The violent ingenuity of Kelly Violet: A testament to finding what you love and letting it kill you

(First published in Forever More: The New Tattoo)


Kelly Violet 1.jpg

Kelly Violet has come a long way since her DIY punk days scrawling “proper shit” tattoos on her friends’ sacrificed skin. Her desire to create art, but aversion to the term artist, drew her into the craft of tattooing where she has remained for the past fifteen years inexorably evolving.

“I started tattooing because I was an angry little teenager who always wanted to be different. I was weird, I didn't really fit in anywhere, I wanted a career in an 'arty' area as it was the only thing I felt I was mildly OK at, so ‘tattooist’ seemed to just fit with me so well—I got to draw and still be a weird little asshole.”

Starting with a traditional apprenticeship she soon opted to teach herself, a method of learning Kelly would never recommend, “it takes twice as long to learn everything and you have no one to help you when you haven't got a clue what you're doing.” She puts it down to being young, uninformed and naïve, however, it was this method, coupled with years of sacrifice, sleepless nights and “pure hard graft”, which cultivated the truly original style and meticulous attention to detail we see today.

“My style is—my style. It grows and expands—sometimes quicker than I'd like due to trying to retain some semblance of individuality.”

Kelly Violet
My style is—my style. It grows and expands—sometimes quicker than I’d like due to trying to retain some semblance of individuality

For Kelly, creating something original in an oversaturated industry plagued with reproduction, steeped in tradition, while host to a revolving door of fads—is sine qua non.

“Influence to me is taking inspiration from the work of others and applying it to your own aesthetic; compassionately integrating something someone else has worked hard for, and making something new for yourself. Not just trying to replicate every single individual feature someone has spent their entire career building up to. The technique, the shading, the composition, the contrast, the exact shape and shading of something simple like leaves- the tiny details implemented by years and years of artistic self-hate, sacrifice, and dedication. To take all of those things and get recognition for reproducing someone else's soul is astounding to me.”

Although she laments the way social media facilitates the pseudo “metaphysical maverick”—scribbling on someone’s skin three times a week and calling it hard work with the support of 50,000 plus followers—she is reluctant to completely discard the medium because of the overwhelmingly positive uses it has for work. And by work, she, poetically, means work: “I don't take kickbacks, I don't accept free stuff, I don't post pictures of my tits or my pouty face constantly. I'm a fat, old female, with the social skills of an aggressive three-legged guard dog—so I know that it's my tattoos that some people want to look at, nothing else.”

Kelly Violet

The years spent developing her own flavour and palate while striving for perfection were all-encompassing and wholly consuming, never switching off, and entirely framing her existence—which can be exhausting. The hardest part of her job, she says, is herself.

“Tattooing is my best friend and my worst enemy. I used to pride myself on my short and long term memory but now I literally can't remember anything about the film I avidly watched last night, but, I can tell you James' appointment in January 2019 needs extending because he wants to add a tiny dismembered leprechaun to his right arm, just below the elbow… That's fucked up.” Although, she’s quick to add, an incredibly evolutionary state of being when it comes to her tattooing.

Kelly Violet

Note that, time of writing is July 2017, and even after the rude and illiterate are filtered out, her backlog of emails is in the nauseating thousands—it’s a collection of expectant humans that induce guilt and anxiety in the already socially awkward, self-deprecating, self-confessed sweaty mess that is Kelly Violet.

‘They’ say patience is a virtue, and for those that exercise it the reward is Kelly’s acute dedication and humble virtuosity given to each idea and concept, and the weighty, almost ethereal movement of texture and painterly eye to detail encapsulated in each piece that defines Kelly Violet as a truly original tattooist.