Wearing black rubber gloves and holding an ink bathed needle attached to a chopstick in her right hand, Sarah bends over her client’s thigh to stitch the outlines of a deer-human hybrid with an impressive set of antlers. A few stitches more and she leans back to look at her work.
Sarah Lu is one of the tattoo artists at the Blue Dragon Tattoo parlour in Brighton. Specialising in what is called stick and poke tattoos, she has recently showcased her stunning works at the Brighton Tattoo Convention. Quite an achievement, given the fact that she has only been tattooing professionally for a few years.
Having always had a passion for being creative, Sarah has been working as a graphic designer in advertising for almost fifteen years. Then, four years ago, she decided to change her career and become a tattoo artist which, for her, wasn’t a big step at all.
“If you are someone who does a lot of drawing, then it makes tattooing a lot easier. I did graphic design, illustration, and advertising. Those are the three things I love in my life. I had my career in graphic design, I had my career in advertising. Now, I am doing the illustration part”, she explains.
However, Sarah’s interest in tattoos dates far beyond the few years she has now been working in a professional studio. Having gotten her first tattoo in her early teens, she has been fascinated by the world’s probably most popular form of body art ever since.
It was much later in her life when she started to experiment with needle and ink. The very first tattoo she has ever done was on her own leg. “Every tattooist has an area of their body they use as a practice. Basically, that’s everywhere you can reach. So, for me, it was my legs. There are lots of little tattoos that I have done on myself”, Sarah says.
“It was when I was experimenting that I realized I had a skill for it”, says the tattooist who has stayed true to the manual way of tattooing she started off with. Sarah is one of the currently highly demanded stick and poke artists, a way of tattooing without using an electric machine.
“I don’t know how to use a machine yet but at some point in the future, I still want to learn how to use it because I think a good artist is someone who can do lots of different things”, she explains. But even without the help of a machine, Sarah’s works are pretty stunning. Her hand-poked tattoos look as if she was drawing on paper.
When it comes to the actual sticks Sarah uses to immortalize her artworks on her clients’ bodies, the tattooist has decided to choose a tool that relates to her Vietnamese family background.
“The chopsticks are a little joke to myself. I eat with chopsticks, I live with chopsticks, so I thought I tattoo with chopsticks too, well obviously not the same chopsticks. But the chopsticks match my ethnic background. It would be weird if I used something else”, Sarah smiles.
Equipped with her chopsticks, the young woman has developed her own personal tattoo style. Her artworks usually look quite dark and often show animals or hybrid creatures, a way of drawing that hasn’t really changed since she was a child.
“I used to draw really weird and messed up stuff when I was younger and my drawing ideas haven’t changed ever since. They have only gotten better. An example of a really crazy tattoo that I have done is the hybrid of a jellyfish and a cat, a ‘jellycat’ so to say which covered the guy’s entire calf.”
As hand-poked artworks are usually rather small, a tattoo the size of a human calf is already quite impressive, but it is by far not the biggest one Sarah has ever done in the Blue Dragon Tattoo studio. Among all the tattoos she has done so far, there is one that particularly stands out!
“I once tattooed a guy who wanted to have a hand-poked crow from his leg all the way up to his chest. It was the first large tattoo I had ever done. It takes a lot of stamina and discipline, especially when you do it all by hand because after a certain time it hurts. But by doing that large piece, I realized I could do big”, Sarah remembers that important moment in her career and of course, as every tattoo artist, Sarah has got lots and lots of tattoos herself!
“I probably have around sixty and they are all part of my life because they all relate to memories. For example, this panda bear here is linked to a guest tattoo spot in New Zealand. The tattooist there, Paul Gledhill, tattooed me and I tattooed him. I asked him what he wanted to tattoo and he just drew a panda bear he really liked. So, this always reminds me of New Zealand although it is a panda bear”, she says, showing her right forearm.
Guest tattoo spots in New Zealand, Australia and Paris, tattoo convention in Brighton and even tattooing in the amazon rainforest… the artist has already been asked to attend different conventions and tattoo events in other countries, but for the moment, Sarah prefers staying in Brighton and “keeping it local”, as she says.