Tati Compton is the artist revolutionising the tattoo world through her unique stick-n-poke designs and hard to rival Instagram game
If the Devil were a pouty Central Saint Martins graduate with obnoxiously good cheekbones specializing in minimalist goth and, like, actually relevant, he may have us sign our pacts via Tati Compton’s stick-n-poke tattoos. Darlingly witchy and elegantly heathen-chic (it’s a thing, because I said so, deal with it), her tattoos are marked by clean but intricate linework, impeccable placement and delicate, occult-inspired imagery. Lots of crossed roses and snakes mid-writhe nestled between cleavage and entwining wrists.
Fuck-me-then-fuck-off nails, sickle moons, floral bondage. Badass babes with eight arms and two heads and three (or more) eyes. Her biggest piece to date was based on a “drawing of a gravestone from antiquity :: kept loose.” Along with confirmed alien-elf princess Grace Neutral and New Yorker Jenna Bouma, she is fronting the female-dominated, Instagram-fueled stick-n-poke revolution taking over the tattoo world.
Compton (real name Tatiana Fox, née Kartomten, as of a couple weeks ago) began her foray into tattooing like most of us — 21, heartbroken, head-thrashing to Metallica and stick-n-poking dots on her friend’s fingers. At the age of 28, she has accrued a veritable legion of devotees (can 74.8k followers on Instagram even be called cult anymore?) and worked full-time at Sang Bleu, the London-based art gallery-cum-publishing house-cum tattoo studio of tattoo enfant terrible Maxime Buchi — despite having begun tattooing professionally a year ago.
Compton just moved to Los Angeles after getting kicked out of her flat in London and deciding to stay during a visit. She currently isn’t taking any bookings and although she hints at resuming bookings in L.A., she says, “I don’t book that far ahead, I like to have some freedom of schedule.” She said she needed a break and will be travelling a lot, so be sure to snag some flash during walk-ins at Sang Bleu London on March 30 and 31 before she embarks on a year of Eat-Pray-Loving in the hometown of Weetzie Bat. We caught up with Compton to talk tattoos, Instagram and being a woman in the ink business.
How would you describe the Tati Compton aesthetic?
Tati Compton: Feminine but not girly. Delicate but bold. Organic, like it’s meant to be there.
What is your inspiration for your designs?
Tati Compton: I mostly see images that I would want as a tattoo, or something that I think would look good as a tattoo. It can be anything from a hazy picture of a supermodel from the 90s to a 19th century alchemical engraving to a playful erotic pinup.
Although you technically aren’t “self-taught,” you certainly didn’t go the traditional route of an apprenticeship. Is this apprenticeship route dying out and is the tattoo industry becoming more accepting and respectful of those who deviate from the path?
Tati Compton: I don’t think so, but to be honest, I don’t really pay attention. I’m thankful to Sang Bleu for taking me on because I am not sure if other shops would have without me going the traditional route. But they believed in me and saw that I could handle what was thrown at me, like taking walk-ins who hadn’t even heard about stick-n-pokes or me and them leaving happy with a good tattoo.
Speaking of respect, the tattoo industry is very much a boys’ club. As a woman tattoo artist, and especially a self/friend/Internet-taught one, what is it like working in such a male-dominated industry? Do people treat you differently than your male colleagues? Are the gender proportions changing?
Tati Compton: It’s fine, I’ve always been a very independent person and I’ve never been intimidated by either sex. It doesn’t really matter to me — especially if people treat me different than my male colleagues — because it’s not my problem, it’s theirs. I think it sucks that feminism and most –ism’s even had to exist. I am sure there are more female artists coming into the tattoo world just like with every other world hopefully. It should never have mattered anyways.
As a self-taught artist, how did you come to be employed at Sang Bleu, guest-spot at Martlet Tattoo and skyrocket to fame?
Tati Compton: I was with my husband Danny Fox in LA on vacation when Maxime (owner of Sang Bleu) asked him to do a painting residency at their pop up shop in the Arts district. We ended up living in the warehouse and Max said it was ok for me to do stick-n-pokes there. When I got back to London, he invited me to work at Sang Bleu full time. Through friends I reached out to Downtown Tattoos in Nola and then Martlet Tattoos who both let me guest spot. If I’ve skyrocketed to fame it’s probably because of Instagram — which is like Monopoly money fame.
“If I’ve skyrocketed to fame it’s probably because of Instagram—which is like Monopoly money fame” – Tati Compton
Stick-n-pokes have long been disparaged as the unhygienic stupidity of teenagers (teenage girls in particular are targeted), and trend pieces in the past couple years have treated them as a fad. But as you and other professional stick-n-pokers grow in bookings, Instagram followers and power, it looks like the method is gaining legitimacy and respect from both artists and collectors. Is this the case?
Tati Compton: Yeah, I mean it might have always been the case. Hand-poked tattoos aren’t a new thing and I am sure there are legitimate hand poke tattooers who just don’t have Instagram or care to. It’s just with social media that everyone is learning about it now.
A lot of traditionally male-dominated tattoo forms, such as Japanese irezumi and Thai yantra, are, in fact, hand-poked. Why haven’t they received the same bullshit thrown at stick-n-pokes?
Tati Compton: Well, to me, stick-n-poke was never about the actual tattoo — it was about the act and the time and the place. No one was ever expecting it to be good, no one really expected anything from it. It was about being with friends getting drunk and listening to music basically. Those ancient forms are legitimate tattooing art forms. But who’s to say what tattooing with your friends drunk is – maybe it’s an art form of living?
Are there tattoo trends unique to the stick-n-poke medium?
Tati Compton: I think since it is more accessible to get ahold of a needle and ink, trends of basic drawings with no typical “tattoo style” have arisen. Like very personal drawing styles that don’t have to meet the criteria of anyone else.
Has Instagram played a role in disrupting any tattoo traditions or hierarchies?
Tati Compton: Probably, I’m sure it’s done more than just that.