Guen Douglas is a British/French Canadian tattooer who’s style frequently celebrates feminity with a blend of American traditional. Her combination of bold and delicate make for some fantastic tattoos, focusing on some very eye-catching and thoroughly refined subjects. You can spot one of Guen’s ladies from a mile away; the mixture of softer subjects and a strong colour palette, combined with clean, bold lines and the perfect amount of contrast are what really define her work.
Guen Douglas is now a full-time artist at Taiko Gallery, working alongside Wendy Pham, producing some of the most powerful tattoos in Berlin and carving out her niche style in the capital.
How did your relationship with tattoos begin?
A friend of mine had a tattoo already in high-school, and I thought she was really cool and daring. I got my first one when I was in uni at 17, a little kanji hidden on my lower back so I could hide it from my parents. I got a few more small ones over the years, but I didn’t start getting tattooed in earnest until I was about 21. I was working in bars and nightclubs where I could do as I pleased when it came to the way I looked and I took advantage of it; making a conscious decision at the same time that I never wanted to work anywhere, that didn’t allow me the freedom to be myself. During that period I met quite a few tattooers including those that would take me on as an apprentice.
Tell us more about the start of your career in tattooing. Did you do a traditional apprenticeship?
I did a very traditional apprenticeship for about three years. It was one of the hardest times in my life and one I certainly wouldn’t enjoy repeating now. I think this type of training does, however, prepare you mentally for what you encounter as a professional tattooer. You learn that this job isn’t about you, it’s about your clients and to check your ego at the door. A skill I feel a fair amount of young tattooers lack these days.
How long have you been tattooing?
12 years this month (July) I started my apprenticeship in June 2005 and started tattooing July the same year.
You’ve worked in some incredible shops during your career, moving around Europe quite frequently. What has it been like working with such amazing artists?
I think you can learn from anyone and everyone and sometimes the lessons have been what not to do or lessons that aren’t about tattooing specifically. It’s also been interesting to play multiple roles depending on the shop; mentor/mentee. I feel like there’s never a point in your career when you’re finished with your journey. I’ve left shops before in search of guidance and feel like now I’ve found a really great balance with Wendy because we have both been tattooing the same amount of time. There’s a really lovely balance between us.
How did you develop your style and get to where you are now with such recognisable pieces?
The shop I started in had an artist for every style and with so many tattooers and lots of toes that could potentially be stepped on I had to find my place. I wasn’t allowed to do tribal, traditional, Japanese, realism, lettering, so I just drew what came to me and found that people liked it. At first, my style was more illustrative. It wasn’t until I moved back to Europe in 2009 that I fell in love with American traditional; it’s boldness and longevity. I feel like adding the elements of American traditional to the neutral or often feminine quality of my work gave it more strength. I also feel like the evolution of my work has mirrored my own life, getting more confident and stronger as I get older.
What machines, inks and needles are you currently using?
I’ve had a seven-year love affair with Seth Cifferi’s liners so my daily liner in one of his. My daily set up also includes a Dave Bryant liner and an el hombre invisible shader. I can’t say enough great things about those shaders, so well made and versatile. I’ve been using exclusively magic moon needles since 2009; they are so consistently well made and the guys that run the company are so lovely to deal with. Inks is a mixed bag really. I am a colour junkie, so I tend to buy lots, try it all and then pick and choose what works for me, so I use up to 5 brands of inks.
Working alongside Wendy Pham, do you find yourself picking up bits and pieces from each other despite your different styles?
Absolutely! I am learning to take my time and work more illustratively, now that I’m not moving around there’s no more time pressure, in the same way, that there was before. I can see already the influence we’ve had on each other. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to our work in the future.
Where do you go to get inspiration?
From everything around me. I take lots of photos, and these days I’m painting lots of wine-related things because I’m studying wine and it’s on my mind. I like to tell a story with my work, so I pull from film, literature, history and experiences oh and food.
You recently appeared on the TV show ‘E4’s Tattoo Artist of the Year’ as a guest judge. What was that like?
To be honest, it was actually a really lovely experience. Jay and Rose are so fun to be around, and the production company took a really sensitive and respectful approach to making this show. It was a great day of filming and one I’d be happy to repeat with this crew.
What influenced your decision to do so, despite the stigma often surrounding these kinds of shows? I think a lot of people were surprised to find yourself and Stuart Robson on there, as well as Rose Hardy presenting it.
Rose and I talked at length before deciding to do it. I think for me the situation seemed ideal. The pitch was made by someone who really loves tattoos and is heavily tattooed himself. I could tell from the start of our correspondence that he wouldn’t risk exploiting something he clearly cares about. We all gave lots of input on how the show should be managed and things that we didn’t want to see. I think at some point we have to realise that this ten-year pop-culture interest in tattoos isn’t reversible, so it’s up to us as tattooers to participate in moulding it or choosing what parts of it to share. I think if we constantly look down our noses and divorce ourselves from this reality it will take on a life of its own. I was really happy with my small part on this show. I wanted to make sure the clients on this show were treated respectfully, that criticisms were fair and I wanted to come away having held onto my principles. I feel like I accomplished that. I was really nervous before airing however because of the stigma that these shows have amongst my peers, but all the feedback I got from tattooers was positive. Huge relief! ha-ha.
My personal criticisms of the show were the narrator and the over editing; It wasn’t perfect but it was an improvement over other recent mainstream tattoo TV. I’ve had similar feedback from others about there being an actual passion for tattoos during the production which is refreshing. What do you think future programs could learn from Tattoo Artist of the Year and what would you like to see improved on or changed if anything?
It’s still television, I think people have to remember that this isn’t documentary filming. It still falls into the reality TV bracket and that’s going to be filmed a certain way. I think if it was filmed without so many camera angles, narration and edits it wouldn’t look professionally made. if people want to watch something that’s more documentary-like I would check out an early 2007 TLC show that was made called “tattoo wars”. I do feel that had this sort of show been popular more shows like it would have been made, after all, TLC also Miami Ink. They I think saw the potential for a broader audience with shows like Miami Ink. I mean look how popular ink master is and that show is rife with drama. People have to decide what they want to watch and good tattooers need to step up and participate in the creation of these shows if they feel like their industry is being misrepresented. Television caters to audiences, so as long as audiences want tattoo shows that include suspense and a little drama that’s what will be produced. I do think this show has to be commended however for keeping the drama to a minimum, being respectful to clients and involving tattooers in the creation process.
Tell us about your own tattoos; I bet some great tattooers have tattooed you based on the cities and shops you’ve worked in.
Funnily enough, I haven’t been tattooed at any of the shops I worked in permanently by co-workers. I would say most of the pieces I’ve collected over the last few years were when I was on-the-road and by people, I would consider my idols in tattooing. It’s always hard to book in with co-workers ha-ha it just never ends up happening when everyone is busy.
We often find you at Brighton Tattoo Convention; any more travel plans coming soon?
This year I’ll be attending the London tattoo convention, and the Kaiserstadt Tattoo Expo, next year Paris for sure and hopefully Brighton, London and Aachen again. I am not planning any guest spots right now since I am new to Berlin and would rather stay put. So if people would like to get tattooed by me, that’s the easiest way to book! We have a list of flight paths to Berlin on our website and hopefully a hotel and restaurant guide soon too to make travelling to Berlin easier.
You can find more from Guen Douglas at: