I first met Giada in early 2018. I had been told that he was a very ‘gentle’ tattoo artist, that he wasn’t just creative, he really understood how to work with people. For him, creating a tattoo isn’t just a way to be creative and earn money, it’s an exchange between the artist and the customer. When tattooing, the artist isn’t just drawing, they’re putting their energy into their customers. Five months after initially meeting him, I asked Giada if he would tattoo me? Together we created a tattoo that had a lot of meaning for me. Knowing that Giada is originally from Mozambique and has lived and worked in South Africa, London and Portugal, I knew he would have an interesting story to tell. I asked if I could interview him for Five Minutes With. He agreed and this interview took place while he was tattooing me. 

Tattooing is a relatively unusual career – can you tell me about your journey to becoming a tattoo artist:

I started in the corporate world – sales and marketing manager for the largest packaging and machinery manufacturing company in the southern hemisphere (in South Africa). I hated my job. I was depressed, I was on anti-depressants and I decided to make a change. I had friends in the tattooing industry and was able to get into the industry through them. I’ve always been quite arty so it was a good way to be artistic, have fun and make a living all in one.

What training do tattoo artists have to do?

You do an apprenticeship – usually 2 years and work in a shop, for free, full time if possible. You learn everything from hygiene, drawing, customer relations and doing more artwork at the end of the 2 years as it’s more important to know how to deal with people and designs rather than tattooing. Once you know how to deal with people and how to design with the body properly as the body is totally different to a canvas or paper where it’s flat. Everything has to match your canvas which isn’t flat paper. Something that might look good as a drawing or as a graphic may look terrible as a tattoo. Tattoo artists have a very different way of looking at design – you have to remember with design that it should compliment the shape of your body. We like to have people come in for a consultation as everyone’s body is different. It gives me an idea of the design if I can see their shape, their weight and work out a design that compliments that.

As a layperson, coming in off the street, what’s the most important thing I should know about getting a tattoo?

Make sure you’re not going to regret it! Think about your future, especially hand, neck and face tattoos. it’s easier to cover up tattoos than get a tattoo removed from your face.

If someone thinks they want a tattoo and don’t know what to get?

Then they don’t want a tattoo.

You must have met a broad range of customers in your line of work

We tend to get people who are more serious about tattoos than people wanting a holiday souvenir. It helps that this isn’t a tourist town. Our main client base is people aged between 30 and 60. In the last few years 40 – 60 year olds are paying more for decent tattoos.

Why do you think this is?

I think they’re at a stage in their lives where they’ve established their career, they have money, they are more sure of themselves and what they want to get for a tattoo.

Tattoos have become more fashionable in the last few years. How do you think this has happened?

It’s become more socially acceptable. There’s generally more marketing of tattoos through reality tv shows, Social Media, celebrities. if you look at how many celebrities show off their tattoos, people follow and admire the celebrities, holding them on a pedestal so if the person they admire has a tattoo, it makes it ok for them to have a tattoo.

When you’re tattooing someone you’re putting an energy into that piece, that’s going to reflect on the piece.

Where do you think the future of tattoos is headed? What will be the next big thing?

It’s difficult to say as everything artistically possible is already available tattoo-wise. I think it’s going to go more tech based in the future. I think it’s going to be more based on inks – inks that change colour in different lighting. They’ve already developed an ink with microchips in it that links to your cell phone so when your phone rings your arm vibrates and things like that. I think it will move more to specific temperature control where depending on the chemicals in your body/depending on your mood, the inks will change colour.

What would you say to someone getting a new tattoo?

Be on time and don’t be a douche to anyone who’s about to permanently draw on your body.

How do you overcome people not behaving as you’d like them to?

You can’t. The biggest problem is that when you’re tattooing someone you’re putting an energy into that piece, that’s going to reflect on the piece. If someone’s nice you’re going to put that little extra effort into their tattoo. If someone’s an utter jerk you’re going to do the bare minimum.

Are there any tattoos you don’t do?

We don’t do very young, misguided people who want hand, neck or face tattoos. I don’t like doing anything where you could be offending others. I’m not saying I won’t do different religious tattoos. But I won’t do something that would be offensive to someone else for example something that said ‘f*ck Mohammed’.

Anyone can believe in what they want and have the image of their God tattooed on their body. It might offend somebody because it’s another God but it’s not insulting that religion.

Neck Tattoos – People do it as their first tattoo, which is really stupid. At the moment there is a big trend towards sexually degrading tattoos; I won’t do them. The people who have them might be young now but what happens when he has two children at home and he’s scared to take his shirt off because they’re looking at his tattoo all the time. He’s going to regret it.

You mentioned earlier that with tattooing you’re putting energy into someone’s body. Can you tell me more about your views and thoughts on that

With everything you’ve only got positive and negative energies so you’re either going to get something good or something bad. So basically try and attract positive energy. With tattooing, if you‘re a positive person or doing the tattoo with a positive attitude it tags onto the process of the tattoo and affects the tattoo and they’re going to feel better about the whole experience.

You can tell the energy from the shop when you first walk into it. Here the energy is happy, chatty, fun. If you go to somewhere that’s a bit more of a ‘hell’s angel’ place where it’s quite dark and the energy is negative, you’re going to have a completely different experience and feel very different about your tattoo. Putting that egotistical energy into a tattoo isn’t great.

With everything you’ve only got positive and negative energies so you’re either going to get something good or something bad.

You’re doing a watercolour tattoo at the moment – is the technique different to a more standard tattoo?

It’s very similar, you just have to choose your tones correctly. and build up the colour to get the look and there’s a little bit of watering down the base colour to get the water effect. Other than that, it’s pretty standard. I tend to make watercolour tattoos a little bit darker than you’d see on Pinterest as over time, it will last longer and will blend to a nice looking fade.

What changed your mind about doing a watercolour tattoo as when I’d previously asked you for one, you’d said no?

When I saw the design you’d asked for, the heart on the t-shirt I thought it would be nice and work well with watercolour. It was the image I got in my head straight away and I knew watercolour would work for it.

The image I sent Giada – from a t-shirt that was advertised on my Facebook feed.

Tips for before and after you get a tattoo…

Make sure you eat, especially when it’s your first tattoo as you don’t know what to expect. You’re going to build up adrenalin and when that adrenalin drops your blood sugar levels are going to change and eating will help with this.

Look after it, keep it clean, the main problem with aftercare that nobody realises is pet hair. One pet hair gets in your tattoo just as it’s healing and the whole thing’s going to get infected.

What would you like people to know?

If a tattoo artist gives you a price for a tattoo don’t haggle. They’re giving you that price for a reason. We’re not hear to try to rip you off. We know the value of our service, we know how long something’s going to take us and whether something is difficult or easy to do and people mustn’t have that preconception ‘because it’s small, it’s worth less’. Trying to create a really small tattoo with good detail takes a lot of work. Tattooing isn’t like drawing on paper with a pencil. As soon as you put the needle down, there’s ink everywhere, covering the design of the tattoo and you can’t see. Tattoos are easier to do bigger and they look better as a tattoo.

People often price shop with tattoos. Instead of going to the best artist, they go for the best price. That’s where the mistakes begin.

People are paying for the tattoo, design, ink, your experience. What are the hidden costs of tattooing that we wouldn’t necessarily think of?

A lot of people forget that the cleaning chemicals we use are hospital grade and really expensive. Included in our prices are things we need to do like sterilisers use a lot of electricity. Gloves – we can use 2/3 pairs of gloves just for a small tattoo.

There are 2 types of people: those who are getting a tattoo because of price and those who are getting them because of the work. With the first person, at the end of the day whether the tattoo is going to be ugly or nice, they don’t appreciate it as they just wanted a tattoo. For them paying the 50 bucks or 100 bucks, they would rather pay the 50 as they don’t notice the difference in quality.

All of your inks are vegan inks – that had never occurred to me that they would be vegan or vegetarian. Is that the norm across tattoo studios?

It’s the norm – your really good quality inks, that are more expensive, tend to be vegan anyway. The only reason someone wouldn’t be using those inks is if they’re trying to save money by buying a cheap brand of ink. If you’re using a good brand, it’s going to automatically be vegan. It makes sense for the company who is making them anyway, so they don’t have to make too many ranges.

Do you have any experience with tattoo removal?

I have had some stuff lazered. The lazering was much more painful than getting tattoos in the first place. Black is the easiest colour to remove. Red can’t be removed at all.

What’s a typical day in the life of a tattoo artist?

Wake up at 6am. A lot of people prefer to draw either at night or in the morning. I prefer to draw for 2 – 4 hours in the morning. What 90% of people don’t realise is that part of the process is drawing the design of the tattoo and depending on what the tattoo is it can take hours to get the design out of your head and on paper. I like to get up early, make sure I’m ready for the day. Drawing and coffee in the morning. I still draw on paper but prefer to use ‘sketch’ a free app on my tablet. It’s better than the paid for programmes. I like to get to work earlier than I’m supposed to so I’m not rushing. Working the whole day, sometimes with lunch, sometimes without. What’s nice is when you have nice customers.

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