FireFinch Tattoo: KZN’s youngest professional female tattoo artist is shaking up her local scene
Tattoo culture has been expanding rapidly in South Africa, and we are stoked to see more female tattoo artists emerging and becoming successful. blunt mag recently spent time with Robin Shaw, better known as ‘FireFinch’ – KZN’s youngest professional female tattoo artist.
By Chantal Graaff. Photos by Devon van Rensburg and FireFinch.
Based in the town of Pietermaritzburg, notoriously known as ‘Sleepy Hollow’, you can find Arbitrary Tattoo Studio. As the first professional female tattoo artist in the studio, Robin has made her mark and continues to grow in popularity and hone in on her epic skills.
Portrait of a tattoo artist
Ancient Egyptian priestesses are often credited as the first people to tattoo society. This supports the assumption that tattooing has long been associated with women. It wasn’t originally a male phrase until our contemporary age. This seems kismet as the majority of Robins’ personal sleeve features some beautiful Egyptian-themed artwork.
“Robin has gained a reputation amongst her clients for having an incredibly light hand. Her down-to-earth nature and sense of humour helps ensure a comfortable experience for anyone who walks into the shop, whether it’s their first or 50th tattoo.”
“While learning to tattoo, I started experimenting with colour. I had already grown a liking to neo-traditional and traditional styles; however, I normally kept it limited to black and white,” says Robin. “I finished my training and started offering my colour drawings and designs. They were ridiculously cheap and often took full-day sessions to complete; however, they became increasingly popular.”
“There is always the fair share of inappropriate comments and advances; I’ve had people come into the studio and downright ignore me even. I don’t think it’s something that will change in the near future, but already more female tattoo artists are popping up in the area, which is amazing. It feels great to be one of the first to change the stereotype.”
Robin has gained a reputation amongst her clients for having an incredibly light hand. Her down-to-earth nature and sense of humour helps ensure a comfortable experience for anyone who walks into the shop, whether it’s their first or 50th tattoo. Robin ensures a safe and inclusive space for all, proudly vegan and LGTBQIA+ friendly.
The reality of being a young female tattoo artist
The tattoo industry is renowned for being one of the most accepting and convention-defying industries; however, sometimes, it’s just as susceptible to some of the old school and ignorant mindsets. “It’s a weird mix of both ends of the spectrum,” Says Robin, “and as an artist, I see it every day.”
Like many female industry professionals, Robin has met her share of discrimination and is ensuring she takes control of the narrative. Paving the way for more young females to walk in her path.
“I’ve had people come into the shop and be utterly surprised that I’m not the receptionist and I’m actually a tattoo artist. There is always the fair share of inappropriate comments and advances; I’ve had people come into the studio and downright ignore me even,” says Robin.
“I don’t think it’s something that will change in the near future, but already more female tattoo artists are popping up in the area, which is amazing. It feels great to be one of the first to change the stereotype in my area.”
Quick Fire Questions:
What has it been like for you growing as a young female tattoo artist?
“Despite some of the negative experiences I’ve had and attitudes I’ve witnessed, I have built up an amazing clientele of respectful and awesome clients. I love the saying that a client will become a friend faster than a friend will become a client because I do consider a lot of my clients now friends, and it has honestly made it all even more worth it.”
What is your preferred tattoo style?
“I would like to think I can tattoo anything on anyone, but my go-to favourites are bright florals, portraits and animals. Working part-time at an indigenous nursery is a big influence on my art and tattoos. The feminine neotraditional will always be my go-to style, although I’m really excited to see how it will grow with me as I do as an artist.”
Did you always know you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
“Since I was small, I have always liked to draw, paint, sew, and do pretty much anything that involved working with my hands. But I’m not exactly sure where I initially began considering tattooing as a career. I think my first introduction to it was a Kat Von D show, LA Ink. Although thinking back, it’s probably not the best representation of what being a tattoo artist, especially a female one, is.”
Advice for anyone wanting to start tattooing?
“Everyone seems to have their own opinion on the right way to learn how to tattoo. There are tons of courses and online videos available. I personally am a traditionalist, I was taught the traditional, old-fashioned way. You find a mentor who’s willing to take you on, and it often takes years to get to a point where you can be considered up to standard. My advice to people who are wanting to start tattooing is that it isn’t a part-time job or even just a job. You have to be willing and wanting to put in the time to get good, and it needs to be a passion and a lifestyle.”
In times where there is still so much rigidity and conformity, art is there to inspire and break paradigms – tattoos being the ultimate sign of non-conformity and allowing the liberty we all need to embrace.
The culture and scene continue to expand, and we are excited to see more women sharing their talents and adding their take on the art.
Check out some of FireFinch’s art right here: