I am so delighted to have had the opportunity to chat (virtually) with my beautiful friend and favourite tattoo artist, Ella Bell. This queen has been a huge inspiration to me for a good few years now, after I stumbled across her Instagram page back in 2016 (I think??) and fell madly in love with her style and ink work. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have her ink me up a good few times, and each piece she’s designed for me has been perfect. Seriously, for those of you who want to get inked someday, I cannot tell you how important it is to find an artist you truly love, and have so much confidence and trust in that you can just email with a vague idea and rough measurements, then leave them to work their magic.
Anyway, let’s get to the questions…
My darling Ella! You may just be one of the most beautiful artists, ever. When did you discover your creative spirit?
Hi Grace my angel! Thank you so much, I love you. Thank you for being such a fantastic client and friend! So I can’t really remember a moment of discovery as such, it was always just there, a familiar and integral part of who I am. I always loved making things as a child, and that creative spirit has only grown as I have. As I got older the spirit got a bit more drive and I really, really wanted to pursue my creativity more seriously, which is what led me into looking for a creative job. Making something you love into “work” has its own challenges, but being able to be absorbed in creativity is what my spirit needs, and I’m very grateful to be able to pursue it.
Photo by Erin Veness, tattoo by Ella.
How did you get into tattooing? I hear it’s a pretty tricky industry to find your feet in!
God yeah, I always felt like the doors were sealed shut and I literally didn’t know how anyone ever did it, it felt like such a distant dream. For a few years before I got my apprenticeship I spent as much time as I could getting tattooed, which made me realise how much I loved tattoos for a start, and also gave me lots of valuable one on one time with tattoo artists. If they were happy for me to ask questions whilst I was getting tattooed, I did, and I ended up learning a lot about the industry and about how they themselves got into tattooing – I heard lots of stories and gained really valuable insights that helped me to build up a pathway in my mind of how I might be able to do it too. I then spent about another year working on my portfolio, improving my drawing and painting; and finally I began researching all the tattoo studios and tattooists that were in my area, to see where I could go first and ask about an apprenticeship. I was living in Plymouth at the time, and the tattoo studio Attica was my first choice. I took my portfolio in very nervously – they asked me to improve on a few aspects of my work and come back in a month or so, which I did, and luckily after that they took me on. I felt very lucky to get an apprenticeship at a studio I had chosen. I predominantly learnt under Steve McKenzie, but Martin Tay and Paige Spurdle who were also tattooing there at the time inspired and taught me a lot too, and I’m very grateful to all those guys for their support at the start of my career.
If you *had* to pick… what kind of tatt is your favourite to do?
Oh man I don’t think I can choose! I absolutely love tattooing ornamental and botanical work in equal measure. Some days I feel like doing one more than the other, but I love them both so much for different reasons. Ornamental work is more stressful to do because of the emphasis on symmetry, there really isn’t much room to fuck up, but the finished piece is always so beautiful, it has such a high reward factor for me, and I just love how timeless and gorgeous it is. On the other hand, tattooing plants and flowers feels really organic and fluid to me, and I love making those pieces flow with the body. Nature is always my first source of inspiration and tattooing natural imagery feels like making a homage to it every time.
You travel around a lot, to different studios (y’know, in a normal year). Do you have a favourite place? Is there anywhere else you wanna go?
I miss guest spots so, so much. I just love it, I love going to different studios and meeting different artists, and being able to work and travel is amazing. It always makes me so anxious but I manage to get through it somehow! I love returning to places, it’s like getting to know someone – Edinburgh, London, Brighton and Amsterdam will always be some of my favourite places to guest. In future I would absolutely love to tattoo in Germany, and closer to home I’d really like to return to my dear friend Meg Langdale in Leicester – she’s opened her own studio now, and I can’t wait to visit.
Photo from Ella’s portfolio.
Soooooo, how was your 2020? How did you find the lockdowns?
Mate, it’s been unlike anything. Time has gone so fast and so slow. I feel totally stagnant, like things have really come to a halt. I miss my friends and family SO much it breaks my heart, I miss hugs and spontaneous plans and mundane normality, I feel like I am craving for community and belonging. I’ve felt so disconnected from tattooing, and consequently from my sense of purpose and meaning. There’s been a lot of days spent literally atrophying into the sofa. Some personal hurdles were made extra hard to navigate because of the pandemic, which was very tough. I feel so fucking angry and bewildered at our decision makers and at the wider political landscape, and so sad for what’s unfolding around us. And I also feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend lockdown isolating safely at home, with a lot of time on my hands to pursue creative projects. I’ve loved getting into lino printing and having more time to make art for myself, I’ve been painting and drawing, knitting, making weird little clay sculptures, reading books, playing Animal Crossing. I really enjoyed those sunny days in lockdown last year, I spent weeks just perched on our fire escape landing (aka our “garden”), painting and sunbathing. I feel very grateful to my boyfriend for his company and support, we’ve kept each other relatively sane! But yeah man just fucking all over the place really lol. I think the general overall flavour is a spice level 10 mix of “God I am lucky”, “when will this end”, “total lethargy” and “eternal Twitter doom scroll”.
I hope your 2020 and lockdown were okay too Grace, you’ve been a beacon of relatable honesty and positivity throughout.
What is a life/career dream you want to pursue someday?
Oooh, okay! I’ve been trying to get my mojo back and think about the future again recently, it feels very wafty and vague atm, but I keep coming back to the idea of somehow co-operating a community art space, with some other people. And it would be a place to tattoo from, and it would function as a studio in that regard, but also it would be a place for people in the community to gather and run art workshops, or do painting evenings, or exhibit artworks. A print-making space and a place to sell flowers. To make music in and also do knitting evenings. Literally just like, a hub, a heartbeat, something heavily community orientated and also private enough that you wouldn’t get loads of daytime drunk walk-ins or people enquiring about laser removal. I have no idea where it would be or what it looks like exactly. I just love the idea of working in a multi-disciplinary space, where creative people feel at home and where we support each other. So that’s my quiet dream, just bobbing along in the background of my mind. I’m sure that’s a way down the road but it’s something I think about a lot. I’d love to travel more as well, for leisure and work. And my boyfriend and I really, really, really fucking want a cat and a garden, so moving house would be incredible too.
Thanks so much for your lovely questions Grace, it’s been a pleasure to sit down and answer them, and I hope you are well and safe ~ wishing you loads of love for 2021! xxxxxx
Thanks so much for chatting with me via email, Ella. Maybe someday we can go for coffee/gin again…
Ella is an angel, readers, and a genuinely wonderful creative soul. Check out her portfolio now, and her super cool art projects. Then follow her on Instagram, obviously.