Chardonnay, her cat, poked Teniele at 5:58 am two minutes before her alarm would go off to race off to yoga. We were meeting early today to conduct my interview on the last day of four, seven hour sessions of tattooing.
“I don’t know how she does it, but my cat as the odd sense of knowing when my alarm is going to go off and comes and gets her cuddles two minutes before, every time,” Tenielle told me over my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, while she ate sushi.
When I’m power tattooing for long sessions my body needs protein to keep up the pain tolerance. The easiest way seems to be PB&J sandwiches, which I never eat at home.
I’ve always loved Teniele’s tattoo style but since I’m from the states and she lives in Australia is never seemed attainable to get a tattoo from her. But a few months ago I decided to just bite the bullet and fly to Australia just for a tattoo from Teniele. And since I’m flying all this freaking way I decided to go big. An entire right arm sleeve to be exact.
Of course I couldn’t make it easy on Teniele and myself. Noooo. I had to get an entire sleeve. When I emailed her asking if we could do this, I could almost see her eyes widen up from the other side of the world. But we made our plans. I would fly in, get tattooed for seven hours for two days straight. Then spend 8 days touring around Australia letting my arm heal. Then come back for two more days of tattooing before I head home. Not an ideal tattoo schedule, but the only way to possibly get it done. I could see Teniele had her doubts that I was going to be able to sit for four full days and take the kind of pain that was headed my way.
The first day we knocked out a lot and I was actually quite surprised. Teniele has been tattooing for a little over eight years and realized she would love to be a tattoo artist while in art college. One day when she was working in an art store an old college mate, Kellie McEvoy recommended her to a tattooist for an apprenticeship. Teniele showed him her portfolio and soon had a job in a tattoo shop.
Of course as most tattoo artists know. It’s not all fun and art. She had to put her in her dues and clean and run the shop while doing her apprentice work. But soon enough she was ready to branch out and her tattoo career took off.
Teniele’s work has a very distinct style. I was immediately drawn to it the first time I saw some photo of her work. She has an amazing ability to make tattoos look like artistic masterpieces.
When I asked her how she came up with her style and overall theme of women’s faces she said, “It just naturally evolved. I like to work with organic items like people, plants and animals. And someone sees something you did and they want something along those lines with differences and my art just evolved in a snowball effect.”
After seven hours of “sitting like a rock,” Teniele said. I went home for the day. Tonight Teniele was going to draw up the bottom half of my arm and we were going to tattoo that part tomorrow. My fingers were crossed that I liked what she drew. My ink is very personal and this arm pieces is about the ying and yang in me. My light and my dark.
I showed up the next morning in hopes of brilliance. Teniele did not disappoint. The artwork was amazing! I asked her how she works her creative process.
“Wine and chocolate,” she said with a wry grin. “I like it silent and to be alone when I start the drawing process. Wine and chocolate does the trick.”
Once she has done the initial artwork and starts to shade and flush out her idea, then she turns on music. But until then, she likes to stay focused.
Teniele grew up in the countryside of Australia. As soon as she was able to, she ran off to the big city. She attended college in Bribane and now works out of Tattoo Magic shop in Melbourne.
“What do you like about the city?” I asked her.
“I’m afraid of the dark!” she said with a silly grin. “I like the bright lights.” Of course she also likes the convenience of city living with all the stimulation, good food, good wine and, “someone will hear me if I start screaming.”
Made me chuckle.
Teniele has one client that brings all her most wackiest ideas to her which turn into amazing pieces of art. I can only imagine what Nova, Teniele’s friend and one of her favorite clients looks like. She has done a Tonka truck with a T-bone steak in the back of it and bloody tire tracks for her. She has also done the smart Gremlin from the movies with a book and gun. And to top it all off she did the dragon from the Neverending story with Darth Vader, a storm trooper and Chewbacca riding across it’s back. It must always be an adventure when Nova wants a new tattoo.
When I asked her what she refuses to tattoo these days. Without hesitation she said, “No more St. Michael’s fighting the devil!” I was amused. We don’t get that many St. Michael fighting the devil tattoos in the states. I knew there must be a story there.
She said that she use to tattoo up in one of the most religious areas of Australia and everyone always wants St. Michael fighting off the devil. I must have missed that Bible story in Sunday School.
On day two I was the first one in the tattoo shop and the last client to leave. And once again, I sat like a rock. I figured, if I’m going to fly 28 hours to get here and spend two weeks to get this sleeve done, I am going to sit and take whatever pain is dealt out. Otherwise this entire trip was a waste.
After a long…and of course, painful day, Teniele wrapped up the arm and sent me away to explore the outback for a little over a week before I would come back for my third and fourth beating.
It’s the summer season here, while it’s winter back home in the states. As many of you who have ink know, I have to keep my arm covered, out of the sun and water while I explore the outback…in the middle of the summer. But I did it. I came prepared with UV Ultra Cooling long sleeve shirts, arm covering sleeves and planned my stay around the ability to stay away from the water.
I had an amazing time up in the Northern Territory where I saw crocodiles out in the wild, pet and hugged kangaroos and fell in love with wombats and wallaroos. I’m still trying to figure out how to get one home! And of course the bats here are amazing. They actually have a Batman Lane in Melbourne. I was confused as to why it was called that until I was headed home from Phillips Island one night and saw that each of the tall buildings with lights on top have thousands of bats that swirl around like a whirlpool atop the buildings at night. The visual affect is pretty amazing and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Christian Bale Batman movie when the bats swirled around his head.
I came back to the shop after my mini vacation and for my third day of tattooing. Today we worked on my wrists, elbows and other tender parts. Holy mother of god that freaking hurt. But, as usual, I sat there as strong as possible and put in my seven hours. It was definitely the worst day and my lower arm was swollen by the time I left. But…we got the bottom part done and only had to finish up the coloring on the top tomorrow.
Teniele has traveled to London, Colorado and around Australia to do tattoo conventions. While I am the first person to fly to Australia for a tattoo from her, she has had a clients travel from California to London for a tattoo at one of the conventions and from France to London. She also has clients who while on holiday or vacation in Australia make it a point to schedule a tattoo while they are there.
Whenever people hear that I traveled to Australia just for a tattoo they think I’m a little crazy. But I think of tattoos as artwork and if you loved a certain painting from another country and you had to go pick it up, you’d go pick it up. Same with tattoos. I want a certain piece of artwork by an amazing artist so I go “pick it up.” J
As the fourth day finished up, my arm was the size of Australia. It screamed cuss words at me all day long and all night. But my plan for Valentines Day was to send my man off to a romantic wine country tour while I stayed in the hotel room with my arm elevated and on ice. I had to get it ready to fly home the next day. So a little sacrifice was in order.
Toward our time together I could tell that Teniele loves being a tattoo artist. When I asked her about it, she said, “ My passion is my job. I get to live to be creative.”
I can totally relate.
“But, I also hate that when the creative juices aren’t flowing I still have to create,” she added.
“Break out the wine and chocolates!” I said with a grin.