“Tattoo artist must be a great job!” – that’s what many people think, but like any other job tattooing has its ups and downs. Charlotte Legrand (“Arcana Body Art”, Charleroi, BE) gives a special glimpse into the life of a tattooer in her comic series “The Anxious Tattooer”. Anxious, stressed, overwhelmed – that’s how the main character in Charlotte’s comics often feels.
She started her comics in may 2019 during a period of great personal stress and anxiety. Like many creatives, Charlotte chose to do the one thing to calm down: drawing. And that’s when “The Anxious Tattooer” was born – a comic about the typical struggles and experiences of a tattoo artist. By doing so, Charlotte found a great way to process the stress and feelings concerning her life as a tattooer. Many tattoo artists can identify with Charlotte’s comic character and customers also enjoy the humorous insight into a tattooers head. We also enjoy Charlotte’s comics and have been following them for a long time – and now it’s finally time to get to know the person behind “The Anxious Tattooer” better!
From history teacher to tattooer!
Before she started tattooing, Charlotte has been a teacher for four years already. She studied art and history to become a teacher and also taught those subjects afterwards. But how did a teacher become a tattoo artist? For Charlotte, her tattooed uncle was the one who constantly brought up the topic. He kept telling her that she should get into tattoo business, because she’d earn pots of gold: “This always made me laugh. He’s the Italian Uncle who talks like a mobster and dreams of owning Las Vegas, but is quite content with his family life and is always a joy to be around.”
But even if he only was only joking around, the thought of becoming a tattoo artist constantly popped up in Charlotte’s life. How she changed ways, finally became a tattooer and started her comic series “The Anxious Tattooer” can you read in the following.
Hey, Charlotte! So, how did you finally become a tattooer?
I’ve been tattooing for four to five years, I haven’t really counted. I was sort of pushed by my surroundings to start tattooing, funnily enough. I studied to become a teacher and I did teach for four full years. I have a degree as an Art & History teacher and have always been drawing for as far as I can remember.
I got my first tattoo when I was twenty or something, and I remember vividly asking the tattooer how you became a tattoo-artist. It was pure curiosity as at that time I was still fully focused on becoming an art teacher. His reaction was very defensive and he sort of grumpily said “Tattooing is only for the best artists out there, I only had one apprentice and it’s the only one I’ll ever have.”
That sort of triggered something in me, because back then I had a lot of insecurities concerning my art. Still have now, but starting to accept that I can actually start liking a bit of my work as well. Somehow I wanted to prove to this grumpy tattooer dude, that I was worthy of his approval. Totally silly when I think of it now, because I had no affinity with him whatsoever. (Okay, maybe I did have a tiny short-lived crush, but who doesn’t have it for those badboys when you’re young and silly?)
What came next?
I looked up the work of his apprentice, her name is Jenzie, and she was my first Idol. The first person I looked up to in the tattooing business. She’s Belgian as well, and to this day I still haven’t gotten the balls to get in touch with her!
The first summer after my studies, I worked a bit at my uncle’s barbershop doing shampoos and serving coffees. At that time, there was a tattoo shop upstairs and my uncle was good friends with the guy. My uncle kept telling me to go upstairs and ask if I could help John (Tattooer) out with drawings. When John saw my drawings he immediately took me in as his apprentice, and I started learning about hygiene and setting the boot up. I didn’t tattoo and merely observed and made drawings.
Then, stupid me got a teaching position and decided I should dedicate myself to a “real” job instead of playing around with tattoos. My mom and dad back then didn’t think tattooing was a serious business but merely a phase I had to get out of.
It never left me. And I always regretted quitting.
But in the end it finally worked out for you. When and why did you change your mind again?
Move forward a couple of years later and My then boyfriend (ex now) had a lot of tattoos and I was getting more as well, I started knowing a lot of people who had tattoos and every single one of them kept telling me to start tattooing because me drawings were perfect for tattoos. I’ve always had a very illustrative style with a passion for linework and dotwork.
One of those people told me to go to a certain shop in town with my book, and tell the shop owner said person sent me. I was nerve wrecked and absolutely intimidated because I had already started tattooing a bit on my boyfriend and myself and feared they would think I was scratcher, which on second thought I actually was considering the facts now. I already knew everything about hygienic precautions and had a private space set up at home with all the necessary precautions as I have now in my shop. However, it was still very stupid technique-wise and would never advice anyone to do so! Total cringe when I think of my stupidity.
Well at least you wanted to head into a more professional direction. How was the new shop?
They took me in immediately and had me doing tattoos the next week. Holy hell, huge pressure and I was absolutely not ready. I was expecting to continue a traditional apprenticeship, but they wouldn’t have it. I had to earn money and give them 50% of my earnings. Most of the things I figured out for myself, trial and error, and I wish I could apologise to all those people who walk around with my crappy beginnings (talking about this gives me anxiety lol!).
The fear of failing was so bad; I immediately started working my ass off to learn as quick as possible.
I changed shop after a year, and then another year later I opened my own shop in town.
Im into my 4th year of tattooing and am proud to say that I have an awesome customer base who are very respectful and passionate of my art. Love them to pieces.
So it all went well in the end – what a wild ride! What did you like best about your job today?
Meeting all my lovely clients and getting to draw for every single one of them. I get a glimpse in their life, a story they are willing to share with me and it’s a privilege. I also simply love drawing day in and out and the freedom that comes with it when you can combine work and passion.
Sounds like you definitely chose the right job! But being a tattoo artist is not always a picnic – tell us about the beginning of “The Anxious Tattooer”.
May 2019. I was overstressed, had a lot of anxiety and missed drawing for my personal relaxation. When opening a shop, drawing becomes work and as soon as I had a pen in my hand, I would try to pop out flash design in order to earn my living. I always feared my drawings weren’t good enough and that I should get better faster. So I never made anything for my personal relaxation anymore.
I needed a way out of that work-draw cycle and decided to make silly comics, with little to no detail that I could draw quickly.
After my first comic, I felt so relaxed and happy, and had a huge rush of inspiration for at least 20 other subjects that I just felt the need to continue.
And why of all things did you choose to make comics?
I saw a comic called “The Lazy Goth” and it cracked me up because I imagined myself as a comic drawer and thought if I had to define myself, it would be an anxiety-ridden-perfectionist. Thats where The Anxious Tattooer came from.
I’ve had anxiety since forever and have learned to live with it now. It’s mostly the peope around me that don’t know how to live with my anxiety. Luckily, my boyfriend is very patient and calming to be around, so that helps when I’m a ball of nerves doubting every choice I’ve made.
What are the downsides of your job?
I believe it can be a very rewarding job to be a tattoo-artist because you get to meet and share with so many people. But there is the fact that being self-employed is hard. Most of my pressure in work comes from the government and all their taxes, and it’s very difficult to keep up with them.
I sometimes wish I could only think about getting better at drawing and tattoos, but I realise that most of my time is spent doing paperwork, paying bills, running errands and handling social media.
It is also stress-inducing when some clients are pressuring you to work faster and cheaper. I want to offer a quality service, but there’s this hyper-fast-consumption in our current society that makes it difficult to keep up with it all.
I also suffer from the Imposter-syndrome, so whenever people compliment me, I tend to think i got lucky or that they aren’t in their right mind lol. I have a hard time not looking at all the imperfections. Because I’m never satisfied with my work, and I don’t understand why people are so fond of it, because it’s full of defaults and there are so many other better artists out there.
I bet that many artists feel that way due to the increasing number of tattoo artists. But we also think that you’re doing the right thing with your comics: showing others that they are not alone with their doubts and problems.
I felt there was not enough positivity on all other tattoo-related humour. Too much complaining and bashing. I wanted to be able to educate both sides, without being mean about it. Humour has always been a good way to send a difficult message. Making fun of my own experiences and myself felt like a good way of doing that.
I love my customers, and I just couldn’t understand how so many tattooers kept hating on them with all those memes. Of course some of them are funny and relatable, but they are still not very friendly. Putting myself in the shoes of my customers, I’d feel very unwelcome seeing those, and that’s the opposite of what I want.
I want them to feel welcome and loved, but also realise that we are humans as well. So we have our ups and downs, we can get moody or anxious. But we love them deep down. We’re all a bunch of meat-envelopes with emotions. Maybe we should all hug more, don’t you think?
Some call me preachy. I’d like to think of myself as a giver of kindness, and hope I put a smile on their faces.
Your comics definitely make people smile! Which one was the most important to you?
“Doubt”. Because I drew it after a very difficult comic, the one about colour tattoos for people of colour and black people. I received a lot of hate and backslash because of the colour comic, even though my aim was to open discussion and create a safe haven for people who think the same about colour. Instead, a couple of persons were able to make me doubt severely about what I’m doing and if I should continue making those comics.
The Doubt comic was made when I was crying and doubting if i should even continue making the comics, because I just couldn’t understand why it was so easy for people to be mean and hurtful to someone who really meant well and has devoted a lot of time to the idea of kindness and acceptance. In the end, the reaction I received for the Doubt comic is what convinced me to go on, because I’ve received tons of support and kind messages on that one. Not one single word of hate.
We were also very impressed with “Doubt” as a reaction on all those negative comics. Honestly opening up and showing humanity was a great response to this. What would you say was the best experience you made due to your comics?
The best experience is the day to day interaction with all those lovely people. The love and support and the feeling that I’m not alone, and that through the comics other people feel connected as well.
We also really like that creation of community and understanding. And with that, we reached the end of this interview.
Thank you for taking time and talking so openly about everything! Is there anything you would want to give our readers to take along?
Thanks for the interview! Overall, I’d say: You’re worthy, you’re lovely, I love you and you should love yourself as well. Also, let’s all hug (if you’re into that)!