art by Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. M51: Have you always been interested in dark things, or did you get into it somehow?
PT: I've been a goth since I was about 12 unfortunately so gothic imagery has always interested me. Spooky stuff is also really popular at the moment so I've been doing a lot recently, and I try and draw lots for Halloween every year. I love lots of other art styles but some don't translate into tattooing that well. I would love to do sci fi landscape art and get into more Pre-Raphaelite and renaissance style stuff one day.
"I've been a goth since I was about 12 unfortunately so gothic imagery has always interested me."
M51: It seems like a lot of fantasy elements pervade your work. What about fantasy inspires you? PT: I love fantasy because I love drawing tattoos that are essentially meaningless but lots of fun and look cool. Fantasy has no rules and a huge range of worlds and creatures to get into, and also borrows elements from cultures all over the world so it's an endless source of inspiration.
Tattoo concept art by Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. M51: How did you learn to draw? PT: Drawing has always been a lifelong hobby, but I never took it that seriously until my last year of school when I decided to look in to tattooing and draw more in that style in the hopes of getting an apprenticeship. Then just drawing for hours every day for several years has built up my skills. Drawing for other people is a great way to build skill as you're always doing something different and challenging yourself.
"Drawing for other people is a great way to build skill as you're always doing something different and challenging yourself."
M51: With all the attention to detail you put into your pieces, how long does it take you to complete a concept sketch? PT: For a sketch usually I start by gathering references, sometimes for something complicated or something I haven't drawn much before this can take an hour or two itself. Then I'll put them together and do a loose sketch which might be another half hour or hour. Then a final pencil rendering (although I use digital pencils now) could be 2-4 hours for a tattoo that might be about A4 size. I won't do this for all tattoos, sometimes just an outline for the stencil and sometimes I just draw it straight onto the skin, but for flash and if I'm really feeling a design I try and do a complete sketch.
Tattoo concept art by Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. M51: What and when was the first tattoo you ever got, and how was that experience?
PT: I did a small stick and poke when I was 14 which I've since covered, but my first proper tattoo was a half sleeve of a lady with an octopus on her head done while I was an apprentice. Its probably the easiest spot on the body so it was lengthy and fairly painful but not too bad, probably what I imagined. M51: Who are some of your personal favorite tattoo artists? PT: One of my earliest inspirations as a neotrad artist was @teniele who has now done a whole leg, back and butt cheeks on me and I've booked in for doing my whole front with her as well. other artists I've been really into lately have been @maija_tattoo, @lahhel, @filouino, @she_is, @hilaryjanetattoo. I also love Ernst Haekel, Bruce Pennington, Mucha and probably a billion others I'm forgetting. M51: Tell the story of your most difficult or absurd client ever. PT: Thankfully most of my clients are quite easy nowadays, but I've definitely experienced drawing 30 different variations of an infinity symbol with various names and symbols for a 5 minute walk in that became 2 hours of work. Often the smallest tattoos can be the hardest. M51: How did you get into making tarot cards, and what are some of the themes and character designs we might see in your decks? Do you do readings as well? PT: I've been making tarot cards for a group project recently (trying to do the whole deck with some friends) but Ive always loved the imagery and symbolism behind them, and the different interpretations of the cards, artistically and spiritually. I would love to do a whole deck but that would be a project spanning several years, so no plans about any theme I would do for the deck unfortunately. I do readings casually for myself but not religiously.
Tarot card by Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. M51: Have you ever thought about going on a tattoo show like Ink Masters? PT: Briefly, but I think they require more acting skills than I possess and I would be terrible at them. I'm awful infront of a camera, haha. M51: What advice do you have for up-and-coming tattoo artists? PT: For up-and-coming artists definitely start out by drawing as many different tattoo styles as you can and educating yourself on the history of tattooing worldwide and learn why traditional styles are done the way that they are. This is a great way to build fundamental skills and respect for the craft. Then for honing your own style, it's great practice to copy other artists to build technique but originality and making your designs with love and fun will really make people want your art on them. M51: What advice do you have for first-time canvases? PT: For first time canvases, don't be afraid to get something huge and what you actually want instead of just testing the waters with something little. If you're unsure about the permanence of tattoos, get images of animals, plants, natural world things that are always going to be beautiful rather than words or symbols that may have meanings that can change with time, or pop culture stuff that is probably going to date pretty quickly. Find an artist that you love all their work so much you would be happy with anything they put on you. Don't be afraid to change or add things to the design, you're paying for it and it's your body. And obviously prepare well, eat food and brings snacks. M51: It seems like you often combine two creatures into one, e.g. bat cat or purr-maid (cat + mermaid). How did you get the idea to do this and what are some creature combos we might see from you in the future? PT: I've been inspired by @Chelseashoneck who is the Queen of animal mashups, but a lot of those ideas and other tattoo ideas come from just scrolling the internet, seeing something cool, seeing something else cool and being like they would look cool together I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Most of the time not a lot of reason or thought goes into tattoo flash ideas, it's usually my clients that come up with the best and most cool and meaningful ideas. I love anything mermaid because it's easy to whack a fish tail on stuff, but I've also been doing a lot of monster girls who are essentially mermaids but with like spider legs or octopus tentacles etc.
Tattoo art by Penelope Tentakles. Image courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. M51: What’s it like being a tatoo artist during coronavirus? Are you still allowed to tattoo, and if so, what is the process like? If not, what are you doing instead?
PT: At the moment Im not working, and I've worked about one month straight since March. Apart from that where I live has been fairly strict lockdown. I've been trying to take a break from tattoo related stuff and do some other random arts and crafts I'm into, I've been making oddbody furbies, fake taxidermy creatures, sewing clothes, rollerskating, playing video games and cleaning my house mostly. Recently I'm trying to draw up some designs to make temporary tattoos to sell for Halloween as well. M51: What's your favorite tattoo you've ever done? PT: Here are a couple of recent favorites:
Tattoo art by Penelope Tentakles. Images courtesy of Penelope Tentakles. Follow Penelope Tentakles on social media: Instagram