Our guest artist Habba was recently visiting... this time to receive rather than make tattoos, so don't kick yourself for missing the chance ;-) I took the opportunity to ask her some questions for a short interview. She will be back and until that time here is a little inspiration
And, for the Swedish and Icelandic impared...
Hrafnhildur Inga Guðjónsdóttir is more commonly known by her pseudonym Habba Nero. Habba was born and raised in Iceland and despite only having 2 years of experiance tattooing is quickly making a name for herself in the handpoking community, tattooing without the aid of electricity. A couple years at the Icelandic Acadamy of the Arts as well as being tutoured under the watchful eye of Boff Konkurz has helped her to develop her style and technique rapidly and we are hoping to follow her career for many years to come.
Could you start with how you got introduced to the world of tattooing?
Luckily for me I stumbled upon Boff Konkerz' artwork at the Icelandic Tattoo Expo and immediately fell in love with the style. I booked in with him on the spot to receive a tattoo. Over time we became good friends and I ended up travelling with him and assisting him during his guest spots. Originally it wasn't my intention to become his apprentice, but soon into the travels I started doing small and easy tattoos, under the supervision of Boff, on people who had seen my artwork and trusted me enough to let me practice on their skin. My technique and skill grew quickly and before I knew it tattooing had become my full time job. This resulted in my resignation from the art academy and we went on the road full time for a whole year doing guest spots.
What are the benefits of handpoking over machine work
The method I use is different from machine work in several ways. First of all it doesn't require any electricity, and I poke the ink in with a tool I make myself from a sterilised tattoo needle and a grip. That means there's no buzzing sound; the session can be completely silent and a relaxing experience. Secondly, the trauma to the skin is much less than with machine tattoos so the healing starts immediatly; there's hardly any scabbing, and very little aftercare is required. This makes the progress more enjoyable and my clients are usually pleasantly surprised. Of course this method is slower than machine work and limited to a certain type of tattoo style which are the only cons I can think of.
Do you have plans of taking up machine at any point?
I have tried using a tattoo machine a few times and even though I am interested in learning the art of tattooing with a machine I am more intrigued by the handwork and I don't see myself tattooing clients using a machine any time soon. People in this world are constantly trying to find ways to do things faster and easier so I find it calming to slow down and tattoo the same way as people have done for thousands of years before the machine was introduced.
Your mentor, Boff Konkerz is an old punk rock anarchist who has always been a vocal advocate that people should “just do it”. However looking at how good and fast your artistic progress has been do you see benefits in the older master/apprentice process as well?
I will forever be grateful for Boff's advice, supervision and teaching so I understand the positive aspects of having a mentor. It is highly unlikely I would be tattooing if it wasn't for him. Nowadays people can use Youtube as a teacher so having a mentor seems less important than a few years ago. The negative thing about learning things off the internet is that the person can't tell you if you're doing something incorrectly through the screen. Learning something as permanent as tattooing from a screen isn't therefore a very good idea and it is wiser to have someone there to advice you and help you advance in your skill and technique.
You seem to have a good sense for realism using the dotwork technique, however we are also seeing more of a graphic side emerging using Icelandic staves and rune magic symbols. What are these symbols and how do they connect with you culturally?
The Icelandic magical staves have been an interest of mine from a very young age. I remember spending my days at school drawing up runes and figuring out how to write different words and names in Futhark runes. My classmates would often ask me to write their names as well so I could practice. The runes quickly found their way to many of my sketches and drawings over the years of my developement and soon Celtic knotwork was occupying a large amount of them as well. I was intrigued by the old Icelandic artwork, mostly because during the early stages of Icelandic culture artists in Iceland had no option to study fine arts so the figures were usually very disportionate and weird. Later in the 16th century some people saw no way in bettering their lives other than turning to magic. And so the Icelandic magical staves were born. They were used to protect one's livestock, to get a girl to fall in love with them or to see if anyone has been dishonest or has stolen from them. The most popular one is the Waymark stave, or Vegvísir. That stave is used to guide your way in troublesome situations. In the days it was used it was often carved onto ships that were used to cross oceans. Today people use it to guide their way in life. Most of the Icelandic magical staves can be modified for the modern lifestyle; you could use the stave for protecting your sheep to protect your pets instead for example (or even your children if they act like animals).
Habba (and Boff) can be found at Íslenzka Húðflúrstofan (Icelandic Tattoo Corp.) in downtown Reykjavík.