Scratch the surface... with Lliam Noy
Shop: The Fall Tattooing
Address: 644 Seymour Street
Home to some of the industry’s best, Vancouver is a hotbed for tattoo talent. With hundreds of tattoo artists to choose from, it can be difficult for a client to know who is best suited to permanently alter their skin. In the Scratch the Surface series, Inside the Jar chats with local tattooists—asking them the 10 simple questions about their style, inspiration, and history—to get to know the artist beyond their digital portfolio. We’re kicking off the series in the heart of downtown, at The Fall Tattooing, where ITJ’s co-editor Piper met up with Lliam Noy.
PC: So why don't we start with how you got into this—what turned you on to tattooing?
LN: I’ve always been into art. After high school I went to art school. And I originally wanted to get into animation, I was always into the frame-by-frame stuff and wanted to try it for myself. But when I got there I started doing a few courses and realized it's really not what I thought it was. It was a lot of time spent on computers and you're not really doing what you want creatively. My focus had to be on doing other random technical stuff that I was never really into before. So, I got into painting and drawing instead, and took courses and in more traditional fine art. I think it pushed my art out of my comfort zone.
Eventually, when I started getting good at painting, I started seeing my friends with shitty tattoos and I was like: “Oh, yeah, I could do better than that”.
I couldn’t. I was really bad at first.
One thing led to another and I tried for years to get an apprenticeship. I finally did.
PC: When did you land your apprenticeship?
It’s funny because I was actually growing weed at the time. Weirdly, weed kind of helped me tattoo because it was a good job for me to be able to support my apprenticeship. I had to work seven days a week. So, I would do my thing in the morning—go clean, water, and stuff—and then eleven or twelve o’clock rolled around and I’d be off to the tattoo shop.
I was really lucky. It’s a hard industry to get into and I know people who don’t have the same luxury—so they have to work in a shop all day, then whatever, a bar, all night. It’s brutal.
PC: What was the first tattoo you got and the first you gave?
LN: I got this one on my 17th birthday. “Just giv’r”. I was really into Fubar. It’s not that I regret this tattoo, but it’s…it’s pretty funny, let’s say that. [He laughs] I drew this when I was 17. I was so proud of it. We had to rework it eventually because it was so faded.
The first I gave was either one of two things. I think, though, it was this Scarface chick. Remember there was that statue in Tony’s house with a globe, it said, “the world is yours”, with this chick holding it? But man it was so fucking bad. I still have nightmares about it. I remember wiping it once and half of it was gone. I started sweating bullets. In my head I knew it was horrible, by the end I was free handing it and probably shouldn't have been.
PC: And the second?
LN: Oh, right. So, it was either that or a sparrow I did on my sister, which I also failed at, too. It got infected and I felt like shit.
PC: It’s been five years since you’ve started, how would you describe your style at this point?
LN: I do lots of different stuff. I try and stay open ended with what I say I can do, but my main style would be new school, illustrative, neo-traditional a bit. I really like bright colours and graphics, bold lines and just strong illustrations.
PC: How did you grow into that style of tattooing?
LN: I think that came through painting, and just the way I learned to paint. Learning about foundational things like using contrast in everything, from the blacks all the way to white. I just kind of used what I knew from painting, like in acrylics and stuff, and transferred those tools over into tattooing. Learning to paint well first just kind of helped me with important things like knowing where to place colour and to give solid outlines, that kind of thing.
PC: Where do you find your creative inspiration?
LN: I follow a tonne of artists online. There’re so many good tattoo artists out there, but also illustrators and painters. One of my favourite artists right now is a guy named James Jean. He's from Taiwan, his stuff is just so fucking crazy. He’s known for all sorts of stuff, like realism, but he’s most well-known for these weird, rich, fantasy figures. So, yeah, I like looking at different art and artists and learning more about what I like, and then adapting elements of those styles into my own. I guess for me it’s about staying open to always learning more.
PC: Is there any tattooing practice, style, or body part that is a hard “no” for you?
LN: I mean, I don't touch eyelids. [He laughs] Yeah… I don't want to tattoo your eyelids. Anything racist or hateful, obviously, I don't want to do shit like that. For me, it mostly depends on the person. If someone comes in and they want their first tattoo on the face, I’m not gonna do it. But I will tattoo faces if they have an understanding of what they’re getting themselves into and if they have tattoos already. I almost kind of interview people a bit and keep it case-by-case.
Other than that, there’s not much I won’t take a stab at. I like a challenge. If someone came in and said, “I want Barney downing a bottle of champagne while riding a tiger,” I’d be like, “sick.”
PC: Dope! So, that answers my next question: Is there any style or concept you wish clients would ask you for more often?
LN: Yeah, I like wild shit. I like stuff that makes you go, “what the fuck?” I just love that shit. It's so cool doing stuff that makes me and my clients laugh. For me, one of the hardest things about fine art was finding what to do—what do I paint? You can paint anything, but it can be hard to push your imagination where it needs to go sometimes. The good thing about tattooing is people come to you with the beginning of their idea, and from there you can build on it. So, it’s always a collaboration between their concept and my creativity. Even when you’re tattooing a flash piece, it’s important to make it somewhat unique so it fits to their body and with other tattoos. It’s cool.
PC: What’s the weirdest or most bizarre thing someone’s asked you to tattoo?
LN: I did this one tattoo on this guy… it’s a bit fucked up… but he had this drawing, and I’m talking a really crude drawing, of two goats fucking and one was cumming on the other goat. I normally wouldn’t do that tattoo on just anyone, but he had a bunch of really crazy tattoos. He was a weird dude, but I actually ended up really liking the guy once I got to tattooing him. Just a crazy guy with some unique choices.
PC: How would you describe Vancouver’s tattoo scene?
LN: There’s a plethora of talent here. It's crazy how many good artists are here in this city. When you compare Vancouver to other cities around the world, they are a handful of artists who are contenders with the best on an international scale. And, of course, there's obviously also bunch of shitty artists too. But, in my experience, I’ve only been in this for about four or five years, I find the community here, of tattoo artists, pretty open. There is a camaraderie between artists here, and even though there are a lot of us here, it’s a small world and everybody kind of knows one another. And I think because there is that level of professionalism and talent it kind of creates, at least for me, it really pushes artists to keep stepping their game up. It is a type of competition, but not one where you're trying to beat the other guy. You're just trying to get better together. It keeps you on your toes to see an artist who works a few blocks away or whatever do something that blows your mind.
PC: Any shoutouts to other artists that you like?
I’ve got to give a shoutout to the Steveson Tattoo Company and Ryan Halter, the owner there. He's really awesome. And they've been a huge inspiration for me. Jimbow North at East Van Inc. He's my mentor. And just a really rad old school dude. He's been around forever. Kyle, who you can find @KyleFreshInk, he does black and grey realism. Miles Kanne, he’s on the Island now, but he’s another artist I really look up to. There’s an artist I’ve only met a couple times, his handle is @PencilSlayer (Carlo D’Onofrio) and he’s at Black Rider Tattoo—another really amazing artist. Then there are friends like Tony over at Adrenaline. There are a tonne…especially if you get further out from Vancouver, like Steve Moore, Rob Noseworthy, Clint Danroth. I could keep going and going.