If you want to prove you’re no commitment phobe, or demonstrate how much you love your mum, then getting a tattoo is a surefire method. But for American artist and vegan Shannon Idzikowska, regular tattoos are problematic, not because of the pain or social stigma, but because the tattooing inks, razors and aftercare products are usually manufactured using animal products. In 2012, she and her partner set up Fifth Dimension Tattoo & Piercing, London’s only vegan tattooing and piercing studio, in Shoreditch.
Shannon, what exactly is a vegan tattoo?
It means the entire process of our tattooing is vegan. So you can have vegan inks, and many tattooists supply those on request but we do the whole process, so the stencil creams, the petroleum jelly, green soap, cleaning products and aftercare.
A quick Google image search for ‘vegan tattoo’ reveals lots of images of vegetables and animal rights. Is veganism often reflected in the designs?
It can be. I’d say about 50 per cent of our clients are vegan, but they choose to have whatever they want really. Actually we haven’t had a massive influx of these animal rights tattoos.
What designs are trending in the vegan tattoo world?
Right now? Watercolour tattoos definitely. It’s a style that looks like watercolour painted on the skin. Some people have abstract splashes and some have animals or buildings. Whatever they want can be turned into a watercolour tattoo.
What’s the most bizarre design someone’s had done?
One guy the other day got a cartoon cat from a comic he read when he was a child, but he got it on his ass. I have no idea why. He was just a normal guy but it was pretty funny. And he was kind of serious about it too, which was strange.
Who are your customers generally?
I would say from the low 20s to the late 30s. But the other day we had a huge guy from South Africa who was 65 years old, and he wanted a watercolour tattoo and said ‘I’ve got to have this experience before life passes me by’. You know you’re never too old to do something like that.
Can people just arrive at the studio and then just get a tattoo – what’s the process?
You’ll need a consultation first, which is a face-to-face chat. If you have any medical problems then we won’t tattoo you without consent forms.
Do you find that there’s still a social stigma surrounding tattooing?
Yes, I do think there’s a stigma. Many employers believe tattoos will somehow scare clients away and have policies in place to make employees cover up. Katie Piper’s show on Channel 4 [Bodyshockers: Nips, Tucks and Tattoos] perpetuates the belief that body modifications are somehow irresponsible and will be regretted once finished – which is mostly untrue, since tattooists take their careers very seriously. For example, they spend countless hours of unpaid time designing and consulting with people about their designs, and will not tattoo while their clients are under the influence as studio policy in the UK.