Tati Compton is living life all the way up. The stick-and-poke tattoo artist caught a serious case of wanderlust. After travelling the world working odd-jobs and busking, Tati took up tattoo artistry and settled-unexpectedly-in LA with her husband.
Now, with the popularity of stick and poke tattoos growing, Tati is living the dream. CONVICTS caught up with Tati and got her word on Black Sabbath, giving tattoos in a k-hole, and cuddling.
Hey Tati. Where are you initially from?
I’m from the Bay area.
What brought you to LA?
I was living in London for three years. I lived there because my husband Danny is from England. We came here on holiday from London and got kicked out of our flat while we were here, so we just decided to stay. I didn’t want to move here at all but Danny is a painter and he had a really great studio that was really big and cheap which you can’t find in England and he loved it.
Has LA grown on you since then?
I like it now. All my friends are here. It’s a good lifestyle. You have everything you need. It’s warm.
Define ‘everything you need.’
All my friends and good food and things to do and you can escape to nature and all that jazz. All that stuff everybody loves about LA. That’s why everyone’s here.
What escape spot do you like to hit up?
Danny and I have this little lodge out in Palm Springs that we retreat to sometimes. It doesn’t have a television or anything. It’s got a saltwater pool and we just go swimming.
Sounds awesome. Switching gears a bit: how did you get into the stick-and-poke tattoo game?
Dude, I worked every job under the sun forever. I’ve painted houses. I’ve been a housekeeper. I’ve been a bartender. I’ve been like all that stuff. I was managing a vintage clothing store and I had a breakdown at lunch one day and was like ‘I can’t fucking do this anymore. I’m just going to go crazy. I have to do something else.’
When I quit, I saw that there was like a niche for tattooing small tattoos at a cheaper price. Mostly for girls who were too intimidated to go into a tattoo shop and ask for a tiny tattoo and pay a lot of money. I was like ‘I can do that.’
Was that your ‘fuck it’ moment when you decided to chase the dream?
I don’t know if I actually knew that at the time. I just knew I could be doing something more fulfilling in my life that was more creative. I just knew I had to quit.
Sounds like you had a bit of wanderlust. Can you talk about that?
I used to live in my van. I would busk for money. I used to sell peacock feather earrings on the street. Oh my god, I was so broke at some points. I remember scraping up a hundred pennies to buy enough ramen to feed two people.
What brought upon your van life? Did always just want to travel a lot?
Mushrooms basically changed my life. It inspired me to do the opposite of everything that I was planning on doing: going to college, being a fashion designer. I wanted to do everything opposite, so I decided to go traveling. I went to India, Morocco, and London and then came back to San Francisco and got a van with my then boyfriend and tried to drive to the tip of South America, Tierra Del Fuego. We made it down to Costa Rica. We spent three months driving through Mexico and three months driving through Central America.
Then we shipped the van to Europe and I went traveling through South America while it was overseas. Then we drove all across Europe from Holland to Spain to Norway to England and we did it on his money. He got kicked out of an apartment and they paid him 10 grand so we like spent all that money and then when we ran out of money in London I ended up working four jobs for nine months. Eventually we saved enough money to ship the van back to America I drove it around New York, drove it to Canada. It died in Winston-Salem in North Carolina. That’s when we were the brokest. That’s when we were scratching pennies.
What was the first stick and poke tattoo that you gave?
The first one I did was on my friend Moses. He gave me one and I gave him one. We were hanging out in his room listening to Metallica. I was actually kind of heartbroken because somebody had said some rumors about us and we were just friends. So we were kind of pissed off and just like ‘fuck it’ and gave each other tattoos. Then my best friend was actually making stick and poke documentary for her college film class so I offered up my arm for her to do one on me and film it.
You can still find it on youtube. The comments are so funny. They’re like, ”Idiots, who would get a square on their arm, you guys are so stupid?”
That’s pretty funny. So the first tattoo you gave, and the first tattoo you received were the same?
No, the first one that I gave and received we did matching ones. They were little dots on our fingers and like mini little vampire bites on our wrist. They were just little dots.
What’s your favorite one that you have?
My favorite one… is probably my Black Sabbath one from Moses. We were on acid and we were out in the backyard by a fire and we were listening to Black Sabbath really loud and tripping out and it was fun.
Is Black Sabbath your favorite band?
Yeah and I got a Leonard Cohen tattoo too. I got him on my arm.
Is music a big inspiration for you?
I guess so. It puts me in a mood or gives me an idea. I have to be listening to music. It affects what I draw.
Are there artists or styles that inspire your work?
The only person I’m inspired by illustration-wise was Robert Crumb, just cause I looked at his stuff at the early age. I found the Crumb documentary when I was in high school at the library. Yeah, he’s the only influence.
Do you have any hint at what your style would be?
I really like tattooing naked ladies and kind of cultish things. But people know me for my delicate wrist work and stuff. Stick and poke is really organic feeling. You can tell that somebody has made it with their hand, it has a really personal feel to it. Once it’s on your skin it feels like it’s been there forever. So, my style is hand poked.
Do people ever ask for a tattoo that you’re not feeling or that doesn’t gel with your style?
I can tell in the email if their idea doesn’t really suit my style. If I don’t think I would execute it well, I’ll recommend someone else to them. I usually try to choose things that will really work well with my style.
What kind of hobby stuff do you do outside of your illustration and tattooing, or music?
Getting drunk. Cuddling. I really like cuddling.
Any funny stories from the tattoo game?
One time I gave myself a tattoo on ketamine. Actually I gave my friend a tattoo on ketamine too and it was so shit. Both of ours. I was so fucked up, so I went over it. I covered it up.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
My only advice to anybody would just be to have fun, cause that’s just the best thing in life to have fun. Just make sure you are having fun. I dunno. Why would you spend a life doing anything other than having fun?
We have no idea Tati. Thanks for the chat and best of luck with everything.