Leaving Varsity to follow her passion, Alyssa van der Merwe is now a talented and aspiring Tattoo Artists, who has never looked back. Get some insight into her story of becoming a full time artist, her style of work, and more in our interview below.
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Full name: Alyssa van der Merwe
Shop: SheKnows Ink
Years tattooing: 4
Tattoo style: Fineline, Blackwork, Surrealism
Hourly rate: I charge according to size and detail of the piece.
Tell us about your journey of becoming a full time tattoo artist?
I started as an apprentice as a way to use my artistic abilities and exercise my creativity while I was studying the completely wrong degree for me. I also thought, “this will be a really cool trade to be able to fall back on!” After a month of apprenticing, and hating Varsity, my gran told me that she didn’t like to see me so miserable and that I should drop out of Varsity and try “the tattoo thing”. So, with my family’s support I did just that and never looked back since. I started working right out of high school, and while it was a shock to some that the Head Girl was now becoming a tattoo artist, I couldn’t have been happier. I was meeting interesting people every day and getting to create art for people!
Explain your defining moment when you knew that this was the profession for you?
Waking up excited to go to work was a pretty good indicator that I had made the right decision! I enjoy every aspect of what I do, and though it is tough at times and I work long hours and take my work home with me in the form of designs, there’s nothing else I would rather be doing.
What attracted you to the industry, and what does it mean to you now?
I grew up watching Miami and LA Ink and was always enamoured with tattoos and the idea of being able to decorate your body. But, I never considered seeking it out as a profession, despite my art teacher, my mom and various other people in my life encouraging it. I stepped into the industry in an attempt to break the monotony of studying a degree I had no interest in, and it was as if I had meant to be doing this all along. “You were right, mom!”
When first starting out, what were some of the hardest skills to learn?
Tattooing comes with a whole host of challenges, from learning how to hold the machine properly right in the beginning to learning how to pull a straight line over a curved 3 dimensional object. But those were overcome with a little practice. The hardest thing though was learning how to talk to a client and take the idea that they had in their head and translate it into a composition that both made sense and was aesthetically pleasing as a Tattoo.
How do you like to make sure you keep progressing as an artist?
I have always held myself to a very high standard since school and my extra mural pursuits, and that trend has continued into my career. It helps to look to more experienced artists than myself for inspiration and guidance, and if I can compare my work to theirs I can find little things that I can improve on for the next Tattoo.
What have been some of the highlight of your career so far?
Being fully booked weeks and months in advance is something I am beyond grateful to experience! I’ve also got to travel around the country and tattoo at really cool events and festivals.
Where would you like to see your career take you?
I would like to spend a few years traveling, going from city to city to guest at a renowned studio and only moving on to the next city when the urge strikes.
What style of tattoo do you enjoy creating the most?
I absolutely love doing Floral tattoos, in a fine-line semi illustrative style!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Anything fantasy related, from books and TV to mythology and history. Social media also plays an amazing roll in inspiring me daily, and I get to see the work of talented artists of all kinds from all over the world.
When not tattooing, what can you usually be found doing?
While work is in full swing, if I’m not tattooing I’m doing designs for tattoos, until all hours of the morning. When I do actually find free time (and have caught up on sleep), I go to live concerts to see my favourite bands, or stay at home with my boyfriend and catch up on Netflix, read fantasy novels or generally find adventurous things to do like go on hikes with friends.
Who are some of the local and international artists that you aspire to?
Joanna Litwin (@zszywka), tattooing from Poland who specialises in surrealism with the most amazing whip-shading I’ve ever seen!
Tritoan Ly (@tritoan_7th) in New Zealand, as well as Yarina (@yarina.tattooing) from the Ukraine – both for their spectacular Floral work.
I could go on, but my last mention will be Maxime Etienne (@maxe_brother) from Australia, who has the most mind blowing compositions and who’s micro realism abilities never ceases to amaze me.
For someone wanting to book and appointment with you, what’s the next step?
They can contact me on social media @lyss4music on Instagram or Lyss4Tattoos on Facebook, or for enquiries they can email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact 0764211063 for bookings for 2021.
Tattoos By Alyssa van der Merwe
Photos by Alexander Wolf Photography.