Tattoo apprentice and ceramics wizard Alma Proenca is a perfect example of what industry folk should be: kind, honest, and dedicated. Speaking from Two Hands Tattoo in Aukland, New Zealand, Alma shares her story on what it takes to be a working artist within the tattoo community and what it takes to be a great apprentice. Her portfolio is rife with inspiration for others that includes old school illustrations, paintings, beautifully detailed paño, incredible ceramic sculptures and some of her first tattoos.
First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself like your background, what you love to do and why you were drawn to it?
My name's Alma, I was born in England but I'm half Portuguese & half Kiwi. I make ceramics, I'm a tattoo apprentice, I paint & draw when I can find the time, and my full-time job is managing Two Hands Tattoo in Auckland, New Zealand. I love all of these things & I suppose I was drawn to them through excitement & curiosity, and I've stuck with it because it all continues to excite me, and I love the people I'm surrounded by with my whole heart.
When did you decide to become a tattoo apprentice and why did you want Spider Sinclair to be your mentor? What has the experience been like for you?
It's something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember, I was 18 when I first reached out to Two Hands and expressed interest in learning from everyone here collectively. I was told no, but very kindly. Jahmelia was managing the shop at the time & responded to me with a lengthy email on the steps I'd need to take in order to be taken on by an artist as an apprentice, this gesture is something I think about often & still appreciate immensely.
I didn't so much decide to become an apprentice, I was offered the opportunity after managing Two Hands for two years. Spider was always aware I wanted to learn how to tattoo, and I suppose there came a point where he thought I was ready & deserving. The experience has been brilliant so far, Spider's been tattooing for 19 years and has such a vast abundance of knowledge, I feel really lucky he's chosen to share such a treasure trove of information with me. I've learnt how to make needles, & I spent a large portion of last year learning the basics of fine-line black & grey tattooing, now I'm focussing on American Traditional pieces.
What style of tattooing are you most attracted to? What artists, tattoo oriented or not, are the ones who inspire you most?
So many, this is always a really difficult question. But, to name a few: Spider Sinclair, and every other resident artist at Two Hands; Richard Warnock, Lunafell, Horifuku, Rob Mckenzie, Josh Solomon, Patch Fay & Julian Doesburg. As well as Austin Maples, Ivan Antonyshev, Adam Shrewsbury, Clay Gibson, Mario Aguilar, Shane Swift, Olof Arrevik, Bryce Oprandi, Rosie Evans, Jenna Bouma. There are SO many more but I'd end up writing pages & pages. I admire all of these people for a multitude of reasons; their work ethic, technical skill, creativity, kindness, passion & drive etc.
Your incredible ceramics are already a huge favorite within the tattoo community and it’s amazing that everything is handmade from scratch! When did you begin working with ceramics and why was it a medium you resonate with? What is the process like creating them?
I just love that there's functionality, and I always enjoy being forced to simplify designs & pull it all back. When I'm working on a blank piece of paper I struggle with overcomplicating the layout, but there tends to be limited surface area with the ceramic pieces I make and I have to think of simple & bold imagery to work with. I start with wet clay and either create the vessels on the wheel or by hand, usually coiling. Then I'll paint them when they're leather-hard, sometimes when they're a little dryer as it's easier to paint on a dryer surface. Then the pieces are bisque fired, this firing removes all of the moisture from the clay, and THEN I glaze my work & fire one last time. It's an extensive process but relatively simple in the grand scheme of things. There's a lot I desire to learn in the realm of ceramics as well as tattooing.
Being an apprentice takes an insane amount of work, but what do you do when you’re not working in the shop? How do you maintain motivation?
I spend a lot of time in my studio, having my ceramic practice creates a good balance with my usual work days. Both tattooing & managing the shop involves a lot of daily interaction with people, I always have to be switched on. Though focus is still l required when I'm in my studio, I have room to switch my brain off a little & tune out.
My motivation comes in waves, I always know it's time to step away for a while when I'm growing frustrated or getting upset, I don't create work I'm very proud of when I'm in a bad mind-set. I've learnt to enjoy these times though, I throw myself into other things like exercise, or seeing my friends. I go for really long walks with my best friend Gabi, she has a very unique outlook on the world and holds the most beautiful and constructive conversations. She inspires me, and always awakens motivation in some shape or form.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received and what is the best advice you feel you can give?
Best advice I've received is from my colleagues in regards to tattoos - don't fuck it up
Best advice I could offer - work really hard, and be very kind
What does success mean to you? What are your hopes for the future?
As cliche as it sounds, I measure my success in happiness. Providing I'm happy, healthy, loved & consistently pushing myself to progress in all areas of my life, then I feel wholeheartedly content.
For the moment, I just want to be capable of pulling really clean lines. Someday I'd like to create phenomenal tattoos that inspire people to the extent that the tattooers I admire inspire me. I also want to always be a good friend to the people around me.