His devotion to tattooing is inspiring, as is his knowledge and personal experience within the tattoo industry. Elliott Lane started out as a shop boy at the tender age of 13, but that speaks to his singular and deep adoration for this community. Quick to pay homage to the older artists who have influenced along the way, I spoke to Elliott at The Lacemakers Sweatshop in London, where he spoke about his apprenticeship with Delphine Noiztoy and Mimi.
Can you tell me a bit about the area around The Lacemakers Sweatshop? It seems really special.
In the victorian times this was a big docking area, with the canal, so all of these huge warehouses which used to be for factories or storage are around. But over the years artists took them over, like in the 70’s, and made them into creative spaces…there’s some residential. In this building they actually used to keep weaponry and ammunitions here, which is pretty interesting. There’s an unwritten law that you can paint anywhere, and the police won’t give you trouble. When I first moved to London I used to come here for shows, raves…it’s a very creative area and it used to be really cheap, especially because you’d have to adapt them if you wanted to live in them…But now its become…well, people are moving more east and it’s starting to be a super gentrified area. They just built this massive apartment building and they’re advertising it as new apartments for residents of Hackney…but they’re all a million fucking pounds!
We’re lucky now, Delphine lives upstairs. They’ve been here for four years, and I came in about three years ago. I came in just as the apprentice.
So, you’re an apprentice of Delphine and Mimi’s…how did you meet them?
You know what…I knew their work. I’d been following them for a long time. I’m from Mid Wales…but I’ve been working in tattoo shops since I was 13. I’ve always been a shop boy or shop manager…My mums very heavily tattooed; it’s something I always knew I wanted to be into and was surrounded by. I was getting tattooed a lot in London, I knew Mimi because i was getting tattooed by Maxime when I was about 18…and I basically went to a party across the street from here and I was like..”Oh, that’s where Lacemakers is!” It was so hidden away you know? I didn’t know where it was, but one day after that I just walked in here with my portfolio. And they were just…I think it was actually more my knowledge of tattoos, as opposed to my work, that they really liked. I knew about Filip Leu, and stuff like that…they could tell I was really into it. Me and Mimi have the same taste in music, Delphine and me are total tattoo nerds…we all get along really well.
You can really feel that in the space…I thought it was going to be way bigger, but it’s so intimate. How many tattooists work in here at the same time?
When I came in there were three stations here…but some artists left to do other things and it was just Mimi and Delphine. But we’ve changed a lot of things. It looks really different now, and we made a fourth station a couple months ago. We also have Mario now…But I think Delphine always wanted it like this. She didn’t want a street shop…the whole ethos of the shop is not really about custom work. The point of it, I think, is that if you really want to get tattooed by any of us you have to really seek it out, you really have to want it. So, it’s kind of nice being hidden away a bit. I was super surprised when I first walked in as well…it’s so small and there’s so much amazing shit all over the walls! I was just blown away. It’s all original. It’s all Delphine…she’s collected things from all around the world on her travels. Or things from artist friends.
It really shows how interconnected you guys are with other artists…and I feel like a lot of the studios in London are like that. There’s a real history here that supports what you all do so well. And each shop is so different…what do you think is the unique quality of Lacemakers? What is the philosophy or mission of the shop?
I’ve been tattooed in so many different shops in London…and there’s no where like this. We always say it’s like being in someones living room. Obviously, it’s really clean but we didn’t want it to feel sterile. Especially because a lot of the work we do is large scale body suits, super custom. We want people to feel comfortable and…especially when they might be feeling vulnerable, we want everyone to feel like we’re in it together. We’re all here together. Some shops you walk in…and there’s so much noise, and people walking in and out all the time…so hectic. We’re also just so chill here…we don’t have an open and close time. Some nights we work really late, we have dinner here…I think most people who come here will experience something different. I have a lot of respect for street shops, that’s what I grew up with, and I love that aspect of tattooing. But I remember reading Tattoo Life, stuff like that, and hearing about private studios with a buzzer, way up off the street and I was fascinated. I really quite liked that.
I feel like the industry is evolving in that direction as well…like, people are turning a bit away from the traditional tattoo street shop to building more like an artist collective. And especially in London, there are so many different kind of studios to choose from. What’s it like being a tattooist here with such an exploding scene?
Well, I’m a bit new. I’ve only been tattooing for four years now, so I’m still very new. But I will say that these days…everyones tattooing. I go to a lot of shows and hang out with friends who are basically tattooing out of their bedrooms. And sometimes it all looks the same. I’m a bit separate from that, especially because I did an apprenticeship. And with all my experience and knowledge I carry; it’s really all I care about it. Here, at Lacemakers, everything we do is different…even our guest artists. And we’re given a lot of freedom. I’m always blown away by the trust our clients give us. They’ll come in booked for a small piece, and then walk away with a sleeve.
I think, maybe, for the older tattooers London may feel a bit more competitive, especially with the influx of all the new young tattooers who are super accessible due to social media. But I think the younger tattooers, like myself, we’re so excited. And we push each other to be better. A lot of us are friends, we go to shows together…we hang out at shops together. There’s a bunch of us, apprentices, who started at the same time and kind of grew up together in this world. I’m sure there’s a lot of shit talking…but it’s usually all in good fun. With tattoos, if you do it right people will respect that. People who are doing it in the kitchens or their bedrooms…that’s difficult…
Yeah, because you definitely have some people who are teaching themselves, and doing it in a way that’s respectful and safe, but there’s some people scratching in their basement who don’t give a fuck and are scarring people for life.
Exactly. I don’t give much thought to those people. Because they’re using tattooing as a medium, like painting or sculpture. Their putting their artwork or flash on people for them. It’s all about them. It’s a selfish way to go about making tattoos. We don’t do that. What we do is for the artist client relationship. It’s a back and forth relationship, and we care about the culture. We respect it. It’s really something that drew me to tattooing…Most people don’t know…they don’t really have any clue about it. And they aren’t interested in upholding what tattoo culture is, and why it is so amazing, you know? A lot of people tattoo just for themselves. How Delphine taught me, how Mimi taught me…it’s not like that. Clients will come to you for your style, sure, but it’s always a collaboration. And you need to remember that.
The people who are tattooing in their kitchens, dangerously, are also effecting the tattoo shops here because we’ve had to change our license like two times this year. They’re making laws that make it more…difficult, because so many people are doing DIY. So now they made up a lot of these obscure rules that we have to bend to because of these people, you know? It’s frustrating, but…it’s fine. We care about what we do here so we’ll make it work.
It’s kind of crazy…because every single place I’ve been, be it Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and now London..you guys all have to abide by way different rules.
Yeah, when I was an apprentice I was in charge of all of that: open, close, clean up. And here we use steel tubes, so that adds even more strict cleanliness guidelines.
Is there a reason why you guys don’t use disposable?
I think…I mean, that’s how Delphine and Mimi work, that’s how they taught me. It’s more about…that’s the old way of doing things. All the old school guys use steel. It’s just what we use….they’re so heavy, but…we do have disposable, because we do have a lot of guests who’ve never used steel before. So we stock plastic if they need but…I’m always amazed how in America no shop uses steel. The license is a pain for them to get. But Delphine’s background is a lot in hardcore body modification so, you could say, she almost has like..the surgical knowledge of it. So we’re really tight with it. We have to be on top of it.
It does seem more true to the beginning of tattooing…
Yeah, I see a lot of apprentices jumping right into rotary and stuff, and I’m like…easy! It’s just like a pen! But I only use coils…heavy large ass coils. But it teaches you to do really soft grays with these crazy heavy machines. I’m very grateful to have been taught that way. I’m experimenting a bit, but I’m always very happy that I was taught this way.
Hell yeah. I feel like you can see it in your tattoos too. Can you talk a bit about your style actually?
My background is actually in printmaking. I’ve always drawn…me and my dad use to screen print too. I moved to London when I was 17 to go to art school…I was very lucky actually. I got some scholarships so I could come here and not have to pay. But I always printmaking, doing band artwork, working on fabric. I have my own studio and screen print shop…I always print. I’m also the official Crows tattoo artist…haha, so there’s that. But I think…I was always drawing for printing, and I was doing really bold graphic work. But after being here, now, all my work…it used to be all black and solid lines. How I work is bold lines, medium lines, fine lines, solid black, black whip shade, and grey shading. Delphine, obviously, shades only with dots…but her brushwork…which…blows my mind. It’s fucking crazy. She’ll use massive 25 mags and it looks so brutal!! And then two weeks later her client comes in and it’s fucking perfect! Mimi too…his skill as an illustrator is insane. So this place has made me change a bit, they don’t force me to change…but their work is so good. The scale, the softness, the boldness…I can’t possibly be tattooing next to these guys and do little bangers all day! I’ve got to evolve.
So, do you think you’ll always stay here? You’re really happy here and you’re evolving as an artist here.
We’re all so close. Delphine is on holiday in France right now, but we still chat every day. It’s weird to say…but Mimi and Delphine really really care about me. They basically brought me up, I feel like. If I need something, like when I was apprenticing, they’d help me out with cash if I was too broke to pay rent. And we have such a laugh. I’m very excited not to be an apprentice…not so much have the stress of the shop, but I’ve learned a lot. I know how to run a shop, licenses, taxes…everything. I dropped out of art school to do this apprenticeship, and at the time everyone was like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I was going to St. Martins, which is a really good art school, and so everyone thought I was crazy. But now, they see it. I’ve learned so much more here than I would’ve at school.
What are some of your favorite shops or artists?
I always say Saved…I really love that place. And then Ian Healy guested here a bit ago and he’s just so amazing.
He’s the nicest guy!
Totally. He tattooed my feet, and basically Delphine and Mimi were away…so it was just me and him and we just drew all day and hung out. It was amazing. So, anytime I’m in New York I go hang out at Saved. Tamara Santibanez is also just…incredible. Her paintings…everything.
Obviously Temple, Freddy Corbin….Gordo has also been working here since I started here, so he’s definitely a mentor as well. I used to love Shangri La, and then it became Old Habits. The artists there are so good. I love Parliamant, Seven Doors…Universe in Berlin…Hand in Glove in Paris is pretty sick. Tin Tin. I’m so fortunate to know so many cool people…all over the place. It’s such an insane community. And I’m evolving as an artist because of all of them.