Sister meets...Amanda Rodriguez
Our editor-in-chief gets tattooed at the mighty Three Kings London.
“We see London as like a sister city to NYC in terms of its diversity and creative scenes.” Amanda Rodriguez is responsible for bringing Three Kings Tattoo, the world renowned studio hailing from Brooklyn, to Deptford. “I’ve always wanted to live in London but the timing was never quite right. It dawned on me that bringing Three Kings here would not only provide an amazing opportunity to fulfil this dream, but was also a natural progression for the brand.” It’s their first leap overseas, with the four other outposts situated in New York and LA.
I ask Amanda for those who have never heard of Three Kings Tattoo, and are unexposed to the industry as a whole – what makes it so great? “I would describe it as a modern and inclusive tattoo parlour. After 13+ years of operating and expanding in a very demanding city like New York, we garnered a reputation of excellence. Not just for our work, but for the way we treat all people with care before, during and after their tattoo. Which is something that we are adamant about continuing to provide here in London.” As someone who has been getting tattooed since their 18th birthday, and has experienced both the extreme highs and lows from doing so, I can confirm that my visit to Three Kings London falls into the former.
The emphasis on creating a welcome space for all people to get tattooed is of the utmost important to Amanda. “As a Hispanic woman who started in the industry 12 years ago, I was met with some difficulties for sure.”
The emphasis on creating a welcome space for all people to get tattooed is of the utmost important to Amanda. “As a Hispanic woman who started in the industry 12 years ago, I was met with some difficulties for sure.” Last year, she was heavily quoted in Refinery29 UK’s “Guide To Getting A Tattoo As A Person Of Colour”. Plenty of horror stories have long circulated about renowned tattoo artists preferring to ink paler skin, and only posting light skinned clients on their social feeds. Amanda insists that “It’s all about education and experience, not just for clients, but for artists themselves.” She continues “As someone who apprenticed and learned the trade from another person, I was taught how to tattoo darker skin, and the subtleties and tweaks you need to make in order to apply a tattoo properly.”
Amanda believes that following the continuation of the BLM movement in 2020, the industry has made big strides. “People are having conversations that they might not have considered before, which really is the starting point.” Her advice for darker skinned people looking to get tattooed is simple (other than going directly to her, obviously). “Always make sure the artist is familiar with tattooing darker skin. If it isn’t clear from their portfolio, then it is appropriate to ask them directly about their experience.” She also suggests “You can help others by sending healed photos to your artist or going back to visit and showing them, so that they can take healed photos. Fresh tattoos are hard to photograph and even trickier on darker skin. Healed photos provide your artist with better content on darker skin, which will then help them to reach others.”
Amanda’s Instagram page (the modern day equivalent of a portfolio) is awash with floral and botanical designs. “Flowers were a subject I constantly went back to so when I was working on refining my style, I just gravitated toward it. I find inspiration in all nature, which is kind of at odds with my personality as I’m definitely more indoorsy.” She continues “I love tattooing bugs despite being scared of them, and am fascinated by things like animal bones. I used to frequent places like Kew Gardens a lot before Covid-19, but now I just try to find inspiration in people’s front gardens while I’m walking my dog.”
Ah, Covid. The impact of the pandemic on the tattoo industry has been undeniable, with the constant revolving door of lockdowns making the livelihoods of many impossible to maintain. For Amanda and the crew at Three Kings London, it’s been a rough ride. “We had just submitted the paperwork for our license when the first 2020 lockdown happened, so the uncertainty of not knowing when I would next be able to earn a living was the second most stressful thing in my life. Second only to the visa application process and stress of trying to find a shop space here!” It delayed the opening of the shop by four months, and my own visit was touch and go up until the day itself as Amanda was awaiting the results of a Covid test (which were thankfully negative).
“I think there will always be a place for tattooing, the question just becomes when can people afford it, and do people want to risk going out to get a tattoo during a pandemic?”
In 2021 the future of the industry, amongst countless other customer facing trades, still feels uncertain. With the UK in yet another national lockdown and no end in sight, Amanda states “I think there will always be a place for tattooing, the question just becomes when can people afford it, and do people want to risk going out to get a tattoo during a pandemic?” She continues “I’m hopeful for coming out the other side. I think it’ll just be more quiet than usual until the vaccine kicks in and we can return to normality.” We discuss the difficulty of finding and maintaining creative inspiration during these dark periods. “I had zero motivation during the beginning of lockdown in 2020 and really struggled. I ended up creating a free downloadable colouring book for kids and adults to help them cope with boredom (and alleviate some of my own).” Amanda continues “People seemed to really appreciate this and enough of them asked that I ended up printing and selling a physical version.” She also missed tattooing so much that she started working on fake skin. “This really helped reignite some motivation in me. It’s not exactly the same as tattooing human skin but it’s just as fun and fulfilling.”
It’s a dark and dreary Sunday afternoon when Amanda inks a small forget-me-not flower on my arm, in memory of my mother-in-law. It seems that she’s no stranger to sentimental and meaningful work. A recent Metro article details a mother who, after recovering from Covid, got matching tattoos with her daughter from Amanda. Another client from New York wrote a detailed blog post about how getting a piece from Amanda helped her reach closure with her body insecurities. These kinds of stories are what makes Amanda love doing what she does. “I definitely have more compassion and appreciation for people because of my job. When you spend hours with strangers, listening and talking whilst they have a painful procedure, you develop a lot of patience and empathy.” She also tells me that “I would really like to like to do some kind of initiative helping people to reclaim parts of their body from trauma, like offering free tattoos for people with scarring from self harm or domestic abuse.” Watch this (hopefully pandemic free) space.
“I definitely have more compassion and appreciation for people because of my job. When you spend hours with strangers, listening and talking whilst they have a painful procedure, you develop a lot of patience and empathy.”
When I visit Three Kings London, it’s less than two weeks til the US election. Naturally, this comes up in conversation. “I’m very pessimistic when it comes to US politics. I lost all faith in the political system when George Bush Jr. got a second term. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are only helping to widen the chasm between the American public. I think, sadly, Trump will win a second term, but I hope I am proven wrong.” With Joe Biden's inauguration taking place earlier this week, it feels good to say that Amanda was indeed proven wrong. Whilst it may have been a particularly depressing and hard start to 2021, this was at least a small glimmer of hope. And hope is all we have right now – hope that one day soon we’ll be able to safely do the things we enjoy once more.
Whilst you may not be able to visit Three Kings London right now, you can support them by buying merch if you’re able to. And if not, Amanda’s words apply to all creative folks whose income has been affected by the pandemic: “I’d just encourage people to support artists by engaging with and sharing their social media.” I couldn’t agree with her more when she tells me that Three Kings, whichever studio you visit, is an “educational and progressive environment, there’s no room for elitism (or any kind of ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’). You’re just as welcome coming to a Three Kings for your first ever tattoo as you are as a serious collector looking for another piece.” Let’s hope their doors are open again in the not so distant future.
Article by Beccy Hill