It's all about the customer. Yayo interviews the brilliant Keety Mortem
Keety Mortem is a truly gifted artist and one of the hardest working tattooists in the industry. She hasn't always had it easy and is all too aware the challenges women face breaking into the industry. As tattooing enters lockdown number 2 Yayo arranged a remote interview with Nikita to find out what drives her to be the best of the best.
Q. Let’s start at the start, how did you get into tattooing?
A. I always loved drawing, designing and creating! Almost everything I had done in life had pointed towards tattooing as a career. Then came along Miami ink; I was hooked! Watching it day and night I became obsessed with the practice and the clients stories. I knew I wanted to be able to give people the closure, the celebrations and the confidence that a tattoo brings.
So I started speaking to other tattoo artists, getting tattoos myself, drawing constantly. I contacted a studio owner which eventually let me apprentice with him. The main reason I wanted to be a tattoo artist was as I touched on, the power of a tattoo. People lose family members, pets, friends and want a tattoo to help them grieve their loved one or they have a baby, a wedding or engagement and they want to celebrate those moments in life. Even if people dislike parts of their body, they put tattoos there and suddenly they love themselves again.
That’s such a beautiful gift to give someone; not only the tattoo but also the time. We spend hours with our clients as they speak open and honestly about their lives and we comfort them and celebrate with them. We are truly blessed to be able to have that trust from our clients.
"I love working for myself because I get the freedom to treat my clients in the way I want them to be treated."
Q. Where do you work now?
A. Almost a decade into the craft and I have just opened my very first studio. I am incredibly proud of what we have already achieved with the studio. I love working for myself because I get the freedom to treat my clients in the way I want them to be treated. We have a chalk board with a personal welcome message for each client who comes in. We have free tea and coffee for clients (when Covid buggars off) and we also have a large touch screen computer with our portfolios and designs on so clients can browse freely and easily. My whole studio is client focused, so we provide before-care, during-care and the very best in after-care. I think working in a few studios allowed me to see what works and what doesn’t work and what I wanted for my own studio.
Q. Describe your style. How did it evolve?
A. In terms of style I don’t stick to any one style as I like to be versatile and continue being able to offer a variety of styles to my clients. Many people know me for my dotwork and mandalas but lots come for me for realism and black and grey. I think my crafts developed from working with other artists and taking on board their comments. I never wanted to stick to one thing so I am forever asking questions and watching other artists work when I can.
"The thing I love most about tattooing is cheesy, but it truly is the clients."
Q. What do you love most about tattooing?
A. The thing I love most about tattooing is cheesy, but it truly is the clients. As much and they come to me for some form of therapy, I also definitely get the same benefits from my clients speaking to me about their lives. I also love that it gets to prove wrong my teacher saying “you can’t get a job cutting and sticking!” NURRRRR!!!
Q. Do you work in any other mediums? Do you paint, sculpt or draw
A. I love to draw both realism and cartoon styles for people. I rarely paint anymore with the studio being so busy but drawing is definitely my relaxing time!
Q. How have you survived Covid 19 and can tattooing survive the 2nd wave?
A. In terms of mentally surviving lockdown, I think I actually needed the break. I’ve had a very rough few years and lockdown gave me a chance to just stop and take care of myself and I’ve came out of lockdown a lot healthier both mentally and physically. In terms of financially, because I had been open 7 days I luckily got the small business rates grant; which helped to some extent but not loads. I also got a small amount from self employment grant. I was very fortunate.
I also started doing more commission pieces since I had more times. So I did a few realism portraits and some pet portraits. I started teaching myself to draw cartoons and offered those out at a cheap rate too.All these little bits added up!
I do believe tattooing can survive a second wave, the majority of us have had a huge backlog which means most of us are working extra days and putting money away in preparation for a second lockdown. Hopefully the government has enough to help us again.
"Sexism in the industry is very much still an issue in some studios."
Q. 5 years ago I wrote an article about sexism being a big issue in tattooing. Do you think sexism is still a big issue in tattooing? Have you experienced sexism within the industry?
A. Sexism in the industry is very much still an issue in some studios. The first studio I worked in (I won’t name for legal reasons) was especially hard. I was only taken on because I was a girl and was sexually harassed, controlled and mentally abused for five years, which, when I left, turned into physically stalking and required the need for an injunction. He was incredibly sexist and saw me as weak. Every studio except one that I’ve worked in, I’ve been subject to sexist comments or sexual harassment. All of which led me to my decision to open my own studio.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. My plans for the future are to keep bettering the studio, develop my skills more, help my apprentice become a stand alone tattoo artist and have many guests in the studio. I’m very excited for the future of the studio and being my own boss! My studio is Crescent Moon Tattoo Studio in Doncaster. We offer tattoos and piercings. Come and pay us a visit when we reopen.
A final thought from the author: "Well we are back in lockdown and tattooing is on hold. But we will survive this set back and Yayo is here to support you every step of the way. Keep strong brothers and sisters, there is light at the end of the tunnel!"
Yayo, be part of the family!
Words by Matt Haddon-ReichardtImages by Nikita-Mariee Mortem, Yayo and NHS England