Sewing tattoos into skin – Laura ‘LAET’ Taylor creates stunningly beautiful tattoos at Sri Yantra Tattoo in Oakland, California. We discuss with the artist his profession and his inclusion in the world of tattooing…
You describe yourself as a seamstress in skin, can you tell us more? I started using my mother’s sewing machine around the age of five. One day she made me sit down in front of her sewing machine, and as I learned the machine technique, I discovered that I found machine sewing enjoyable. I was making quilts and clothes, small projects that turned into big projects, experimenting with a variety of fabrics and vibrant colors as I went.
15 years later, I attended Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London, a place that celebrates courageous free-thinkers and creative innovators. Going to this art school was a game changer for me. I felt seen by the staff and inspired. Being at CSM made me realize that my passion for textiles was a legitimate business, as I saw the same spark among textile students. I studied illustration there and was able to work on my drawing. I’ve always been looking for a creative space that combines my love of drawing and technical sewing with textiles. The tattoo has become that space for me. The intricacies of my tattoo designs often look like embroidery as I build them up, and that’s how the term “Skin Seamstress” came to mind and has stayed with me.
How long have you been tattooing and what attracted you to the industry? This year (2020) will be my 18th year in tattooing. It’s a pretty surreal feeling. I’m in my 30s and have been tattooing for over half of my life. It’s strange. I’ve been tattooing a lot less time than a lot of people, but a lot longer than others. Enough time to see huge changes and passing trends.
I would say I prefer the way things are going. A little more aware, a little more inclusive. It keeps the bar high, with artists producing better quality work with happier clientele.
The experience that brought me to tattooing was the first time I saw a tattoo on a person. It was the 90s era in London, England, outside the Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street. I saw a woman walking towards me on the street. She had a huge red mohawk, fully sleeved, and Doc Martens. She owned this road with her presence, and her confidence shone. I was four years old. I decided on the spot that I would tattoo.
How would you describe your experiences as a female tattoo artist, especially in light of recent events in the industry? I would say things have improved, slowly but surely. The industry is witnessing changes as the cultural conversation progresses and society advances. Being a woman in this industry put you in a minority group, but it also gives you a greater chance to make a difference and lead the change you would like to see. I believe in equality, I believe we get there one conversation at a time. I see changes and I remain optimistic and, as always, empowered.
What does the tattoo mean to you? The work you create and the tattoos on your own body. Freedom. Tattooing is a freedom for me. Artistic expression and freedom. Something worth striving for. A great aspect of tattooing is the ability to travel with your work. Tattooing has opened up opportunities for me to move to the United States and develop my skills more in depth. The work I create is strongly influenced by my love of textiles and nature. People will ask me for my flowers, which I will never get tired of! Nature is a brilliant resource and teaches us so much.
I personally have a collection of blackwork of about 15 different artists from the UK and states. Some are ornamental blackwork, some are very gothic blackwork, some are dotwork, and others are punk / prison style blackwork.
How would you describe your style? What inspires your creations? My style is complex and detailed for sure. Customers will approach me asking for large scale parts and keeping things complex. I would say this is where my dressmaking tendencies come into play; often my tattoos look like textiles on my skin. I am also inspired by my biracial heritage. I grew up in a British multiracial home with a variety of vibrant cultures surrounding me. I try to allow that to run through me in my work.
What do you like to tattoo and what would you like to do more? Nature will always be a favorite theme for me. It offers endless possibilities. I am always ready to tattoo floral tattoos.
Growing up in London, I felt the city’s medieval and Gothic architecture call to me. I’m a goth girl from Camden Town, and I spent a lot of time in the London goth scene as a teenager. Over the years, I can see these style trends show through in my work. So anything gothic will always speak to me personally.
We love your rich and opulent color palette, do you prefer working in color or black and gray, or is it like choosing a favorite tattoo – impossible? Difficult question! When I was tattooing in London, I was known for gothic blackwork. Customers mainly asked me for black and gray. I spread over the celestial style sun and moon pieces that I love to do, and tattooed a lot of tarot card representations. Once I started traveling to the United States, I had already done dynamic pieces. Mostly brightly colored peony or chrysanthemum tattoos. I started to receive a lot more interest in my color work once I arrived in the United States. I guess the color really took off. It’s pretty cool, come back to think of it, to think how my color style has exploded, even after I was known for a completely different style.
We have heard that many tattoo artists often refuse to tattoo dark skin, is this something that you have experienced? If you don’t know how to tattoo all the skin tones in the company, you don’t know how to tattoo. So you better learn. Tattoos are brilliant on black and brown skin tones. If you don’t know how to display your work on these tones, then something is missing.
How to make the tattoo scene more inclusive? What changes would you like to see, do you have any tips for black artists? I think significant progress is being made. Overall I don’t believe the tattoo is the racist place it used to be. Tattooing reflects society, and as society continues to be diverse, tattooing should be too. Accepting this is a simple but huge step forward. I would encourage any black artist passionate about the profession to get involved. It’s hard work, you have to be committed, but it’s also a birthright and something to be very proud of.
Is it important to call out cultural appropriation when we see it? How can the people who benefit from it make a difference? I watched the cultural appropriation get worse (especially in England, as we are not taught to know the building heritage of our colonial empire), I thought it was not important, but now I saw where it is led us, and as the cultural conversation progresses, I would like it to be more considered. Just think of marginalized cultures that don’t benefit. Tattooing is alive in society, we exist because of our diverse clientele, and I would like to see tattooing reflect and be respectful of that.