Fearless As F*** : Interview with Tattoo Artist Courtney Lloyd

Fearless As F*** : Interview with Tattoo Artist Courtney Lloyd

By Tattoo Artists

In this interview with tattoo artist Courtney Lloyd she talks about how to evolve as an artist and how to embrace self love.

Down to earth with an effervescent quality that makes rainbows in bubbles giggle with glee, Courtney Lloyd is not only an absolute knockout, but she's also authentic AF and sweet as can be. It's people like Courtney who are embracing female empowerment, and kindness to others, in a way that is absolutely revolutionary and integral to tattooing. This is the type of person you want to get a tattoo from because it will be an experience full of positivity and trust. 

I met up with Courtney at the famed Femme Fatale in London to talk about the ever evolving landscape of the tattoo community, and what it's like to be a badass babe slangin' ink. 

It’s so great to meet you. I’ve always loved your work...to me it feels like there’s a great sense of humor behind it. So, I was wondering if you have a philosophy behind your work? 

To be honest, I kind of know what you mean with that because I’ve had a few people say to me before “you never do serious tattoos.” And I kind of don’t, but I just find tattooing so much fun and doing fun cartoony stuff, like my Simpsons pieces, and things like that, just make me die! Like, they're hilarious! And I think it's great when you have meaning behind them as well and I do a lot of sentimental pieces, but sometimes it's just fun to goof around, right? 

Yeah, cool! How did you evolve into this style? Have you always done this kind of...it’s like New School meets Traditional...with glitter, right?

Yeah! It’s weird, right? I was actually talking about it to one of the girls and I was like, “What is it?” I was like….maybe it’s like “Girly Traditional”? I don’t really know. Because it’s not super Trad, is it? It’s quite hard to say what it is and, to be honest, it’s been such a process. The shop I apprenticed in was with this guy Mark who taught me how to tattoo...he did black and grey. So, it was really easy to go into black and grey and think that it was what I should be doing, because it’s what he was teaching me. And then...I just never had too much of a love for it. I wasn’t enjoying it so much. It was great because I was working in a walk-in shop, so I was learning to do anything and everything, which is great because it gives you so much more and it all translates into what you want to do. You learn how to do tribal, script, you learn how to pack black which means you can learn how to do color...so everything works out well but it was only, maybe, four years ago that I actually really started wanting to do Traditional, and the shop that I was working at, there just wasn’t really an audience or market for it, so that’s when I moved to London...because if you’re going to do that anywhere, I should do it here. 

Traditional is the style I was getting tattooed on myself a lot...and I had kind of grown up with all my favorite tattoo artists being in that style. And I thought, maybe this is something I should do more of. And then from that moment...I was like, “Oh my god...I’m so much better at this!” And then I felt like I could finally begin. But I’m forever trying to develop as much as I can because I feel like you are only as good as your last tattoo. And I want every single one to be better and better. Especially when you work in London, it’s got so many amazing artists all over. You’re want to stand out, and you want to do really nice stuff. 

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I feel like to be a really good tattoo artist, to evolve, you kind of just have to do it all the time, but is there anything else you can do besides just doing it?

You know what I started doing, maybe like a year ago, and I feel like I, personally, and a few of my close friends have seen the difference in the past year, I started drawing stuff that I dont tattoo...because I found that you get into this habit, which is fine and great, but you get into this habit of when you draw, you draw flash...and I get into the mindset of “this is going to make a really cool tattoo” and thats really fun, cuz its important to draw new flash and constantly put yourself out there, but then I was like “I’m literally only drawing for that?” 

So, I just started painting again, and I never post any of it...it’s not for anyone else, It’s just for me. I’ve even started doing charcoal sketches, and painting Japanese inspired subjects, the complete opposite of what I tattoo. I’ve been doing some life drawing classes, everything and anything, and I can’t tell you how much it's made me feel more inspired to keep developing my style which is really weird, but I met a girl, Danielle, when I was guesting at Love Letters last year and she takes every art class she can. She was constantly drawing different stuff, even if it wasn’t stuff she usually draws, and she told me to try it. And it really helps!

I guess it kind of helps you see everything from all different perspectives...and you know, you hit upon something else too. There are so many incredibly talented tattoo artists in London, it’s kind of mind blowing. It kind of reminds me of a lot of New York...where it’s like the tattoo community here seems really tight knit, but how do you guys all stay in business? There’s just so many good tattoo artists! 

You know what I think it is...I think it's because not everyone who gets tattooed in London, lives in London. Because London is so accessible from everywhere, especially in the UK, like we’re two hours from a bunch of different stops, so it’s easy to get here. But if you’re living somewhere, let's say you're tattooing in Cambridge, you’re only going to be tattooing people from Cambridge because it’s kind of a bit of a mission for people to come to you...unless they’re huge fans, or you have a huge client base or following...but with that, you could literally be anywhere. 

But I think that's how London tattoo artists do it because London is so massive, and so many people live here, travel here, come here. But you must notice it, you must...the quality is so high here. So, yeah, it's not like you’ve got loads of tattooers here but only a few are good. Everyone is amazing, but that's great because I think it brings more people to get tattooed in London, because there are so many amazing shops. 

Yeah, it’s definitely a tattoo destination. 

Definitely.

You can't get away with just being lazy, or not caring, because everyone is here to do great things...

Why do you think London..I mean, I know it has such a strong tradition here for tattooing, but why do you think artists really flourish here?

I don't know...but this city: you either sink or swim. I think it must be similar to New York, in that a city of that intensity is hard to live in and hard to work in, but I think that's why people flourish, because...it's a creative city anyway. London is a super creative place for music, art, everything, and I think because it's kind of a cut throat town, it forces people to get better because the standards are so high. You can't get away with just being lazy, or not caring, because everyone is here to do great things in whatever area they're interested in. You have to really want it.

I really get that. It is very similar in that way to New York. But that’s something else, you know? How do you deal with that pressure to produce content, or create really amazing things all the time? It’s so intense. 

It is intense. I drink a lot of chamomile tea. Honestly, anyone who says that it doesn't phase them is either fibbing or they don't care enough about what they do. I think, for me, that's never changed. I still have meltdowns like the first year I was tattooing. I'm constantly critiquing myself and never thinking I'm good enough...but then I think, the moment you stop doing that...that’s when it all goes down hill, right? But it is intense because you feel it...you're a tiny tadpole in the ocean, it's hard...Don't get me wrong! I still cry to my mum every now and again and think I can't do it anymore...But on the whole...I find it really inspiring, because I love it. 

Especially doing Traditional, you end up tattooing a lot of people who are collectors and it totally hypes me. When they come in, and I’m like..well, I better be fucking good because my piece will be in between work by this guy and this guy and they're amazing, so I need to step it up! So, yeah, it's hard but you just have to channel that anxiety into pushing yourself.

I’m going to stop caring what people think because it's taken me many years to feel comfortable and confident with myself...Fuck yeah!

Yeah, totally...the landscape of tattooing has changed so much too. It’s so much easier to find great tattooers, and collect from them, especially because of social media. When I started over ten years ago..it was nothing like this! Which is great, but that’s another pressure right...you’ve already got the pressure to create great artwork constantly, but now you also have to have this social media presence...it’s like a whole other demand. 

It’s hard, because let’s say you do a tattoo and you’re really proud of it; it’s done so technically well and then you get no likes, and it’s really hard not to buy into that...but then I look at who has liked it and it's like my favorite artists, people whose work I admire. And that's cool. But it's still really hard. I think it's a balance...I'm pretty old school in my ways. The shop that I apprenticed in was owned by this guy in his 60’s, really old school, but he drilled into me the traditions of tattooing...which didn’t include social media or whatever, but now, we’ve got to keep up. 

I try not to get too sucked into it. I try to use it for whatever I want...if I want to post a picture of a tattoo I did, I post it. If I want to post a picture of myself, I post it. Like, I'm just trying to not take it too seriously, have a bit of fun with Instagram, because I remember when it first became a thing I would get really really paranoid about it. Especially as a female artist, I found it really difficult to post photos of myself because I was like...I wont get any respect. 

But then I was like, well...if no one respects me because I'm comfortable with my body, well fuck it. Whatever. If you don’t like that, then unfollow. I was like I’m going to stop caring what people think because it's taken me many years to feel comfortable and confident with myself, so yeah! Fuck yeah! If I want to post a picture of myself, I’m gonna post it, and maybe I’ll post a tattoo the next day! Yeah! You’re gonna get a healthy balance. So, I think you just have to try and enjoy it..and not get too wrapped up in the game. 

Totally! I feel like female tattooers get a lot of flack for that, especially if you’re a hot girl, which, I’m sorry, you are, people are going to be like...oh, she only gets clients because she’s hot. 

Oh, yeah I've had this from so many guys. And I’m like...nah. It's not. I feel like 70% of my clients are women. 

I wondered! Because I feel like part of the reason why your clients come to you is because you seem like a kind person, you seem like an ultra authentic person on your social media...you’re totally the type of person people are okay with sharing that intimate, fun experience with.

Yeah. I think it is hard because you do get people who turn their noses up, or get a bit negative about it, but, honestly, the people who judge me on social media aren't particularly nice humans. But you can’t worry about that. You can't let it get to you. When I was younger I used to get really really self-conscience about that, and then I’d start believing it...I’d start wondering if I was only here because of my looks. I’d find myself making myself more masculine in shops..don’t get me wrong, I usually prefer to wear track suits, and very rarely do I wear make-up, but now I do it because that’s how I want to look. 

I just don't care anymore...get passed 25, and you just stop giving a fuck! But when I was younger I used to feel like if I wasn't one of the guys, they're just not going to respect me and that really sucks. That’s actually something I’ve noticed, from when I first started at 19 to now...cuz back then you’d probably be the only girl...and you better not talk about your period, or be too girly...they’ll think you're trying to flirt your way up. So, I felt like I had to be a certain way, and now that’s changed. It’s so different from the last ten years...and almost like a level playing field these days!

Yeah, I almost feel like women are actually kind of reclaiming the tattoo industry for themselves, and making it their own...and really pushing back. On top of that you’ve got the Me Too movement and people are finally trying to hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Totally, like this isn't the 90’s. You cannot treat your clients or other artists like shit. You’ve got to show respect, and I think people in general are standing up more, and speaking up more, and I love it. It's great. I can definitely feel the shift from when I started to now, so much so that now it’s nice because it's not a thing that you’re a girl. Like no one thinks I'm the receptionist anymore. Especially in the UK as well!

Right? You’ve got Claudia De Sabe, Valeria Vargas, you’ve got Grace...all of these super empowered women.

It's amazing....these women are here and unafraid to be who they are.

...these women are here and unafraid to be who they are.

Is that why you work here specifically at Femme Fatale?

I felt like I just needed a change in general. I loved the last shop I was at. I got on with all the guys, everyone was amazing. But I was in Soho, and I just felt like I wanted to get out of that. Just because...even just walking to the shop...or back to Oxford Circus Station...I was just like....I can’t do this anymore. Physically. 

Haha! Yeah, I was there yesterday...it was awful, like Times Square. 

Yeah, I did it for nearly three years, and it’s five minutes of hell! And so...I had mutual friends with Grace; I didn’t meet her until I actually started working here. But one day I just thought, fuck it. I’m just going to go for it. I really liked what she was doing and it seems like a really cool place. So, I just took a chance, and sent her an email. I was like...she won’t reply, but fuck it! And then...we got on really well! And now I’m here! And honestly I never want to leave. I know everyone says that, but it's true. It is just such a supportive shop, and everyone here is genuinely here for everyone, and wants everyone to do the best that they can do. 

And especially because I'm the only person here who does anything Traditional, I've learned so much more here than working at a traditional shop. Because I've learned so much from other perspectives...like placement and stencils from Grace, because, you know, she does those huge geometric pieces, and I would never know how to place that on the body!! Things like that that you don't think about...you know, a lot of shops tend to all do similar styles, and it's really nice being in a place where everyone is doing something different. Personally, I think that's how you’re going to learn a lot more...this keeps me fresh, because I'm trying new things that I've never tried, because I'm seeing all this different stuff around me and I'm like, fuck it, yeah, I'll give that a go! It's perfect! 

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