Grace Neutral has over 450K followers on Instagram, elf-shaped ears, violet eyes and a forked tongue. Now, her tv show Needles and Pins is about to debut on Viceland. We had a chat with her to find out more about her journey into the world of tattoos, body modification, and Japanese rope tying...
‘I guess it started with my mother. She’s an artist and really inspired by tribal culture from around the world so that was when I was first exposed to them. She inspired me massively when I was young. Then when I was 16 we moved to a port town where tattooing was quite popular. I started getting tattoos when I was about 15 or 16 and it just went from there.
I had wanted to tattoo my eyes ever since I found about it, but coming up with the colour is the hardest thing because you have to take so much into consideration. I thought about it for a couple of years, thinking am I going to like this colour forever? We can always laser tattoos off (although it’s a long and painful process), whereas with my eyes there’s no going back. But luckily I love my eyes. I’ve had them for nearly five years now. There’s three colours in the wash – purple, white and water mixed in. Imagine your eye being like a lava lamp and the lava is the ink. I think it will change and move around, but I don’t think it will fade.
Body modification is still a very underground scene – it’s not regulated or certified like plastic surgery. I don’t think any body modification artist works legally and above board because they can’t. There’s only about 4 or 5 people in the entire world who I think are decent body modification artists. The rest are just going off videos they’ve seen on the internet and that is so dangerous.
Body modification is not a spur of the moment thing. Spontaneous tattoos seem quite popular, people will be like ‘oh I’ll go and get a tattoo today.’ Whereas with modifications you have to prepare – take days off work, rest – it’s never going to become as mainstream and accepted as tattooing.
I feel like I deal with pain very differently to the average person. For me, there’s no such thing as pain, just intense physical sensation. We all feel the daily stresses of life, and it’s become normal to want to leave and dip out of this reality. And we do that in loads of different ways – with the internet, with games, with so many different things. Pain is just another way for me to kind of dip out and focus on my space. I need that sometimes.
In Japan I got to do Shibari rope tying – basically they tie you in really beautiful ways. I had my hands tied behind my back, and my legs bent and my ankles tied to the backs of my thighs. Then I was suspended up in the air and tied to another girl next to me. It was really, really cool. I also did a single point fall from a tree in New Zealand. Basically on one end of the rope was the tree and on the other end was me, and I was attached to the rope through a hook going through my chest. When I relaxed, my weight and the tree’s became balanced. It was right on the top of this big cliff face looking out over the beach. It was so cool.’
Grace Neutral: 7 things being a tattoo artist has taught me
Being a tattoo artist is like being a therapist
As a tattoo artist, I have the privilege of meeting and working with people from all walks of life. My clients share their memories and experiences with me – we use this as inspiration and turn it into art. The connection you share with that person can be inherently therapeutic. I’ve learnt a lot about myself through these experiences, gained confidence, and used these special interactions to help deal with my own anxieties.
Tattooing is a journey
Getting a tattoo isn’t like picking up milk from the shops. It’s a uniquely personal interaction between the tattoo artist and the client. It’s a journey of discovery. And as you take that journey, the destination can change. Getting to know the client, exploring what they want, and designing a piece of art that they will be happy with takes people skills; patience, honesty and judgement.
You need to be tough to run your own business
I’m self-employed and my own boss. I love it. Running your own business, you’ve got to be savvy; there’s lots of competition out there. Being independent has given me confidence and the conviction I needed. It’s a real confidence boost knowing that I work for myself.
It’s a privilege to create art
I’ve been interested in tattoo history and the cultures associated with it since I was young. But in becoming an artist, I have realised how spiritual the process and act of tattooing really is. My clients put their trust in me; they confide in me; they share their memories and raw emotion with me. I’m in a very privileged position. A lot of the time, people have tattoos to mark a significant or special memory or time of their life. You create art together – and to share that moment is very rewarding for the soul.
Tattooing can help turn negativity into positivity
In the making of Needles and Pins, I was fortunate enough to travel and meet tattoo communities around the world. From Japan, to LA, to New Zealand, the artists and people I have been lucky enough to meet have introduced me to different sub cultures, all of which have been borne out of alienation, adversity, oppression. It’s amazing and inspiring, hearing these stories of survival, and seeing how people turn negativity into positivity; creating beautiful, powerful, inspiring art through affliction and pain.
Never assume you know everything
I learnt the trade by teaching myself to tattoo. I now specialise in the ‘hand poke’ technique which means you don’t use a machine and tattoo by hand. But travelling has enabled me to master my art; I’ve met many types of artist, discovered new machines, and been fortunate enough to see different techniques in action. In Japan, for example, I discovered new hand-poke techniques which has inspired me to approach it in a whole new way.
If it doesn’t feel right, know when to say no
Tattooing is a two-way relationship. The client has to be comfortable with the artist and the artist has to be comfortable with the client and their expectations of a tattoo. People are putting their trust in you; there needs to be a connection. My technique might not be appropriate for the design they want, perhaps I don’t feel the energy between us, we may not vibe. I’m now more confident to know that sometimes it’s okay to just say “no”.
Needles and Pins premieres on VICELAND UK (Sky 153) tonight