Eloise Lydford is a local tattoo artist at Samsara Tattoo Studio. We talk to her about the industry and how it’s evolved here on the Coffs Coast, her artwork and what inspires her, and what sparked her to offer free day sessions to people with scars from trauma.
Hi Eloise. Tell us a little about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I moved to the Coffs Coast when I was seven, and grew up around Urunga and Bellingen. I then moved into Coffs after I finished school and have been living on and off between here and overseas adventures ever since.
What does a typical day hold for a Coffs Coast tattoo artist?
When I get to work, I usually hit the ground running, straight into introducing myself to my client, going over their custom design and making sure it’s perfect for them. Then the rest of the day is filled with lots of laughter and storytelling between myself and the rest of the team at Samsara, while we all tattoo away.
Once I’m finished for the day, I usually go home for dinner and then spend a few hours a night drawing my next day’s designs. All of the tattoos I do are custom pieces as standard, which means a lot of extra work, but it’s definitely worth it.
How long have you been tattooing for?
On and off for seven years, but I just reached a stage where my thirst for tattooing became hard to ignore, and I went full-time three years ago.
What inspires you as an artist?
Two major things. The first one is adventure. If I were to lay out my favourite artworks, they would be the pieces I did on the many flights I’ve taken between here and New Zealand, or where I’ve been hanging in my hammock mid hike in the mountains, or where I’ve sat alone in a café all day drinking tea and smashing out a watercolour painting in a town I’ve never been to before.
The second is definitely my colleagues at Samsara Tattoo Studio. They are like family to me. I never thought in this industry I could find a whole studio of artists as talented, nurturing and fun as they are. Every day I’m inspired to grow and challenge myself, and there is never a dull moment. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much in my life as I do at work.
How would you best explain the type of work you do?
Essentially, I’ve been trained as a “Jack of all trades”, but my favourite genres to tattoo are black and grey realism, and watercolour pieces. I’m an animal lover, so I love doing animal portraits, and I love tattooing eyes. Generally though, I love that each client is completely different and I get to change up what I’m doing on a daily basis.
Is there any advice for people looking to get a tattoo?
The main thing I can say is do your research and be patient. Look for artists who have done good quality work similar to the style you are after. Try to check out their healed work too. And also, don’t be scared to go and meet your artist before you decide. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in their personal space, so make sure it’s someone you feel relaxed with.
You also specialise in and donate your time offering free tattoo transformations. Can you talk further to us about this?
I am currently running a program where I offer a free day session to clients with scars from trauma – not limited to, but mainly scars from self harm. It started last year when I was approached by a young girl looking to get a quote to cover her forearms. I just thought, you know what? Let’s do this without getting money involved. I knew instantly that transforming her scars from reminding her of a traumatic time in her life, to bringing joy every time she saw her beautiful tattoo was worth more than any money I could make in a day.
The program has created an overwhelming response. I never anticipated how many people from all ages and all walks of life were in need. I’m definitely not the first artist to offer this; there are a few in Australia now and overseas, all doing amazing work. And while I can see it’s making a difference in a lot of people’s lives, I never began to imagine how much it would change me as a person. I’ve definitely gotten just as much out of being a part of this as my clients have.
How has the industry changed on the Coffs Coast since becoming a tattoo artist?
The biggest thing I can notice is how differently I’ve been treated as a girl from the start of my career to now. I remember in my third year, I was working up north and one of the most common things I heard from people coming by the shop was, “OMG, that’s a girl tattooing in there”. I’ve been told that my place is behind the mop, not a tattoo machine. I’ve been told that the only way for me to be successful is to try and sell my “look”. Now I work in a studio where my boss is a talented and strong female artist, and out of my five colleagues, four of us are girls. I feel like for the first time in my life, I work in an environment where clients measure us on our attitudes and achievements, rather than what gender we are.
What’s the best part of your job?
I always say to people, if I wasn’t allowed to talk to my clients during our tattoo sessions, I would find a new career. Making beautiful artworks in skin for a living is pretty great, but the best part is definitely hearing all the amazing stories my clients have to share. Sometimes I think I’ll have a client all figured out, and then they’ll share a story with me that will blow me away. It’s so refreshing to be reminded on a daily basis that you should never judge a book by its cover.