Up Close: You're never too old for body art - but think before you ink says talented Ela Lawrynowicz owner of acclaimed Femnink Tattoos
By Layth Yousif
13th Apr 2022 | Local News
Hitchin Nub News aims to support our community, promoting shops, businesses, charities, clubs and sports groups.
We showcase some of these businesses, organisations and interesting individuals regularly in a feature called 'Up Close'.
For today's North Herts Up Close feature we popped over to see the incredibly talented Ela Lawrynowicz, owner of the acclaimed Femnink Tattoos in Letchworth.
So, read on for our in-depth Q&A with Ela who tells us you're never too old for a spot of body art - but think before you ink!
Nub News: Thanks for welcoming Nub News into your studio. We know you're a busy person so we'll crack on. We've seen a few of your designs and they're incredible, have you always been interested in tattoos?
Ela Lawrynowicz: I remember getting told off by my headmistress for tattooing one of my friends at school when I was about 12.
I've always been good at art but I didn't study it at school as I didn't think it would get me anywhere. I just didn't think I had a chance to become a tattooist.
After school I worked in an architect's office before I did end up working in a tattoo studio in Hitchin a few years later. I was there for about a year and learned so much about tattooing. He taught me everything and I have the utmost respect for him and always will have.
Nub News: When did you get your first tattoo?
Ela: I got my first proper tattoo when I was around 14. It was a rose on my back with my then boyfriend's name on, which has since been covered up. It was eventually covered up by some tribal work which lent itself very well to hiding the name. As it was my first tattoo I wanted to keep the rose but not the name.
I don't have as many tattoos as people might imagine. I've got one on my back, my shoulders, on my arms, my legs. I do plan on having more done at some stage. I tattoo myself where I can but as I'm right-handed there are only certain angles and areas of my body that I can reach.
There is a tattooist in America with a robot arm who tattoos people but I can't really use my left hand for tattooing.
Nub News: Tattoos are something that everyone is aware of, but very few are aware of the full process. Talk us through it…
Ela: The process normally begins with the client contacting me regarding the design. Some have a design in mind and some don't. With the clients that do have a design in mind I get them to send it across. With people who don't know I always offer a free consultation to discuss ideas. I'll ask them what they like and what they don't like to make sure I don't incorporate anything that they don't like. Then I'll put the design together and send it over to them for their approval while asking if there is anything they want to add, change, or remove.
In some cases I've been back and forwards with a client for a couple of weeks just to get the design right. I will always have a straight discussion with people in terms of my opinion as well. If something isn't right I will mention it.
With me it's whatever the client wants to a degree. If I don't think something will work I will tell them. I'll give them my advice. Especially if it's their first tattoo.
One particular client and his other half had just had a little one and he wanted to mark the birth. He wanted the baby's name, a pocket watch with the time of birth and a flower beside it. I said to him in my professional opinion your design is disjointed. The flower doesn't suit you. Your font doesn't suit and there's not enough detail in the pocket watch itself. He was about six and a half foot tall. I said the flower doesn't suit you, you'd be better off with roses. They're classical and never go out of fashion. I did actually say to him it's a bit of a 'girly' design. He took my comments on board. People tend to agree with my professional opinion as it's what I do. People do tend to trust my advice.
So I changed his flower into a couple of roses, and I suggested a rose bud put in to signify the baby, as a newborn. I also changed the font and I suggested he add the date of birth in Roman numerals. And I put more detail in the pocket watch. And we got to a point where he was happy.
The next part of the process is the stencil. I do the design by hand. It's a traditional way of doing things. Some people use software but the traditional way is to have 'flash'. Big folders similar to those old Athena posters that you would flick through. Like a massive flip chart. They used to have that in tattoo studios, or books of tattoos that the artist has created.
People would then take a look and chose the one that caught their eye. Now it's mostly online clients who want tattoos normally look online to get their ideas these days.
The stencil then goes onto the skin after the skin is cleaned, shaved if it needs to be shaved. And then you're ready to start tattooing. There tends to be an order when it comes to different colours. I also start in a certain position so I don't rub the stencil out.
If I start from the top left my hand would rub the stencil out, so I always start with the bottom right.
I think it was Da Vinci used to do mirror writing. He was left-handed. So, even though he was left-handed he would start from the right and work to the left because he didn't want to smudge the ink. It was easier to read his writing if you put a mirror to it.
These days I use a different machine. There are two different machines in general. A coil machine and a rotary machine. The coil machine is the machine people generally associate with a tattoo.
Most people realise that a tattoo is for life so they don't tend to go for weird and wacky designs in general. Although, I have seen a few strange ones in my time.
Nub News: We've got to ask. What's the strangest tattoo you've seen?
Ela: The strangest tattoo I've seen over the years is blokes who get a penis tattoo halfway down their thighs. So when they wear shorts you can see it hanging out the shorts…
A popular tattoo for a man on his ******* seems to be an elephant for some reason. Must be the long trunk…you can get numbing cream these days, but the soothing effect doesn't last long. I really have seen some awful tattoos in my time.
And then there are the really awful 'portrait' tattoos of someone like Freddie Mercury. What some people do when they come across such a tattoo is the get a real photo of Freddie and put the tattoo face on his real head. Some of them really do make you laugh.
I'm not overkeen on what I'd call 'Disney' tattoos. I'll do them but I'm not keen. Anything to do with Disney films and characters. Fairies. That sort of thing. People love Disney. I'm more than happy to do them, it's just not my thing.
I like classic tattoos. I like black and shade tattoos. I love doing roses. Watercolours at the moment.
Nub News: What type of tattoos are popular at the moment?
Ela: Facial tattoos are becoming fashionable nowadays. I don't know whether people think it's intended to shock people, to make a statement. People have their eyes tattooed these days. Not eyelids, eyeballs. I wouldn't attempt to tattoo an eyeball as it's not something I've been trained in. If someone wanted a facial tattoo I would sit down with the client and have a chat first.
If it's someone who is covered in tattoos then I may go ahead with it, but if it's a young person's first tattoo we would have a discussion. First and foremost they have to be over 18 but I do have morals and I don't think a teenager should have a facial tattoo as their first tattoo.
I always say fashion changes. That's why it's always advisable to think before you ink.
If something is in fashion at the moment you've got to think about whether it will be in 10 or 20 years time. Otherwise you may want it covered up in the future.
'Tribal' has been in fashion. Footballers tend to have them. Black tattoos with thick lines. David Beckham for example.
Gothic is 'darker'. Faces with no eyes and so on.
Something that is really popular at the moment is blackwork. Literally turning your arm black with ink. There is no coming back from blackwork. If you get blackwork done it isn't going anywhere. You could cover the blackwork with white but it won't make it white. It would be like a dark grey and you'd need more than one session. To try and get rid of it would also cost a fortune. Nobody in their right mind would do that.
Nub News: Think before you ink is good advice…
Ela: I have never tattooed a drunk person. I always say to people beforehand: 'Don't drink.'
I say to them don't even have a drink the night before. Why? Because it thins the blood. I don't really care about them being drunk. What it means is that alcohol thins the blood. So as you're trying to do the tattoo the customer bleeds more. It actually pushes the ink out. I tell them: 'You're wasting your own time, you're wasting my time and you're wasting your money.' Because that tattoo may end up looking terrible. The more you bleed the more your body pushes against the ink. I'd always advise people to eat before they come in.
Especially if it's their first tattoo. I've had 'pass-outs' before. I've had people pass out during a tattoo. I tend to have a supply of soft drinks on hand as the sugar helps to revive them.
I can normally tell when someone is going to pass out. The colour of their face changes. They go really pale. So I quickly put the equipment down and help them.
No-one ever stands when they have a tattoo so I don't have to catch anyone as they tend to be sitting or laying down. It tends to be first timers. They work themselves up so much to a point that they're so anxious about it. It's never that bad having a tattoo. It really isn't, but when you start tattooing them, all their anxieties come out and it overwhelms them and they flake out.
It's illegal to work on somebody who is unconscious so you would wait until they've recovered. And once they've come round they always say 'please carry on.' I've never had anyone who's said: 'No, I can't handle this.'
Where it is on the body makes a huge difference. I've never done 'those' sort of tattoos, and even if I had done I would charge as least twice as much. As a handling fee…!
Nub News: What would you say to people who say tattoos are painful?
Ela: I've tattooed different parts of my body so on certain parts I can advise and the rule is that generally the closer to the bone, such as knuckles, ankles, elbows, the more painful it will be. And as for having it on your nail bed, I can confirm it kills you.
Nub News: Your passion is great to see – what do you love about being a tattooist?
What do I love about being a tattooist? I suppose it must come from the art side of me. I just love the artwork. I love sitting there doing a tattoo. When I sit there and do a tattoo, I go into my own little world. I get into a zone where you forget about everything. Of course, you are concentrating and would never disregard the client, but I get fully immersed into what I'm doing and you do lose yourself.
You're paying for the skill of the tattooist. I get my inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. I was doing a tree pattern for somebody recently and I found myself staring at trees a lot. While I was driving around I found myself studying trees. Just looking at different trees. At their canopies. At certain areas on the tree where there was no canopy. At the branches. Leaves. I always try to immerse myself in the subject beforehand.
A lot of clients know what they want or have a good idea what they're after. So I put what I think they're after and we take it from there.
I've never had anyone come in and say: 'Just tattoo me.' At the moment I love doing watercolours.
Tattoos tend to fade after time. Black will turn blue. It's inherent in tattoo ink and ink in skin. Certain colours last longer than other colours. Black lasts longer than red for example.
Depending on where you get your tattoo done on tour body it will fade quicker. For example if you got a tattoo on the palm of your hand that would wear quickly – far quicker than a tattoo on your arm or your back. If you got a tattoo on your elbow not only would it be far more painful it would fade faster.
There is now a studio in the States that offers 'made to fade' tattoos. They fade within a year. No-one knows what they put in their ink, it's all top secret. It's popular with people who want to try out a tattoo. If they're unsure it will fade in a year. They actually guarantee all the ink to fade consistently.
Nub News: What advice would you give to aspiring tattooists?
Ela: My advice to anyone entering the industry now would be: Stick at it and get lots of experience.
You need a licence to tattoo people. Then you have the environmental health officer come out to you and inspect your studio. To check it's clean and of a good standard. If they believe everything is up to scratch they will then issue a licence. But you have to have a licence for the premises and a licence for being a 'practitioner' as they describe us.
My licence covers me anywhere in Hertfordshire. It's to protect everyone. I have been asked to come out to people's houses, but it's like moving my office. I also have to ensure their house is clean. I'm not prepared to do that. It's a lot easier to come to me. Also, it would be against legislation to work in an unlicensed premises.
My premises are new. It's an extension to my house. When you come through the front door you either turn left for the studio or turn right to go into my house.
Nub News: Your studio is very impressive and testament to your hard work. Did lockdown prompt your business…?
Ela: Thank you. I did build this specifically for tattooing. This whole project started before lockdown, before any mention of Covid.
I had an idea of what I wanted. I knew there were certain specifications you need for a tattoo studio. You need hot running water for example. You don't necessarily need to provide a toilet although I do. You only need to provide a toilet if you have employees.
I'm fortunate enough to be mortgage free. And I have paid for the extension outright. I don't have any overheads. It would be nice to make that investment back. That's why my artwork starts at only £55 per hour. Some commercial places charge upwards of £70 per hour, depending on the type of tattoo and where you have it done.
Nub News: You must be very proud…
Ela: Am I proud of this? Yes, very. Absolutely. Friends and family think it's great.
I'm also Level II qualified in electrical installation. Level III would have cost £3,500. So my boyfriend said: 'Are you sure you want to do this? It's a lot of money to do something you might not enjoy. You've always enjoyed tattooing, why don't you think about that instead?'
That was a light bulb moment.
Before that it just was a pipe dream. I didn't even consider the possibility of doing an extension to build a tattoo studio in my own home.
We did get to the stage of taking a look at a premises in Baldock just before lockdown. I'm really glad we didn't. Because i would have taken on a rental premises just before going into lockdown. I know people with beauty salons in Hitchin who really suffered during lockdown. Not only through a lack of customers but also through having to spend a fortune on PPE afterwards.
I'm not tied into fixed opening hours the way retail premises might be. I've sat here tattooing people at 1am. A man wanted a band around his arm with birds around his arm. He was busy and had things to do so the later booking suited him. I'll always accommodate people. A lot of people who use tattooists have to take time off during the week or use up valuable leisure time at the weekend but you can have a tattoo with me any time of the day or night.
I'm happy to work any evening or weekends. Sunday evenings are quite popular with me. People don't tend to do much on a Sunday evening which makes getting a tattoo a popular thing to do at that time. I've never been a morning person.
If someone wants to come earlier I will accommodate them. Someone had their Driving Test Theory and wanted to get a tattoo early in the morning so I agreed.
Nub News: Is it true you're never too old for a tattoo?
Ela: You're never too old for a tattoo. I had a women who wanted to treat herself to her first tattoo on her 60th birthday.
Tattooing people gives me an adrenaline rush. It gives me a certain high. It releases endorphins. It makes me happy. When a client goes away happy that makes me happy. When people tell you they love it, that makes me feel really nice. Getting a thank you, to me, is nice. I like making clients happy. I like it when they go away with a smile on their face.
Nub News: David Beckham said it's addictive in a nice way…
Ela: There are still tattoos I want to get. My inspiration comes from everywhere. I collect ideas from everything. Certain patterns I like could come from a box of cornflakes to a Da Vinci painting. Anywhere and anything. Certain texts or fonts. Anything that catches my eye. I'll jot it down.
If you want a tattoo, or are interested in learning more and would like to book a consultation with Ela, call her on 7309 228214 or email [email protected]