Interview with Tattoo Artist Kayley Henderson

There are many Pin-Up fans who are also inked, and then there are many tattoo fans who love the art of pin-up, burlesque and the Vintage world. Just what is that all about? Where did it stem from and why?

Two ladies talking during an interview in an interview
Kayley and I “settlin’ down” into our interview.

Yes, these are the kinds of things I ponder on when I’m planting my bulbs for next years springtime vintage fans! Believe me, I’m a real geek when it comes to discussing the nuances of a supergroup forming and cutting a certain album, during a certain summer, when a certain cut of skirt or trouser hem was in vogue. Lets face it! Life imitates art. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you just know.

And, when you don’t know, you have to find an expert.

And, when you are a feminist, you seek out a fellow feminist, who is kicking some serious ass in her chosen profession!

So that’s what I did when my crocuses were firmly planted back in August. Ladies, gents, and every beautiful soul imbetween, please settle in and simmer down and read all about the finely talented Miss Kayley Henderson.

We chatted fuelled with some supreme mocha’s at the artsy chic Settle Down Café a few weeks ago. Here’s how the interview evolved!

Please note my 90’s homage to all teen mags of my youth here. Kayley is referenced in this interview with a ‘K’ and I’m referenced here with a ‘L’. For any of my readers born after 89, this is how we rocked it. You had to know the first initial of a band member to know which one was answering the interviewers question. Its vintage! Just not my usual 40’s/50’s era.

L: “So Kayley, I will introduce you to our readers, as I know this feels rather weird to you. Kayley is the sole female tattoo artist of internationally reknowned studio Northside Tattooz, based right here in Newcastle City Centre, and also out towards our fine coast over in Whitley Bay. Tell me, what has been going on for you recently, I know you are booked up in advance, but have you been doing anything other than working away here at the Newcastle shop?”

Portrait of cool lady at cafe
Tattoo Artist Kayley Henderson

K: “I just came back from Nottingham (organised by Gray Silva and Claire) where there was about 30 artists working. There wasn’t an artist there whose name I hadn’t heard of, or whose work I didn’t know. So that was great fun to be around.”

“Everybody was so relaxed, it was dead friendly.”

“I instantly felt like I was with friends.”

L: “Do you have to take a client with you to work on? Or do you take walk-in bookings?”

K: “It depends how you work really. When I was first starting, I found it was easier to take someone I knew. I’m a really awkward person sometimes so that was a reassuring thing.”

L: “I know that fear of being at a stand at an expo, do you have to pitch up a little stall too?”

Two ladies laughing over coffee in a cafe
Having a good giggle mid-interview.

K: “I have a few pieces in my portfolio that I know people will react to, like a spiro tattoo. I know if people smile at that I can start off talking about gaming with them.”

“These past couple of shows, I’ve experienced people coming up to me knowing who I was before they checked out my work.”


K: “It was just the most bizarre feeling in the world, when you have someone come up to you and say I’m a huge fan! I don’t think I will ever get used to it.”

“It is amazing but at the same time its like I don’t deserve this attention, I’m just an ordinary person. I guess I’m still not really so sure how I feel about all that.”

L: I think that’s probably the coolest way to react to it all right?

K: “All the best artists I know tend to hate their work.”

“You have your ‘level-up’ moments but then you get right back into that vicious circle where you are striving for the next one again.”

We talked about this in a creative way for a while and agreed that it is a freaky mindset to live your life. But then we also agreed, that we love to belong to a community of creative freaks.

L:”So! Tell me about Northside, I know a lot of people are huge fans of all the artists, but for the people out there who are not familiar with it?”

I love the Northside Logo here.

K: “In our shop we have 10 artists. Everybody works in a completely different style. Low who owns the shops has been tattooing now for 35 years. Working for someone like that who has such an incredible global reputation, is a great grounding.”

“All the guys are good guys, so I have never felt weird being the only girl there. Out in the industry it can be a bonus being a female, as there are some female clients who specifically want to be tattooed by a female artist, but that rule can work vice versa too. I’ve had a few guys be quite insulting about my being an artist.”

L: “We find those guys everywhere though right!”

We laughed and joked about these types of assholes for a while. I have chosen to remove this part of our conversation from the blog as it involved quite a lot of swearing and derogatory stories about the male sex. Kayley and I agreed it was more ladylike to go on the old tack of ‘if you cant say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’. For the record, we have lots of guy friends, know lots of awesome men, and are in great relationships with men. We hereby state that we both think that not ALL men fall into the category previously mentioned.

L: So how did you become to be the only gal at Northside?

K: “I think it was that I was just really lucky”.

“I studied Fashion, and then got a job in Fashion design. I just didn’t enjoy it, I was re-designing low market versions of creations already being stocked by high street lines in everyday wear like jeans, t shirts.

My fiancé was a tattoo artist, in a small studio and he was starting to go out to some shows where I would join him. I completely fell in love with the industry.

Its got that similar feeling to being back in college where everyone is being creative together, and bouncing ideas off each other, and is excited about their work with each other, I missed that, and found I really loved that general vibe.”

L: I love that! I totally miss that mutual critique atmosphere of honest encouragement where it was never bitchy, just totally nurturing.  I miss College!

K “Exactly! That’s what I mean. That brilliant Energy”

Two ladies talking in a hipster cafe over coffee.
Deep in conversation, I just happened to click on the cable release (probably when I was waving my arms around during our chat).

“So I decided I wanted to go for it in the industry properly, on my own, without just expecting Gary to teach me. So I put a portfolio together and took it into town and walked around all of the best shops, seeing if I could get meetings with the owners. On that day out, I saw Low on the street walking toward the shop, so I ran up to him, and got his details to set up a meeting. Then I hounded him every day to get that meeting.

Eventually I got a job working on the desk, and I worked my way up from there, learning everything as I went along. Gradually I quit the full time job as a Fashion Designer, then I was able to quit my other part time job.

I progressed up from practicing on myself and on friends, till I was ready to work on real clients.

I’m now booked up in advance now after 4 years of work, so its great, I’m really pleased with where I’ve come to.”

Aerith from Final Fantasy.
Slinky sister on paper, it’s great to see Kayley’s work in drawing form on her Instagram feed
A sexy Snow White, with a gorgeous Madonna tooth gap.
The Evil Queen (with KILLER brows)

L: “What’s your next move?”

K: “I want to keep working hard on developing my signature style. So I’m all about the bright colour, cartoon and pin-up style work. If I can get to a point where all of my work gets to this style in the future, I will be thrilled.”

L: ”What’s your creative process like?”

K: “I draw at home and in my own time. When I’m in the studio I’m working on clients.”

L: “Do you practice any other art forms?”

K: “I like to do a bit of cooking here and there. I find that drawing is enough of a change and I play around with markers and stuff. I had a brief romance with painting, but I’m so over that now.”

L: “And pin-up in your personal style, does it play a role in your day-to-day?”

K: “hmm, I love it as a style, but I have to feel free when I’m working, so I like to add a hint here and there, but I don’t think I will ever be a die hard follower.”

L: “Do you find that your pin-up work is based on portraits of pop culture people or of someone important to the client.”

K: “I recently did a great piece for a client who does baking, and she wanted a pin-up style piece that was a little caricature of herself, so that was so much fun to work on. I generally love the idea of women getting sexy women tattooed on themselves. For me its about getting a true understanding of what character is in the clients mind right in the piece, everyone is different.”

Pinup Tattoo in colour on the back of a lady leg
How cute is this tat? A leg piece of a cake making pin-up. She really reminds me of cake baby in the movie ‘Bridesmaids’.

“It’s often a really empowering thing for my clients to do, that is usually the reason behind the tattoo. Often that sex symbol piece is autobiographical, I love helping clients make that personal statement.”

L: “So Kayley, the Million dollar question that has brought us here today…. Where did it all originate from? Sailor Jerry Pictures and Tattoo, what the connection?”

K “It’s a real basic thing I’m afraid, non other than having something nice put on them. Sometimes for luck and sometimes just for decoration.”

“Pin Up for me is totally about empowerment, and women embracing their own sexuality. For me, as a feminist, I’m starting to see more and more great female gaming characters coming out. Finally Lara Croft is no longer just big boobs, thanks to Rhianna Pratchett’s great writing.”

Peaceful picture of a girl sitting in a quiet light cafe, looking down.
I thought Kayley’s looked simply beautiful in this shot that was supposed to be a quick test. So it’s now an official one.

So it really is just a funny one of those art evolutionary things. Sailors originally got a hot looking lady tattooed on themselves to marry up to the old connections with putting a hot lady on a plane or the front of a ship for luck (or even just for a bit of a female reminder).

Then, we have had a surge in pop culture with icons like Amy Winehouse reviving the popeye type tattoos, and the whole Sailor Jerry influence has come back to the forefront of our creative minds.

It just goes to show you the cycle of a creative idea.

That being said, with Kayleys gift and nutured talent, you can be sure that she would design and then create a fully bespoke and interpreted piece for you (in her own colourful and unique style). But be prepared to wait for her mastery, this chick is in demand.

You can join her fanbase by following her Instagram

Kayley will be fulfilling her long waiting queue of clients this winter, then she plans to take a bit of a break to chill and get married and then have a honeymoon break with her new husband and dogs Jess & Quinn.

I’d like to Thank Kayley for her time to meet with me, and for her honesty in this interview!

Who knows, next time, we may be coming live from the chair as she inks me up!

Suggestions of what tattoo piece I should get in the comments field below guys!

Black Tattoo shop door
Has there ever been a cooler door?






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