South Africa

Charmaine Buttrick: Passionate tattoo artist has ink flowing through her veins

Charmaine Buttrick tattoo artist

Charmaine Buttrick, 52, didn’t follow a conventional path to becoming a tattoo artist.

It was a journey that took her from being “that one kid that drew on everyone” at school to embracing her passion for art in various forms, eventually leading her to inking.

To her, it’s a vocation where art doesn’t wash off but becomes a part of someone’s life story.

Buttrick’s tale is not just about tattooing – it’s about finding your true calling even if it means embarking on it aged 40.

Tattoo artist living the dream

She majored in fine art at the National School of the Arts and because of familial support, directed her thinking to a different path.

The 22-year-long segue ended up serving as a foundation to finally fulfil her dream as a tattoo artist.

Her studio is at home on a smallholding in the East Rand.

It’s a magical forest-like environment where visitors can be forgiven for expecting fairies to pop up every now and then.

Inside her home, canvasses of art painted by her adorn the walls and ceramics she crafted are all over the place.

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She and her husband share their home with a small army of dogs and her two sons, aged 16 and 21 whom she tattooed for their 16th birthdays.

“I knew I didn’t want to study graphic design and wasn’t sure where a fine arts degree would take me,” says Buttrick.

After matriculating, make-up artistry and special effects became her detour.

It was then that she discovered a love for body painting, a form of art that allowed her creativity to flourish on a living canvas – not dissimilar to tattoos.

Her yearning for ink eventually took hold again.

“I told my husband I was sick and tired of people washing off my art. I wanted to tattoo,” she shares.

This sentence was the turning point in her career. His gift of a “cheap starter tattoo kit” for Christmas was the key that unlocked the door to her future.

School of YouTube

Self-taught through the “school of YouTube”, Buttrick embarked on a process of learning, starting with pigskin sourced from the local butcher, for practice rounds before moving on to human skin.

Friends and family then became her first human subjects and customers.

This led to referrals and her reputation was soon built on word of mouth.

Thirteen years after switching to her life’s passion, Buttrick has cultivated a space that’s very different from the run-of-the-mill tattoo studio you would expect.

For her, every tattoo is a collaborative creation between artist and canvas.

It’s also where young clients are counselled in life-altering decisions they may regret later in life. Buttrick’s design process is thoughtful.

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Drawing from real-life references ensures that each tattoo is not just an adornment but a narrative.

Clients often describe what they want, bring in photos, or she will do the research.

Her background in fine art comes in handy as she pencils scamps for clients and if they like them, the illustrations become the design guide.

The permanence of tattoos, the very thing that initially drew her to the profession, also serves as a constant reminder of its high stakes.

“Making a mistake scares me, it keeps me grounded and vigilant. Each tattoo must be as close to perfection as possible.” And she never gets bored with it.

Every tattoo design is different

Every design is different and even simple tattoos – like the names of loved ones scribed on a wrist, an infinity sign on a shoulder or whatever – she loves.

Thigh tattoos are in vogue now and Buttrick says it’s one of the best canvasses for inking.

“It’s a much larger area to work with, easily concealed if employers are against tattoos and, even better, you get to look at it.

“I have never seen the point of creating something meaningful or enjoyable on a back where you cannot appreciate it yourself, on your own body,” she laughs.

“I love my clients. I genuinely love humans. Tattoos tell stories, they immortalise things about life that we find meaningful or adorn bodies with beautiful images that give us pleasure, forever.

“Every tattoo I complete is like a little piece of my heart,” she says.

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