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I F*cking Love Cats: Interview with Tattoo Artist Iris Lys

I F*cking Love Cats: Interview with Tattoo Artist Iris Lys

Tattoo Artists7 min Read

In this interview with tattoo artist Iris Lys, she talks about how she got into tattooing, her deep love for cats, and the joy of cooking.

Cats versus dogs may be an international argument, but in the universe of Iris Lys kitties are the clear winner. Her feline friends come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and characters...from the Goddess Kali in panther form to a bobcat Buddha and even "Freddy Purrcury" of Queen. 

What is your artistic background? Did you always want to be a tattooer and how did you get into tattooing?

I come from a very artistic family, my dad was a sculptor and painter and my mom is a painter and weaving artist. As far as I can remember I have always been drawing, at home or in school when I couldn’t be bothered by what was happening in class..I always loved drawing. I come from a family where TV was not on all the time; we would do a lot of creative things with my mom. When I didn’t have paper to draw on, I was drawing on myself or on my friends.

Tattooing came to me really naturally. As a teenager I started to get pierced a lot and this is how I started to become interested in the body modification world. I tattooed myself as a teenager with a sewing needle and some drawing ink! At the age of 17 I found a tattoo shop in the city next to the village I grew up in; I made my first tattoos there but the shop was a bit dodgy and it closed after a while.

A bit over a year later, in 2004 I decided to move to Finland where my mom is from. I went to get tattooed again in a shop that wasn’t far from where I was first living. I came to my appointment with a book of shitty drawings I had made. I was very shy and my Finnish was very poor but I found the balls to ask if they would take me as an apprentice. I carried on my apprenticeship elsewhere where I stayed for a couple of years until I got the chance to work with a friend who took me under her wing.

After 6 years in Helsinki, I got tired of the cold and dark winter so I moved to London. It was a big slap in my head when i realized that it was going to be much harder than in Finland. I left a shop where I had so much work, although my level wasn’t that great, to start a new life in a very busy and expensive city that had so many good shops with amazing and talented tattooers.

I wasn’t tattooing everyday nor tattooing the things I liked; nobody knew me and honestly my work was far from being what it is now. None of the people who taught me were doing traditional so I was learning it on my own and it took me long time to figure out how to draw a good traditional piece as I was, from the start, told I should NEVER look at others work, never copy, never get inspired, so I was too scared to look at other artists work to understand how to draw or tattoo better.

I worked in a few little shops, got turned down by a few big ones...As I wasn’t tattooing everyday during the time I was in London, I had time to paint a lot and this really helped me understand lots and to be better.

After a while, and after a lot of partying in this city that never sleeps, I decided to leave and I was on the road until I moved to Canada for 2 years. I was in Montreal; I met lots of great artists and with some of them I got to learn much more about tattooing, machines and I carried on drawing, painting more and more.

I have always been into traditional although it took me a while to figure out how to tattoo this way!

Your style of traditional is very unique and eye catching. How would you say your aesthetic or style has changed over the years? Any artists (tattooers or not) that have directly inspired you?

As I said previously I always like traditional but I couldn’t find my own way to do it with the popular traditional designs. I always had love for cats, since I was a kid, we always had cats at home. I have always been obsessed with them. One day I started drawing a few cats...when I realized people really liked it I thought this could finally be what was meant for me: tattooing an animal that has fascinate me forever!

I don’t get inspiration from other artists or tattooers as my style is unique. I just started sketching cat faces the way I was imagining them and after a while I always try to improve them. I have a very large imagination; I can see things in my head. I might think about something while staring at my cats or sometimes my customers give me cool ideas too. I also did versions of known traditional pieces such as the Rock of Ages, Pharaoh’s Horses, sun dance etc...but all in a cat style. I think cat all the time, everyday.

I have done so many funny things; kinky cats, shibari cats, women and cats, hands and paws, funny play on words...ideas are endless!

Cats give me comfort and I want to share this with the people I tattoo.

If you could only read one book, listen to one record, and watch one movie forever which ones would you choose? If you could choose anyone, living or dead, to have dinner with, who would you choose?

I never had patience to read...I have never been focused enough. I tried. So no book, I choose drawing or painting over that! A vinyl album I would say Greta van Fleet ”From the Fire” record; I have been obsessed with it for the past year. A movie, I would say a silly one ”Black Cat, White Cat” from Emir Kusturica, I loved it as a kid. 

Of course, I have to ask (and I freakin’ adore cats!) but do you ever get burnt out on kitties? Is it possible? Also, how many people in your life have given you cat themed things?

Nah, I don’t think so, I mean I am happy when people ask for non cat related designs but I still really like tattooing them. I never get bored, maybe a bit when I have to do the same things again and again but most of the time I am happy tattooing cat related things and even more when they are different to the ones I have already done!

Maybe one day it will happen, who knows?! That’s why I try to make people understand that I am always happy to tattoo anything traditional, other animals, flowers, ladies...

I have gotten many cat presents over the years from a lot of my customers. Sometimes I feel like people come to my cat temple to get tattooed and they bring offerings. I love presents; I feel like people really share my love for cats and that they want to bring joy to me too. There is nothing pretentious in what i say, I do not think of myself as a goddess or anything!

I have a nice collection of cat socks, mugs, garlands, cat stained glass, pins and some of them even bring my cats treats and some vegan candies, cookies, donuts for myself. I love sweets!

Hypothetical situation: You’re made king of the world. What is your first decree?

I would ban absolutely everything that makes animals suffer. No testing, no buying, no beating, equal respect to all animals as if they were human. It’s not because they aren’t humans that people should care less about animal rights. They came into this world like we did and they should be treated with as much respect as possible.

Beyond art and tattoos, what are you really passionate about? What can you not live without? What would you be doing if you weren’t tattooing?

I love to eat healthy and tasty food. I love cooking. It’s my favorite thing outside of tattooing. If I wasn’t tattooing, I would have a nice little cafe where I would sell nice and fancy tea and coffee with things that I would cook or bake myself. I would also live in the countryside on a massive farm, have lots more cats, dogs, cows, pigs, chickens and every animals i could dream of to rescue!

I also collect things. I have a large collection of cats porcelain from 1950, religious icons, cat skeleton, mummified cat, cat skull, cat candles...

Do you have any travel plans, projects, collabs, merch, etc. coming up that you’d like to share? Any hopes for this year or the next?

Yes, I have many travels coming up: Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and I hope I can finally make it to Australia as it has been my dream for so long!
I am working on new t-shirts, pins, patches for this year...I have done a collab with a friend of mine in France: cat scarves which I hope people will like. Also got a jewelry collab with another friend, hoping we will get the rings finally done this year since we have been talking about it for the last 3 years haha!

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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