With a smile that is almost as addictive to look at as her portfolio, Heather Gee wins the prize for being both a bona-fide sweetheart and extremely talented artist who works out of The Illustrated Man in Sydney, Australia. Before calling Sydney her home, Heather’s nomadic spirit took her to various shops throughout Europe, starting first in the United Kingdom, then traveling to Amsterdam for her apprenticeship. I imagine her dedication to the tattoo business combined with her lively personality would make it difficult for any shop, no matter the location, to bid her farewell.
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What made you decide to go to Amsterdam after tattooing in the U.K.?
Just because I knew that the tattooing is really good in Amsterdam.
Do you mean the quality of the tattoos, or the consistency of the business?
Yeah, yeah, both. I mean, obviously, there are a lot more shops now than there were ten years ago, but at the time, I had a lot of people tell me there were good shops over there, and then… *nervous laugh* I’m not the best at interviewing, really.
As far as your own tattoos are concerned, which ones are your particular favorites?
Johnny [a fellow artist and friend working at Illustrated Man] just did a Band-Aid on my knee a while ago that I really like.
Is there a specific story behind it?
Nah, I just wanted a Band-Aid on my knee. *laughs*
So, back to your career: you said you started in the U.K. and then went to Amsterdam. Did you come to Sydney after that?
No, actually, I went back to the U.K. and then I went to Scotland and spent about two-and-a-half years in Glasgow, and then I came here after that.
You’ve done so much traveling between shops. What motivated you to change shops each time?
I just never found anywhere that I wanted to settle down and live in until I moved here. Yeah, I don’t know, I just always liked moving around a lot and I never really wanted to stay anywhere long-term before.
Working in all the shops you’ve worked in, and traveling so much, have you noticed a variation in the level of societal acceptance regarding tattoos?
No, honestly. It’s funny, tattoos are just as popular here as they are in London, or Amsterdam, for that matter. I think it’s interesting that nowadays I often tattoo young Muslim girls who come in and want only a woman to tattoo them, and I think that’s something that, five years ago, wouldn’t have happened. They get a small tattoo on their arm or shoulder, something that can be easily covered, so that’s always an interesting experience to have.
Do you have other people of different religions coming in more often looking for a tattoo for symbolic reasons?
Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of Hindu guys who come in and get the Ohm symbol and various designs of Ganesh and stuff like that. It’s not like just the hippies getting the Ohm symbols now. The customers are definitely much more varied than before. You get the Sikhs that come in, and a lot of Lebanese guys get Arabic writing. I think everyone, in their own cultural way, is more comfortable with getting tattoos that are specific to their personal beliefs. I’ve done a lot of Sanskrit writing. So yeah, it’s interesting. There’s definitely more of that these days than just the typical small flash tattoo.
What aspects of your job do you find most rewarding?
The best thing, really, is the people. You get really nice people who you get to put cool stuff on, so you really love working on them. And just getting to do something different every day, as well. I mean, I know I’m going to be tattooing every day, but it’s a different mix, and that’s always fun.
If you could describe your job in one word, what would it be?
Readers can check out Heather’s portfolio by visiting the Illustrated Man’s website at http://www.theillustratedman.com.au/.
Megan takes photographs and doesn’t finish meals so Darah can eat.