Meet Chantale Coady-McCombs, an award-winning tattoo artist from the UK. She owns and operates Picture House Tattoo Studio in Chippenham. Chantale joins Fueled By Death Cast to talk about her love of art and how her road to becoming a tattoo artist led her all the way to Australia and back. Plus, she talks about traveling the world appearing in conventions and how she hopes to start a fine art convention of her own. Learn about what fuels Chantale and where she thinks the future of art and tattoo is headed.
Jeff: Let's kick it off, then. Chantale, I want to talk about, from an artist perspective, I always love talking to artists and we will get into your bread and butter, which is tattooing, but I know that's got to stem from somewhere. Where did art come into your life? Were you always artistic as a child? Did you have a favorite artist that got you into wanting to pursue that? Where did art come from?
Chantale: When I was a kid I used to watch a program on TV that they had called Heartbeat and it was this old guy who would teach you how to draw different things and do different art projects. So I would watch him all the time, but I have a big family. I have four sisters and two brothers, so the house was crazy and I used to kind of like to take myself away up to my room and I would just sit and draw all the time and I drew so much that my mum used to have to get this printer paper because she couldn't afford drawing pads and I would just ... and wallpaper, she would buy me wallpaper to draw on the back of.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Chantale: So yeah, from a really young age I was always drawing in my room.
Jeff: So then go forward a little bit, did you pursue this in school? Was it something that you really were looking towards "I want to pursue art to one day be able to make a job out of it"?
Chantale: Yeah, well, I loved art and I excelled when I was in school at art, but it wasn't until I was 14 and I got my first tattoo and it was like "Wow. I can do art and make money. This is what I want to do." So that was the beginning of when I thought of making a career in art.
Jeff: Awesome. I got to ask, and I'll probably have a couple questions like this as the American-Britain divide here, you said you were 14 when you got your first tattoo. Is that legal?
Jeff: Ha ha, yes. I just had to ask because I know that the age is 18 in America. Is it the same over there?
Chantale: Yeah, yeah. You can get put on the child sex offenders list if you tattoo anyone under 18.
Jeff: Whoa, really?
Chantale: Yeah, it's classed as penetrating a minor.
Jeff: Okay, okay. Well, I'm glad that nobody got in trouble then.
Jeff: And it sparked an interest that has led to this incredible career that you have. So where was it when that sparked in your brain, "Oh, wow, I can actually do this," to the point when you actually started to apprentice and started to work as a tattoo artist?
Chantale: I took about 12 to 13 years after that before I got an apprenticeship, because I would try. I was knocking on doors and back then there weren't really female tattooers around.
Chantale: There was no Kat von D's or [inaudible 00:03:07]. There was nothing going on for females. It's all males, all biker-type guys and stuff. And there's me, this little 14 year old girl going into these big studios "Can I get an apprenticeship?" "No."
Jeff: Get out of here, girl.
Chantale: I was like "I'll make tea, I'll make coffee." But no. So I started off I would design tattoos for some studios and design flash for them and stuff, but I could not get my foot in the door. I was friends with studios but nobody was willing to teach me. And one studio that's still local and I still see the guys now, I'm friends with them, they turned around to me and were like "Well, if we teach you how to tattoo, you will then become competition and we don't want that." So they didn't teach me. But it wasn't until I moved to Australia and I had pretty much given up the thought of tattooing by that point and I was doing my diploma in fine arts with the intention of becoming an art teacher, and Miami Ink and all that were out and the guy I was with at the time brought home some of the DVDs and was like "Do you want to watch these?" So we watched them and it was just like this fire erupted in me again. So the next day I went out with my portfolio and the first studio I went to said "Yep."
Jeff: Wow. So you apprenticed in Australia then?
Chantale: I did, yeah.
Jeff: That's awesome. How long were you based in Australia for?
Chantale: I lived in Australia for nearly five years.
Jeff: Oh wow. That's awesome.
Chantale: Yeah, I lived in Sydney.
Jeff: So now I want to ask kind of on both sides of that, from the United Kingdom and also Australia, and I'll start with United Kingdom when you were a kid and you were getting a tattoo, what was the tattoo culture like? Because I know personally myself, I got my first tattoo when I was 18 and I remember it still being this kind of counterculture type thing, whereas now, as you well know and I well know, it seems like if you don't have a tattoo you're not cool, you know?
Jeff: It's almost like it's so much part of the culture. What was it like when you were growing up? Was it still counterculture over there, or was it starting to be more ...
Chantale: Yeah, no, it wasn't popular. [inaudible 00:05:19]. You know, there wasn't many females especially with many tattoos really. I remember when I was little, I was in a restaurant in [inaudible 00:05:28] called The Tudor Rose and a waitress walked past and she had one of those, you know, the old school little roses on her shoulder?
Jeff: Yep, yep.
Chantale: And I was just like "Wow, she's got a picture on her." And my dad just turned to me and went "Only whores and prostitutes get tattoos." But that was it slammed. No, it was always kind of like that. I was 14. No one at school had tattoos. I was the metalhead in school, you know? I had the pink hair and the Doc Martens and I was into motorbikes and the reason I got one is ... I don't even know where I got it from. I had this biker magazine and there was a girl that was in there and it was like the center page, like a poster pullout and she just stood next to this really cool Harley, wore a really low-cut, skintight leather jeans and like a little top and she had this tribal on her waist and I just saw this picture, this image and was like "I want to look like that." And the next day I went and got my first tattoo, tribal around the waist.
Jeff: Oh really? Because I was going to ask what your first one was. Oh, that's funny. That's funny.
Chantale: I think there were no other girls that had them, really.
Chantale: And then even when I moved years, years later, when I moved to Australia, I would go on the beach and by that point I had quite a lot of tattoos and I would get stared at. And this was only what, 10, 11 years ago, because it wasn't, especially on females, again there, it wasn't even 10 years ago wasn't popular. So I'd get self-conscious going to the beach because I would just get stared at, pointed at. But now it's-
Jeff: It's so commonplace.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. So when you're in Australia and you were saying that's during the boon of Miami Ink and all these types of shows, really brought a lot of that to the forefront, not only showing that you can make a career out of this, but that it's an acceptable thing in society. And were you seeing that change in that country as well, in Australia?
Chantale: It's slower there. I think the whole industry in Australia then was different. It was all very biker associated.
Chantale: Like old school. Like Sons of Anarchy. Not like we see in America or in the UK. It's a whole different ballgame in Australia. But over the past few years, that's ... a lot of changes have been made with regards to that. So I think it's becoming far more widespread now. Like artists are able to open their own studios and things like that. So it spreads and then becoming way more popular out there than before.
Jeff: Yeah. Very cool. So then you come back to the United Kingdom and, correct me if I'm wrong, you are still working now for Picture House Studio?
Chantale: Yeah, I own Picture House.
Jeff: You own Picture House, right. And is that the ... I wanted to ask, was that the ... Is that the only location that you're associated with? Do you have multiple locations?
Chantale: No, that's the only studio I work in. I do conventions around, but yeah, that's the only studio.
Jeff: Have you ever done conventions in the States?
Jeff: Yeah? Because obviously with having you on our show, I definitely want all of our fans and listeners to put your name in their books so when you come back to the States we can all see you. Is it different doing a convention in, say, the United Kingdom or Europe or something as opposed to doing a tattoo convention in the States? Because personally myself, I've only been to tattoo conventions here.
Chantale: Not ... They're very similar to the UK. Europe is very different. Like from this year onwards, I'm not doing any UK conventions anymore, or any European, and probably American because American are kind of going more the European way, I found, espcially Evergreen. That's an amazing convention there. I'm friends with the owners and they're always trying to develop what they're doing and be more for the artist where a lot of conventions are all about who knows who and how much money could be made. Like my favorite convention is the Stockholm Ink Bash, which I'm doing in August. And you know, normally you pay for your booth and that's all you get. You don't even get a coffee. But Stockholm Ink Bash, you get catered for the entire day. They really, really look after you because you're stuck in your booth for the whole day. You can't really leave the convention because you're booked up. So you don't eat, or if you do eat it's friends bringing you chocolate bars or-
Jeff: Yeah, crap.
Chantale: You're just getting whatever you can. Yeah. Whereas the Stockholm Ink Bash, they've actually got a fully catered for private artist area, so you can eat. They really look after you there, whereas you know, you get nothing at other conventions. So I don't see how they can justify that anymore. I know, especially recently, I've been looking into organizational conventions and there's no reason why they can't look after the artists there because at the end of the day, the artists are the reason people are walking into the convention in the first place.
Jeff: Of course, of course. You know, and I have some friends who are tattoo artists as well and I've been to some of the ones in New York and Boston and I've seen the same thing where you'd think that the artists would be treated better. That is why I'm there, you know? I'm not there just to walk around. I'm there to get some work done, or to meet a new artist that I've always wanted to either meet or get their art on me or something like that. And you guys work like dogs. It's a shame and that Stockholm one sounds amazing. I hope I get to make it over there one day.
Chantale: It's the best.
Jeff: How many conventions do you do a year?
Chantale: I was doing up to about seven or eight previously. This year I'm only doing two. I've cut back just because last year I traveled so much and I just needed a bit of a break this year. I've got plans for next year, so I'm kind of working on stuff at the moment, but next year I'll probably do a few more.
Chantale: [inaudible 00:12:03] America.
Jeff: Yeah, cool. Very cool. And then on the other side of it, not only are you busy with your own shop and traveling around doing all these conventions, you're also still doing fine art. In fact, I can't thank you enough for some of the most beautiful prints that you gave us and that are hanging up in the studio. And do you find that it's hard to juggle all that along with being a super mom and all this other stuff? How do you find the time to create as much as you do?
Chantale: Well, I drink a lot of Death Wish Coffee, which helps.
Jeff: There it is.
Chantale: I can't sit down. Actually my husband's had to have like an intervention because he saw how much I was putting into the coffee machine and he's like "That's not healthy." And he's halved my intake, which is really annoying me.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Chantale: But no, I've never been one for ... I'm not a couch potato. I can't ... He doesn't ... Everyone he's been with in the past has liked to have lay-ins in the morning and lazy days and I'm like if I'm up later than 9:30 in the morning, I'm angry because I've got stuff to do. And I don't want to waste time. So I don't like having nothing to do. And yeah, art relaxes me, if anything. So yeah, I always find the time to paint and draw.
Jeff: Awesome. Do you bring your art and prints with you at conventions and stuff like that? Can people find that-
Chantale: The ones I can. It just depends on how much stuff I'm traveling with at the time.
Jeff: Right, right. Because I know a lot of ... Some artists do that, especially fine artists that are tattoo artists and stuff like that. I always love seeing that kind of stuff at tattoo conventions. It's fun to see. And I got to ask too because you know, it's interesting ... We love you for how much you love Death Wish Coffee. I just got to say that. And it's interesting because I know personally, coffee culture in the United Kingdom isn't the biggest thing. How did you originally find out about us? How did you ... How did that come to be?
Chantale: God. I'm trying to think. I've always been a big, big coffee drinker because my dad was French.
Jeff: Okay, yep.
Chantale: And so when I grew up, I didn't have cereal for breakfast. I would have a bowl of coffee and croissants I would dip into my coffee. So I've been drinking coffee from like since I could walk probably. And then how did I ... I think it was Wayne from Hatebreed.
Chantale: Yeah, I think it was Wayne from Hatebreed that introduced me to you guys.
Jeff: That's awesome. Wayne Lozinak. Love him. In fact, I was just talking to him. Hatebreed's going on their 25th anniversary tour and they're playing right down the road from us in like a week. So I'm very excited to hook up with Wayne.
Chantale: They're amazing live.
Jeff: Yeah, oh my God. Have you tattooed any of those guys?
Chantale: No, I keep meaning to tattoo Wayne, but it's just our schedules are clashed, but I think that he's back over here for maybe two days soon, so-
Jeff: Lock him down.
Chantale: Yeah. Definitely organize it.
Jeff: That's so cool. What a small world sometimes, you know?
Jeff: That's really cool.
Chantale: Well, he was at the Headbangers Convention recently in Oregon.
Chantale: You guys kind of sponsored that, didn't you?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. We provided coffee for everybody. Chris is amazing. Chris 51 put that on. And actually I haven't talked to anybody specifically from that convention. We talked to Chris on this show about that convention. How did that go from someone who was a part of it?
Chantale: It was great. It was real good. For the first one, it was good. I was there because my husband was there, Ryan. And so while he was obviously in his booth signing autographs, I was tattooing in another room. But I was the one that got them in touch with Wayne, because I was like "You got to get Wayne in this."
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Chantale: So yeah, Wayne and Ryan were sat next to each other actually. Their booths next to each other.
Jeff: Yeah, that's awesome. And I just got to bring it up, I'll have you bring it up because I know, but for our listeners and watchers at home, can you say who your husband is?
Chantale: Ryan McCombs, he was the singer of Soil and previously Drowning Pool.
Jeff: Incredible, incredible. That's awesome. Well, that's cool. And again, it's like such a small world and I loved ... One of the things I love being a part of Death Wish Coffee is I get to kind of connect all these dots with a great tasting cup of coffee, you know? And I'm so glad that we all kind of running in that circle, just because of Death Wish. It's a lot of fun.
Chantale: It's awesome.
Jeff: So back on the work side of it, through the years of now owning your own shop, doing all these conventions, where do you see the tattoo industry going? Do you think ... Has it reached its peak? Can it go farther? Where do you see it going from here?
Chantale: That's a tough one. That's a real tough one because to be honest, I don't like the industry where it's got to in the minute.
Jeff: Interesting. How come?
Chantale: It's just full of brown-nosing and egos, you know? It's got ... When I started tattooing and going and working conventions, it was just like it was fun. It was a party. Everyone hung out with everyone. You'd give each other tips. It was amazing. Now, everyone's in their own cliquey little groups and it's who's got more followers on Instagram and it's all bullshit. Most of these artists nowadays are photoshopping their work so bad, it's digital art rather than an actual tattoo that they're putting out there, you know? And these are the ones that have got the hundreds or thousands of followers and have their little posse when they go to conventions and stuff. And it's like you've lost respect for the art, you know?
Chantale: At the end of the day it's about the art and your client, not the social media and the fame and stuff like that. So the industry as a whole at the moment, I think there's a lot of true artists that have just kind of getting to a point where we've had enough.
Jeff: Yeah, you know-
Chantale: You've even got Paul Booth, a fucking legend, calling people out for photoshopping their work and stuff now because it's just ... It really is. I look at stuff that's posted and I'm like "That's just digital art. That's not a tattoo." But people believe it.
Jeff: It's a shame with the Instagram culture that we live in today because on one hand, Instagram is such an amazing platform for artists of any genre, you know? Because you're able to get your work out to the world, you know? And even five years ago, that was unheard of, you know? But you're right, you know? And as someone who loves tattoos and also art and stuff like that, but I'm not in the industry, I even notice that, and you know, tattoo artists that I find just through other tattoo artists on Instagram or whatever and I'll find them, it completely turns me off when I start to go through their feed and it's like "Oh wow. None of these photos are real." They're all doctored. And one of the great things about someone like you and your feed on Instagram is you can tell that it's all coming from a real place and I just ... Everything that you post, every time you post a new photo I just can't believe the amount of talent that you have and that you put out into the world is just incredible.
Chantale: Thank you.
Jeff: It really is because you've got that old school style but that realistic, fine art painting that you're putting on people and it's really, really cool to follow your journey.
Chantale: Thank you.
Jeff: Do you see ... Speaking on the industry again, do you see any new, outside of the crap that's photoshopped, but the actual art form itself, do you see any new techniques or new styles that are cropping up that is exciting for you?
Chantale: I discovered an artist recently. I can't remember his name because I can't pronounce it. He's Polish or Russian or something like it.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Chantale: But his tattoos look like oil paintings. It looks like they've got thick brushstrokes almost in them. And I know the recent stuff he's been posting has been edited, so I've gone scroll all the way back to original photos before he was doing all that and I could see his work was good even back then. So I'd love to see his stuff in the flesh. But his ... I'm liking different forms of actual art being put on the skin, rather than different techniques being used because I don't know how they heal and how they truly look because at the ... Unless someone convention, I see it with my own eyes. So style-wise I'm really loving ... I love ... There's a painter called [inaudible 00:21:31] and he's one of my favorite artists at the moment. But this tattoo artist, his style of art is very similar, paint-wise. So yeah, that's kind of intriguing me.
Jeff: That's what I love about the medium that is tattoo and the art of it because it ... so much can happen on human skin. And back in the day when it was just sailors or the biker culture and stuff like that, the tattoo artist wasn't really even able to flex their muscle because it was such a counterculture type industry and now that it's so widely accepted, it's so cool to see all these artists from around the world just be able to push the medium. It's incredible. It really is. And that kind of brings me to the question that I come to on this show with everybody. Through everything you've done ... And I mean, you've won awards for your work, you've been published in magazines and stuff, your incredible shop that you own, all the conventions that you do, all the travel that you do, what fuels you to keep going, to keep pursuing this artistic endeavor?
Chantale: I just ... I love art. It's just a passion that has never died inside of me. So yeah, I'm always setting myself new goals. I don't like to not have a goal that I'm working towards. So whenever I've achieved that, I set another new goal. So I'm constantly ... Like next year I'm looking at putting on my own convention, but it's not to do with the tattoo industry. It's to do with art.
Chantale: Because that's where my passion is. That's why I got into tattooing. I love art. So yeah, I'm kind of ... I'm getting a bit tired with the tattoo industry, but I need to spark myself up again with art. So I'm kind of moving a bit away from tattooing into a different realm.
Jeff: That's exciting. I'm sure it's just in the earliest stages, but can you talk about any of your plans for that? Is this going to be a predominantly a fine art convention? Is it going to be based in the United Kingdom? Can you talk about it any?
Chantale: Yeah, it' going to be based in the United Kingdom. It's going to be art. It's going to be open to artists of all areas to be able to come and show their work. But I also want to have things like workshops at the convention so there's some amazing artists out there and you would get to spend a day learning from them. So it's going to be a convention of artists for artists.
Chantale: So there's a lot of planning I'm doing at the moment. And then on top of that, I'm speaking to Chris 51 and we're looking to bring Headbangers to the UK.
Jeff: That's exciting.
Chantale: Yeah, so I'm the UK point of ... So you know, I don't like to sit around. I did say that earlier.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. That's exciting. And you know, I've got to say, there's nobody better to talk to from the convention circuit either with Christ 51 because he's been doing it for so long and I'm sure you're leaning on him for getting into it yourself because it's such an endeavor. Just when we had him on the show talking about Headbangers Con, and I met him through all the Walker Stalker conventions and all that and just to see all of the inner workings of something like that happen, it's such an undertaking.
Chantale: It is, but it's fun.
Jeff: And that's awesome, and that's good. I mean, that's what's so inspiring talking to somebody like you. You're not just punching the clock and putting the needle on the skin and waiting for the clock to hit 5:00 and then okay, I'm done. You genuinely love it, even though you say you're moving away maybe from tattoo to fine art, art as a whole you love to do and it's fun for you to try for new journeys in that life's path. That's exciting and inspiring.
Chantale: I'll always tattoo. That's like I'll always do that. But yeah, I want to get inspired by art again. So I'm delving into other aspects of art.
Jeff: That's awesome. Have you yourself done any art conventions, any fine art conventions with your art?
Chantale: No, I haven't. No. In the UK where I've been researching it, there's a few art fairs they're called, but it's more the top contemporary artists and things like that. I want to see what students at art school are coming out with, you know? I want this graffiti artist out there that are painting on trains, trains and stuff, but create an amazing artwork. I want to see all of those people that don't get to exhibit their work because they don't know the who's who in the gallery side of things and stuff like that. That's why I'm creating something new to bring everyone a chance, really, of showing what they can do.
Jeff: That is so exciting. That not only seems like an awesome space, but it also seems like what you're trying to do is educational and really putting art at the forefront and it sounds like you're going to create a community again, kind of like what you were experiencing in those early days of tattooing and you're going to create this community in an artistic sense. Man, that's really cool. I'm very excited for you.
Chantale: Thank you.
Jeff: Awesome, awesome. And you know, at the end here I usually ask people where the best place to follow them is, but I'm going to guess it's going to be Instagram for you.
Jeff: Yeah, because your Instagram is amazing and I'm going to put that in this show as well so people can follow you. And hopefully when you make it back over to the States for a convention or something like that, hopefully we'll be able to meet in person some day.
Chantale: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: Yeah, that's great. Thanks again so much for taking time to talk to me on the show.