As a younger female with several visible tattoos, I am constantly interrogated about them, whether it’s from friends and classmates, a stranger at the bus stop, or a grocery store clerk. People warned me that this would happen after I got my first few, but I had no idea that it would be a daily occurrence. It has come to be my understanding that – no matter where you are on the globe – the vast majority of people have very little knowledge of tattoos, tattoo culture, and tattoo etiquette, including those who have tattoos themselves. With the rise of their popularity over the last few years, it seems like everyone and their mother are hopping on the trend of permanently embellishing oneself, so I figured what better time than now to bring some insight of this somewhat mysterious industry to the public, and who better to get answers from than a tattooist.
Alexis Hepburn, otherwise known as disintegrationxvx, is a tattooist and artist from Melbourne, Australia, currently located in the Gold Coast. She’s got a sweet face and a petite figure, but don’t let that fool you; she’s a black belt in Taekwondo and you’ll definitely want to stay out of her way in the mosh pit. I had the pleasure of hanging out and getting tattooed by her last month, and though she’s still pretty new to the industry, she’s already made quite a name for herself and she absolutely lives up to the hype.
LF: Hey Alexis! Welcome to Live FAST! We’re stoked to get a chance to chat with you! Let’s start with some basics; How did you get into tattooing? What is it about tattooing that attracted you to pursue a career in it?
AH: Hi there!! Thank you very much, happy to help out. I was brought up in a very artistic household, and have many early memories watching both of my parents paint. My father used to paint magical illustrations with intentions for children’s books, as well as larger oil paintings, which were quite dark and macabre renditions of his everyday surroundings. My grandparents on my mother’s side are both established abstract artists, my grandfather being the Dean at Melbourne arts for a while. So I’ve always been surrounded by art and had the encouragement to draw from a very young age. Over time, I started getting into heavier music, and through that my desire and interest in tattooing grew. My drawing slowly transformed with inspiration sprouting from traditional tattooing, the music I listened to and my twisted thoughts. It seemed perfect to me, it was a solid artistic career, which didn’t rely on a need for computer skills (which I do not possess ha). The idea of using my hands to permanently mark someone still boggles my mind, however it’ll never stop intriguing me.
LF: You’re still relatively new to the industry, but you’ve already built quite a following and customer base using resources like Instagram and tumblr. What are your feelings about social media?
AH: I have a love hate relationship with social media. In one hand, it’s the ULTIMATE marketing tool. It’s an instant, easily accessible and vast folio. It’s a fantastic networking tool, and can introduce you and keep you connected to people all over the globe. I definitely would not be as busy as I am now without it. However in a non-business sense, it can also be quite toxic. I feel like (especially within the younger generation) it can create and breed mental health issues. It’s extremely worrying. You’ve just got to be smart with how you use it and put yourself out there, and keep an eye on your friends. Always make sure they’re ok.
LF: When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
AH: These days I don’t have much spare time, and a lot of it is spent stressing about work, drawing for my appointments, doing commission paintings and answering emails. But when I feel like I need a break from all of that, I love getting outdoors, going on hikes, exploring new places, and swimming in beautiful places. When I can’t get outdoors and I’m stuck at home, I’ll be playing with the cat, cooking or baking, reading, watching Netflix or probably still drawing haha.
LF: 5 most recently played bands on your Spotify?
AH: Oh dear, haha. Type O Negative, Only Living Witness, Machine Head, Depeche Mode, and Simple Minds.
LF: You’re both vegan and straight edge. What are some common misconceptions people have about those lifestyles, and why do you choose to live that way?
AH: Hmmm. I guess I always get the “but what do you do for fun???” And “but what do you even eat???” And I guess I’m not very fun and I don’t eat much. But really, you’ve got to be pretty naive to think the only way to have fun is to drink and do drugs. Sure my diet is limiting, but there’s such a wide variety of food out there. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 12, and went vegan at 15. To put it briefly, I love animals and could never imagine hurting or extorting them. Listening to a lot of hardcore and vegan bands like Earth Crisis and Antagonist, and watching documentaries like Earthlings really opened my mind and encouraged me to educate myself on new age farming methods. As for being straight edge, I claimed at a young age. Although most of my friends were quite adventurous and rebellious, I never had the urge or desire to partake. Once I started listening to hardcore, it was kinda like “wait, you mean there are other people like that?? There’s a name for this?!?!”. It was really quite exciting and comforting at the same time. Among other reasons, I’ve got a history of mental illness in my family. Abstaining from drugs is a simple and easy preventative measure, so that’s always been in the back of my mind as well.
LF: A little birdie told me you’ve got a black belt in Taekwondo. Is that something you still practice?
AH: Yes! I do. When I was a child my father gave me the choice of doing either ballet or taekwondo, and of course I wanted to be a certified ninja haha. I feel it was definitely an ideal extra curricular activity. It taught me respect and discipline, as well as keeping me fit, flexible and able to defend myself. I haven’t trained in a long time however most of it is quite ingrained in my head. I used to do a lot of demonstrations at festivals and parades as well. I remember I had this one routine where I flipped these two twins who were twice my size over my shoulders one after the other haha! And there was a lot of wooden board breaking.
LF: What’s it like as a female working in a classically male dominated industry? Does it work to your advantage, or have you had to work twice as hard?
AH: To be honest, I do find it works to my advantage. From feedback I’ve received, it seems people have found me friendly and easy to approach. Females often find it less intimidating and more comfortable being tattooed by another female. As much as I hate to bring it into things, I guess being an “attractive female” is an advantage as well. I would never rely on it, however I won’t deny it.
LF:A lot of your flash is of your own creation. Who and what are some of your influences and inspirations?
AH: A lot of inspiration comes from the music I listen to. I love interpreting sound, atmosphere and lyrics into a visual. I find my best work comes about in that sense a lot. As for visual inspiration, I love antique and vintage postcards and imagery. Most of the time I’ll just draw straight from my head to be honest. I very rarely use another artists tattoo or flash for reference. I found that has helped me to develop my own style.
LF: Some people are not aware of the process of getting tattooed and tattoo etiquette. What can customers do to be more prepared, helpful, and respectful when going to get a tattoo?
AH: One thing I cannot stress enough. PLEASE. Please. Do not try to make enquiries or bookings via Instagram comments. For many reasons it’s definitely not the best way to go about things. If you click on an artist’s profile, they will always have an email or shop phone number to ring.
If you’d like to book in a tattoo, if you’d like to be concise, the main points to include are:
– What you would like tattooed
– Approx. how big
– Where you’d like it to be placed
– Whether you’d like black and grey or color
– Any reference material you have
– When you’d like to get tattooed
– And a budget if you have one
If you include those, it will make the booking process swift and clear for both yourself and the artist.
LF: Any advice for someone hoping to get into tattooing?
AH: Paint everyday. Really consider if it’s right for you. There are plenty of people who draw traditional roses, go beyond that. Draw in different styles. Be prepared to do a lot of script. Go around and introduce yourself to shops, and ask them for advice. Be prepared to work unpaid for a while. Be strong-minded and be open to criticism. DO NOT email or call shops asking them if they “have any apprenticeships going”. It’s not like a part time job and your approach should be serious and respectful. You are asking someone to teach you THEIR trade. Their secrets. It’s not easy and no apprenticeship is stress free. Be prepared to be crushed and work for it.
LF: You’re only 21 now and already have quite a bit under your belt. What goals do you have for yourself, as both an individual and a working artist?
AH: My current goal is to continue working at Gold Coast Tattoos. It’s a family run business and I have a lot of respect for what they do and how they’ve shaped their name and business over the years. It’s been really fun working on more walk in style tattoos than I did while I was in Melbourne and I know that my tattooing is improving because of it already. My next goal is to travel. I’m planning an American trip next year. I want to put myself out of my comfort zone and explore.
LF: How FAST do you live?
AH: Too fast for myself to keep up ha.