Inkerviews features the work of tattoo artists and collectors, as well as fine artists, in a series of interviews. With an exciting lineup already in place and endless more to come, I hope you will check back often to read about these incredible people and enjoy their visually stunning talents.
Throughout preparations for this article, one word kept coming to mind when thinking of Guen Douglas…delightful. Descriptively, it really is a perfect word when speaking about this talented artisan because everything she does truly is DELIGHTFUL. From her gorgeous tattoo work and paintings, to her eloquent prose; from her own stunning appearance, to her attitude and approach to life, she really is a delight to speak with and to learn more about.
Raised in a creative household by artistic and intelligent parents, it seems that the apple does not fall far from the tree; in fact, creativity and smarts are just two of the many blossoming branches on the “Guen Douglas Tree of Life.” While her first artistic outlet was ballet dancing, the “ink bug” hit her once she started collecting tattoos on her own skin. Determined to immerse herself in the tattoo lifestyle, she soon took the plunge and found an apprenticeship. From there on out, the industry has been graced with a dazzling talent.
Though there are many elements to Guen’s work and style, one that stands out is her unique touches of whimsy. She is able to make each design a little story of its own, adding playful touches and fanciful qualities as she goes. Her ability to tackle so many types of creative conceptions makes it easy to see why she is such a successful artist and so quickly emerging as an ink slingin’ star.
Though Douglas grew up in both Canada and the United Kingdom, she moved to Rotterdam, Holland a little over a year ago, finding a fantastic new home at 25 To Life Tattoos. Working alongside Nico “Slicknick” and Barbara, the shop is known for its outstanding work and easygoing atmosphere.
As Guen learns the Dutch language and settles into her newfound home, she was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about her tattoo journey and what is up next on her agenda. I hope you enjoy learning more about this (dare I say again) delightful lady.
Were you always artistic growing up; with crayons, pencils, and paper at your side? Did you ever envision yourself becoming an artist (for a living) back when you were a youngster?
My mother has a degree in graphic design, is a painter, and worked as an art teacher for a bit. She and my geologist/hydro-geochemist father (he prefers to be referred to as a natural philosopher - haha, love it) definitely raised us to be creative thinkers. Pencils and paper were just a few of the ways they kept us creative. My first love, however, was dance, specifically ballet. I wanted to be a ballerina (I think a lot of girls did), almost went to university for it too, but I don't think in my wildest dreams I could have imagined the career I fell into. I wanted to be a lawyer. (ha ha)
What was the first piece you had tattooed on your own skin? Did you think at the time that you would love to be on the other side of the machine? Any epiphanic moments where you knew this was what you wanted to do?
Ha ha, oh this is embarrassing! My first tattoo was a kanji that means "to mourn." I was so goth (still am at heart, ha ha). I was always attracted to people on the fringe and I think that's what motivated me initially. wanted to be a part of that.
When I got my first sleeve I told myself that I would never work a job where my tattoos would be a problem. I started getting tattooed more and more and eventually I fell in love with tattooing in its entirety, and wanted to be as immersed as possible. It became the next logical step to learn to tattoo.
How did you learn to tattoo? Did you have a formal apprenticeship? Can you tell us about that time in your life?
I did indeed have what you would call a formal apprenticeship. I worked full-time at the shop for free and bartended at night to pay the bills. It was the worst/best time of my life. I think most people that learned to tattoo in the "old school" apprenticeship way will say the same; being constantly built up and torn down is a roller coaster emotionally, but it serves its purpose. It keeps you humble and willing to learn. It's not something I'd care to repeat, but I wouldn't trade the experience.
You grew up in Canada, but now live in Holland. How did you made your way to the Netherlands and how do you like it there?
I have lived half my life in the UK and the other half in Canada. I had always wanted to make my way back to Europe (my immediate family all lives in the UK). I met Nico (Slicknick) the owner of 25 To Life Tattoos and everything fell into place. I've been in Holland now just over a year and I have no plans to leave. I love it here. I now have the opportunity to travel, work, and I have the time to draw and paint. My life is pretty stress free.
Is it significantly different living there or do you find many similarities (both in everyday life and in the tattoo world) between the two locations?
Learning a new language is proving more difficult than I imagined, but hopefully the longer I live here the easier it will become. Also, having lived in overly polite and politically correct Canada for the past 15 years, I was unprepared for the directness of the Dutch. It took a little getting used to but it's actually quite refreshing to be spoken to with directness. I'm trying to find a happy medium for myself, my sensitive Canadian ways die hard!
In terms of tattooing, I find traditional styles (Japanese and Old School) are much more popular here than in the area of Canada I was living. I see the "traditional" influence in my work more, strengthening my style rather than taking it over. I can tell I made the right decision in coming here just by looking at how much I’ve improved in the last year.
Can you tell us about the shop you work at in Rotterdam? Who are the other artists you work with? What is the vibe like there?
I work at 25 to Life Tattoos in Rotterdam, Holland. It's such a lovely shop, it has such a relaxed and quiet atmosphere. There are three of us that work there permanently; Slicknick (the owner), myself, and Barbara (Swingaling Tattoo), as well as a few regular guests that come for visits throughout the year.
Your work is so outstanding with such an eclectic and delightful range; from whimsical animals and floral to pin-up girls, foodie lovers designs to flirtations with old school images. How did your style develop and what’s your favorite type of piece to work on?
Aww, thanks. :) I love working on pieces where the client has given me a little wiggle room in terms of design. The most difficult thing for me is when I am given a list of strict limitations, for example, "There must be three roses and each rose must have 18 petals and four leaves each, and the banner has to spell the letter ‘M’ and have this long Latin phrase in it, and there can't be any orange or blue anywhere in the tattoo, and it can't be bigger than my palm.” (ha ha)
It's nice to have guidelines, naturally, but I think having an open mind is the best way to getting a great tattoo out of any tattooer. Personally, I find I work much better with concepts, especially now that meaning has become a top priority to so many new tattoo clients. I would rather the client tell me what they want to convey and let me help them find something that suits them and the concept, that still works visually.
I feel like my own personal style is still evolving. I've always been more influenced by my interests outside of tattooing than other tattooers (hence all the food tattoos! Haha, I love to cook) but with that being said, with the internet you can't help but pick up a trick or a detail here or there. You really can't avoid seeing other people's tattoos and paintings, and naturally it influences the way you work.
I've also been lucky enough to have been tattooed by a lot of tattooers whom I admire and every time I get tattooed I learn a little something about the process that I can take home and apply to either my drawing or to tattooing. However, the most life changing advice I ever got about drawing was from a former co-worker, Richard Morrisette (Ventura Blvd). I had been asked to draw a few dragons for a piece of flash (during my apprenticeship) and I was really struggling with a fantasy dragon. I just couldn't make it mean enough looking. Richard said I had a feminine drawing style and that I'd be better off not fighting it, simple and effective advice. Since then I try to stick to pieces that are neutral or feminine and I leave the dragons to Slick nick (haha).
I particularly love your delft blue and monochrome techniques. When did you first try a piece like this? Do you dig working with one color and dabbling with all the hues to reach such a beautiful result?
Delft blue had a surge in popularity last year in design and fashion here in the Netherlands and it was everywhere you looked. I had been telling Nico how much I'd love to do a Delft blue sugar skull and then one day a guy came in and said he wanted a Delft blue sugar skull!! What are the chances of that? It was too perfect. I looked at as many Delft pieces as I could and matched the colors to inks that I have (wouldn't it be fun to put out a Delft blue color kit?). The only thing with these tattoos is they have to be looked after really well...which means sunscreen!! Because color lines have a tendency to expand a little more over time. I try and use really tight groupings to leave room for expansion and I won't do sleeves or back pieces in this style. I think it'd be blue overload!
Do you plan on traveling much this year? Any conventions planned? And if so, do you have appointments still available?
I have a few travel plans this year. This month I'll be at the Brighton Convention and will be doing a little guest spot at Magnum Opus. February, Slicknick and I will be in Milan at the convention. Also planned this year are the Montreal and Brussels conventions, and hopefully London; and I'm also hoping to set up guest spots in Stockholm, Stuttgart, and Mons. For appointment information people can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
Do you like to listen to music when you are tattooing or painting? If so, what’s on the “Guen Douglas rotation?”
Generally, we listen to Nico's ipod on shuffle at the shop, so it's usually a pretty eclectic mix. As for painting, it changes all the time, but these days it's been: Mono, Muse, White Lies, Devil Makes Three, The Black Keys, Townes Van Zandt, Carla Bruni, The xx and Band of Horses, but sometimes I just paint in silence. It's nice too.
What’s your favorite medium to work with when your artwork is not skin-related?
When I'm not baking cakes I prefer watercolors, ink, and paper. But I also love photography and have a pretty sizable collection of vintage cameras. I like to take pictures of trees and buildings the most.
What are your goals for 2011? What can fans expect from you next?
To get better at what I’m doing, travel a bit more, and I would like to master the Dutch language!! (ha ha)
I know you have a big online following. Where can readers find you, connect, and keep up with your artwork and ideas?
What is your favorite thing about being a tattoo artist?
I make art that people take with them to their graves.
What do YOU hope to get tattooed next?
I have another appointment with Lus Lips in March for the other side of my neck. I am already bursting with excitement.
What one word best describes you?
I sent Nico a text message and asked him what one word would describe me, you know what he wrote back? “Squirrel," because they are hyper and collect things (ha ha ha ha…amazing).
I would have said "curious."
How about your work?
"Eclectic." I think sums it up.
Be sure to visit Guen at www.GuenDouglas.com to keep up with her magnificent work, as well as:
Last updated on January 29, 2011 by Jinxi Boo