Nicola Stelling has been working for Sacred Art for three years, although she remembers her first visit to the area as a customer ten years ago. ‘I remember coming down to Stoke Newington festivals before coming to the shop – there were a lot of people who lived on buses or had moved into squats, that kind of thing is what I remember most about Stoke Newington’.
The fast-track gentriﬁ cation of Stoke Newington has brought massive changes to the area’s constantly evolving identity, yet Sacred Art is still very much at home here. ‘Tattooists are very territorial. That was one of the reasons for opening the shop in Stoke Newington. I think, originally, you had to be careful not to open up a shop in somebody else’s area. When they set up the shop ten years ago there were about three (tattoo) shops in Hackney, now there’s between eight and ten. Ten years ago the tattoo community was a lot smaller.’
Body art is no longer just for the die-hard, it has become generally accepted – perhaps best reﬂ ected by our tattooed and pierced celebrities. Losing this stigma has made it even more about self-expression rather than simply rebellion, an evolution that Nicola recognises. ‘Inks have got better, the artists have got better, the after-care has got better, the tattoos look better. I think (people) are starting to realise that they can be much more artistic. They’re no longer the green blurry snake thing your uncle had on his arm from the Navy.’
Celebrity endorsements, whilst broadening the market for tattoos, come with their own complications. ‘There are so many more people who are tattooed, in the public domain. Its quite hard for us sometimes. For instance, we get a lot of kids in from Clapton and Hackney and they’ve seen the things that are going on, like the neck tattoo; this is the fashion at the moment. They see it so much on the television that they think it’s acceptable and actually it’s not.’ So parents, worried little Jeremy will come home on his eighteenth birthday complete with a Maori facial tattoo, fear not. Sacred Art, like other reputable studios, will not tattoo public skin (which consists of face, neck and hands). It is a responsibility they take very seriously. ‘Unfortunately, they’ve seen people like David Beckham and P Diddy, and all these kinds of people who are worth millions, and are never gonna have to try and get a job somewhere... We lose money over it. They walk out and we know that they’ll probably go and get it done somewhere else and even then we tell them: if you are gonna get it done somewhere else please, please, make sure they’re a good tattooist.’ Public skin tattooing is not illegal, but for Sacred Art it depends very much on the client. ‘We do do it, but we do it on an individual basis, so someone that’s quite heavily tattooed, maybe a bit older, knows what it’s like to be a tattooed person.’
During our interview, several different people come in to make enquiries and Nicola arranges a consultation for a young man who wants a Polynesian-style tattoo and another for a mother who wants to tattoo her daughter’s name around her wrist. ‘The massive thing that’s been going on for the last two years is writing. Children’s names, unfortunately. We do too many people that have died, we do memorial tattoos… Some people think very hard about what they are gonna have done…I think everyone has a different reason. We get a lot of people in the shop for whom it has to have signiﬁ cance; it has to have meaning, whereas for me it’s about decoration.’
All tattoo enthusiasts themselves, the team at Sacred Art use their knowledge and experience to help people get the most out of their tattoo experience – one that will last a life time. Nicola recalls her own experience. ‘I did the classic thing of walking into a tattoo shop in Shefﬁ eld and just chose something off the wall. It was a rubbish design, and I was literally plonked in a seat, tattooed and thrown out. Didn’t look after it properly, probably didn’t know how to look after it – it was just awful. We try and give people advice so they don’t make the same mistake.’
So, reassured that you’re in good hands, how do you choose the right one? We’ve all seen the embarrassing evidence of failed relationships, out-of-date trends and Chinese characters that can have some very unfortunate alternative meanings. Well, to start with, Sacred Art mainly develop custom-made tattoos with you, so you won’t see your tattoo peeping out from low-rise jeans all over Stoke Newington. In fact, you won’t see your exact tattoo anywhere. ‘If someone comes in and has a consultation with a tattooist and they talk about the design, and they develop the design together, that’s their tattoo. We show people, to say ‘that’s the kind of thing that has been done’, but we will always make it different.’ Nicola advises that when choosing the tattoo you are going to have to live with, you should avoid fads and novelty cartoons: ‘something that you thought was cute or funny when you were twenty, won’t be when you’re forty’. She told me about a customer who lived with a picture on her mirror for two years, before deciding she could live with it on her body.
The recent news that celebrity Lindsay Lohan is opening a tattoo parlour in Hollywood to start her branding empire conjures up images of eager socialites queuing up to be stamped with identikit brands like cattle, and makes me realise how lucky we are that we have a studio that really appreciates the ‘Sacred Art’ on our doorstep. Here’s to the next ten!
148 Albion Rd., London N16 9PA
Open Monday – Saturday, ring for times, advice and information020 7254 2223