They are mystics, muses, deities, goddesses, women from a time and place of no beginning or end, draped with a veil of mystery and endowed with a power that will enthrall you forever. These are Hannah Flowers portraits: luxurious jewel tones, pearlescent glows, and hues of velvet romanticism grasp at your gaze and make it impossible to look away. Her work is painterly, a piece of fine art framed only by the boundaries of your skin, and her lavish imagination.
What is your background as an artist? Do you remember the first time you were attracted to making things?
I can’t recall a time I wasn’t making things. I grew up in a family of artists; my dad is a painter and printmaker, my uncle illustrates children’s books and grandma is a dress maker, so it was pretty inevitable for me to start drawing when I was young.
I love that you got into tattooing as a broke art student...what were you studying in college and is art education an important facet of your life right now? Did you teach yourself to tattoo or did you apprentice?
I mainly studied painting, life drawing and art history at uni. I started the degree with hopes of improving my technical skills, but sadly found the teachers only cared about what the art ‘said’ and had no interest in what it looked like or in teaching the skills needed to create something technically sound - top marks to the people putting a scribble on a page and explaining it well. I think it’s really disappointing how art is taught at the majority of universities nowadays, and I would dearly love to learn oil painting like the old masters.
I dropped out of the degree with a couple of months to go and started an apprenticeship at a fairly rough studio. I managed to stick out a year there before being offered a job at a new studio, Ink Slave, where I happily stayed for 5 years before moving to London. Neither place had a hands on approach to teaching so I learned mainly by watching and by getting tattooed myself.
Your artwork definitely feels infused with Art Nouveau or even Vargas’ lush portraits of 1940’s pin up girls, but with your own indelible twists. What artists, movements, places, films, or literature inspires you? How has your aesthetic changed over the years?
You’re right, I’m definitely inspired by art nouveau and Vargas! My list of inspirations is far too long but a few that come to mind today are the rococo, pre-raphaelite, neo-classical, Art Deco and romantic art movements. Some favourite artists include J.C Leyendecker, Konstantin Makovsky, William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Luis Ricardo Falero. I’ve been lucky enough to see some breathtaking paintings in person on my travels, and I find sometimes when I’m standing in front of certain paintings my breathing goes all funny and my heart races - it’s like a strange physical response I only get when I’m looking at an amazing piece of art. I guess my goal would be to make someone feel that way when they look at my art. Perhaps with 20 years practice...
I think my aesthetic has changed over the years mainly because I’m slowly learning different tricks to get my ideas onto paper, or skin, better. I still have a long way to go, and I often feel really disheartened looking at my own work because it’s still such a long way from where I’m aiming for, but if I look at my work from a few years back I can see definite improvement which makes the struggle worthwhile. I try not to limit myself to one particular style, but incorporate aspects from an array of styles into each piece.
The portraits you create have such details in what the women look like, are wearing, and even down to what they are surrounded by. They each seem to have their own history or story. What is your process like in building these characters before you tattoo them?
I’m lucky that the majority of my clients give me a lot of freedom with the designs. For people who are happy to give me complete freedom I still often ask what kind of mood they would like to convey, and I enjoy making something based off one describing word like ethereal, evil, sweet, sassy or sad. I like to try and get a feel for the type of person I’m tattooing and make something I think would suit them.
Not only do your characters have so many dimensions to them, but it also feels like they break the barriers of female stereotypes...one of your portraits may be a femme fatale, but somehow you humanize and glorify her all at once. Do you ever feel like you are making socio-political statements about what it means/feels like to be female? Why do you think you’re so attracted to illustrating women and animals?
It makes me happy that you see my art that way!
I do love empowering women. I’m a strong believer in feminism and although I don’t go out of my way to make any political statements with my art I think it comes across that I believe in powerful women.
I feel that by being a very quiet, soft spoken girl I often get mistaken for weak or someone easy to take advantage of, which I’m not, so I do particularly enjoy depicting femme fatales and self assured women because I’m not the best at getting that across with words. I love drawing animals too because they’re beautiful and interesting and I like them better than most humans.
Because you create such gorgeous work I always feel really inspired and at peace after looking at your work. It’s like cathartic eye candy! Have clients ever commented on how your work affects them? Do you think tattooing/being tattooed has a therapeutic effect?
Thank you! I think for most of my clients it’s just something that’s fun and pretty to look at, something that brings them a bit of joy and makes them feel like they stand out, kind of like a fashion statement.
There are definitely some that attach a deeper meaning to it...some people feel overwhelmed and cry when they look in the mirror at the end of the day, although that’s probably partially to do with having had a long, emotionally draining day of pain, on top of feeling strongly about the tattoo. Most of the tattoos I do take 7-8 hours so there’s definitely a sense of going through some stuff to get one, it’s possibly therapeutic in the way of showing people how strong they can be too.
What does the future look like for you? Do you have any collabs, guest spots, or travel plans you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m not the best at planning, I generally only know what I’m doing a month or two in advance. For the next two months I’m just visiting some studios around London and heading back to one of my favourite studios, ‘Semper’ in Edinburgh. I’ll also be at the London convention at the end of September, hopefully with some new prints and merch.