Guen Douglas is known for her richly colored portraits that drip with Art Nouveau details and a romantic, but humorous, sensibility that enthralls her audience and clientele. From her funny babe buns that come encased in cute hearts, to her ethereal and dreamy Art Deco goddesses, pet portraits and hands holding goblets of wine or flowers, Guen is known for her tattoos that seamlessly merge Traditional, Japanese, and some realist elements.
An incredible Ambassador for Tattoodo and a special part of the Taiko Gallery family, Guen was sweet enough to sit down and open up about her tattooing philosophy, process, and what inspires her on her off days.
How did you start tattooing, what was your first tattoo, and why do you think you were attracted to the art form?
I started tattooing in 2005 at a street shop in Ottawa, Canada. I had been getting tattooed since I was 17. I was goth and into hard rock and it fit with the aesthetic I was trying to cultivate. I didn't start tattooing until I was 26, a late bloomer in the tattoo world. Working as a bartender and assistant manager at a busy nightclub left me wanting to do something different. The late nights and short work weeks had me craving for more to do. I had taken a second job to fill my days, working in a record store but what I wanted was a creative job, a career; one where I could be my own boss and travel. I was pretty visibly tattooed at that point and had many friends that worked in the tattoo world. After a few years of asking everyone I could, trying to find a way in and getting more tattooed, I eventually found an apprenticeship.
Currently, you tattoo out of Taiko Gallery with Wendy Pham. What brought you to Berlin? What is the tattoo culture like there?
We actually also have a new addition to the team, Markus Lenhard. He does awesome bio-mechanical. He's been the perfect addition to our team.
I have always had a bit of wanderlust and after 5 international moves since 2009 I was looking for somewhere to settle for a while. I wanted to live somewhere in central Europe that would be easily accessible from anywhere in Europe. I also wanted to find a city that people like to visit. This city has something for everyone! World class nightlife, beautiful parks, fabulous museums and galleries and the city is, of course, steeped in history. Berlin also has a really interesting up and coming food scene, which for me has always been important. Vegan and veggie clients love this city because it is teeming with options. This city still has a rough-around-the-edges, unpolished vibe in some areas which makes it a great city for explorative types. There are a lot of tattooers here in Berlin with blackwork and Neo traditional being what this city is famous for, it makes our shop a little different from the other shops in Berlin.
You recently posted a tattoo you did of a Bosch piece which was really different than what you normally do. What do you wish you tattooed more of? Less of?
It's funny because though I have quite a distinct style I really enjoy doing lots of types of tattooing, maybe that comes from starting my career in a street shop. That sort of training makes you quite versatile. Aside from my signature style of tattoos what I would love to do more of is large scale art nouveau and art deco inspired pieces, bold traditional and I would love to do some delicate black and grey single needle work.
Your tattoos are immediately recognizable as your own handiwork. Where do you find the most inspiration for your work and how did you arrive at the style you currently work in?
I think my tattoo style is a natural evolution of my learning to tattoo in Canada where the predominant style of the era was illustrative and heavily influenced by the graffiti scene and then moving early in my career to Rotterdam, The Netherlands which has a traditional tattoo culture from the sailors. I think that's the moment that really fused everything. I learned to apply the fundamentals of American and European traditional to the illustrative ideas and motifs I had been tattooing in Canada. These days inspiration comes from whatever is around me, I love art nouveau, food and wine, botanical illustrations, my little Dachshund Ludwig, history, photography and fashion.
You’re often involved in collabs, like the labels you designed for the Thomas Henry bottles, as well as supporting other artists and friends in their endeavors as well. Why do you feel this is an important aspect to your work? Are there any dream collabs you have in mind?
I love doing collaborations outside of tattooing. The project with Thomas Henry was for a good friend of mine, Damien Guichard who is competing at the Bacardi Legacy World Finals in Mexico this month. He donated all the money he was given when winning the German title to charities rebuilding Puerto Rico and managed to run a campaign for his cocktail entirely on donations including collabs with Thomas Henry and the Drink Syndikat. I really love doing graphic illustrations as these are things I can't always explore or easily translate into tattoos. The process of collaborating with companies is essentially the same as with tattoo clients. I would love to do more! My dream collaborations would be to design wine bottles or illustrations for food and beverage magazines and posters. I had always dreamed of working with Hermès and making a scarf but that aspiration I am fulfilling with an amazing small design house from Paris called Maison Voliaire; they've done some other beautiful collaborations with tattooers. My scarves should be debuting soon, so keep an eye on my social media to see when they are released!
A lot of your tattoos are portraits of people; each one seems to have its own personality and story. What is the process behind creating these tattoos? What do you hope your portfolio conveys to the tattoo community and your audience?
I think that's the illustrator in me coming out. I love to tell stories and it makes it easier to draw a person when I imagine who they might be beyond the tattoo. I think that 's why I also enjoy tattooing fictional and historical characters so much. Research is one of my favourite parts of the process and it makes me happy to add subtleties to a design that you might only notice if you know that character or person. I hope that when people see my portfolio they see beautiful things but also strength and a sense of humour and that they see that these things can all exist together. Beautiful things don't always have to be serious, and humorous things can have depth.
Beyond tattooing, what are you most passionate about? If you weren’t a tattooer what would you be doing?
If I weren't tattooing I would be working in food and wine 100%. Over the last few years I've been studying wine as much as possible, I find it a perfect mix of all my interests; perfume; history, culture, food and geography. A bottle of wine can be like a photograph of a place, a moment in time, bottled. It is so much more work than I had originally anticipated. I have a huge respect for people that work in service, their knowledge is often hugely underestimated, we don't see how much preparation and learning goes into creating what happens in a restaurant, on a plate or in a bottle of wine. I see a lot of similarities between the experience we create as tattooers and what happens in a great restaurant. You want, of course, for the product to be perfect but that the experience of receiving this product be also as memorable. Every client remembers how they felt when they got tattooed and that memory is tied to the piece, the same way that the service in restaurant can dramatically change a dining experience.
With trends and technological advances happening in almost all industries, what does the future of tattooing look like to you?
This is a tough question. I hope there is always a niche for artisanal tattooing. I hope it isn't ruined by over saturation and the accessibility of cheap equipment over the internet. I'm sure there will be division at some point, there always is, but I hope that people still realize that this vocation is a labour of love and takes dedication to master.