Tattoo Age: Valerie Vargas (Part 1/3)

Uploaded by vice on 13.09.2012


VALERIE VARGAS: I didn't like being different at school.
I don't think any kid really, actually fully enjoys being
different at school.
I've got a really old drawing that I did of my mom when I
was like 10 or 11.
That's pretty cool.
Where the fuck did I put it?
I hope I didn't put it away.

That's my mom.
I do remember just copying things very early on, from age
three or four, and my mom was always putting it up on the
fridge and stuff.
It just always kind of made me really happy and really proud
that she liked what I did.
That sounds really sad, but I didn't really like playing.
I just really liked drawing.
So, to join in, she would draw with me, and whenever she drew
with me, if she drew girls--
I only found out after getting into tattoing that the way she
draws girls are very much like Jerry pin-ups.
Because tattooing designs in general, in magazines and that
stuff, so it's pretty cool that, if she was asked to draw
a girl, she'd just draw a pin-up.
And then, yeah, that just carried on.
And, we never really thought I was ever
gonna do anything else.
There was never a question of it.
And tattooing found me, thankfully.
And, this is the way now.
STEWART ROBSON: There's kind of different elements to
Valerie's style.
There's that kind of fantasy side.
But then, there's the more tattoo-ey side, the way she
can just do a really pretty version of some old flash.
She's careful of doing something really cute, or
something really tough, or something really beautiful, or
she never does anything ugly, but, she can make a witch look
cool, or a demon look cool.
But it's still beautiful.
VALERIE VARGAS: Personally, I like to base it on
I do enjoy putting a little bit of extra
detail here and there.
Bold lines, lots of black shading, bright colors.
I really enjoy doing bright colors.
I'm not a fan of it when people say, oh, can you make
it look old.
I'm like, the brighter the better.
STEFANO C.: She's a very good illustrator.
She knows how to put it down.
She ended up with her drawing skills to create what she got
at the moment, which is something pretty unique.

VALERIE VARGAS: Could you hold this?
Trying to close the both and I can't.
OK, I'll close that one if you hold this.

My name is Valerie Vargas, and I tattoo at Frith Street.

It's a little tiny shop in a basement in
the middle of Soho.
It's a really nice team we have, I think.
We all really enjoy each other's companies.
We're good friends.
And we all respect each other's work.

DANTE DIMASSA: I want to say we're a street shop.
This was the idea behind having the shop the way it is.
But we're not a street shop.
We do a lot of big work.
We do a lot of custom stuff.
The majority of the stuff is custom.
I can't remember the last time we've tattooed something
straight out of a flashbook or whatever.
I think we tend to more--
it's not our scene, but we tend to a lot of the--

we tend to a lot of kids.
Yeah, show him your front.
Don't be gay.

It's the shop that people want and come and get not
necessarily a particular tattoo, but they get a tattoo
that's theirs.

How old were you when you came and worked at the shop?
VALERIE VARGAS: Well, I've been here five years in
August, so, 25?
25, 26?
Yeah, you were only but a young spring
chicken when I met you.
DANTE DIMASSA: Valerie kind of came with Stewart, really.
The person who got the job offer was Stewart.
I hadn't planned on giving Valerie a job, but we knew
that she had a lot of promise.
I had always said to myself, I wasn't gonna employ a
boyfriend-girlfriend scenario here, but it seemed the
natural choice to get Valerie.
VALERIE VARGAS: We try and make sure that the grievance
is dealt with before we get to work.

Yeah, that's fucking rubbish to work with, you know.
I mean that's probably the reason why Danny almost didn't
give us a job together because he had at one point.
Nobody can stand our company by each other, so I think
that's the only reason we work out.

I tattoo next to Stewart Robson, of course.
We seem to be a bit of a kind of double deal.
Like if you're gonna have me, you're gonna have to have him,
and so forth.
And we really do enjoy talking over work, and like if I'm
tattooing, he's tattooing, we'll shout over at each other
or talk to each other's customers, so.
I really enjoy working next to him.
STEWART ROBSON: Sometimes she gets a little annoying.
It's like having your own conscience in front of you.
And you can't just ignore it.
It's there, going, come on, you need to do this.
VALERIE VARGAS: Are you doing any shading in
the curly bits, or?
STEWART ROBSON: I'm not sure.
VALERIE VARGAS: Like as a black and gray
shading, or color, or?
STEWART ROBSON: There's some sort of there, so I might just
leave that one.
VALERIE VARGAS: I think you should a full Indian disco
ball cut-out.

I don't think she's coming back after
this once you do it.
STEWART ROBSON: But I was always impressed by her
drawing skills.
She's always so good at drawing.
Particularly figurative stuff.
The shape of a female body, and the way that all the
joints fit together.
It was impressive.

VALERIE VARGAS: All right, here.
Just got one more rose to do.
And then we'll be done today.

DANTE DIMASSA: I don't wanna say Valerie does our
traditional tattooing, because it's far from being
Nonetheless, the idea, the way--
I suppose the execution is very traditional.
VALERIE VARGAS: I think you deserve a
pint of some chocolate.

DANTE DIMASSA: The designs that Valerie does are still
rooted in with good, solid, long-lasting tattooes.
She makes it work very, very well.
She's just done a back piece, a Rock of Ages back piece.
I really liked that tattoo.
I'd be proud to have that.
I like the lack of space, do you know what I mean?
I like the lack of space.
When you look at it, it looks like it's breathing at you.
I don't think she would want to say, my style is
traditional, or my style is--
I think her style is a mix of many styles put together.
Jack Rudy, Scott Sylvia, Tim Lehi, Chris Conn.
She's taken everything from those people and
made things her own.

VALERIE VARGAS: I started tattooing right after Chris
Conn pretty much quit tattooing.
I had seen a couple of his tattoos in older magazines.
I didn't connect his name, so I wasn't really aware that
this guy had been doing all these paintings that I really
liked as well.
And then when it all clicked in my head, I was like, oh, my
god, this is amazing, you know.
And can I get tattooed by him?
Oh, no, I can't.
Never mind.
I collected quite a few of these prints.
I've got the one that he did for Revisited.
With all the girl heads and stuff.
And I'm sure any tattooer worthy soul has that somewhere
and references heavily.
And even though I've always enjoyed doing girl heads, it
was that print that I really got it drummed into my head
what makes a successful tattooed lady head.
All the little tricks and everything, and I just took
that and ran away with it, and had my own style emerge.
I'd like to think anyway.


Hey, so what's going on?


That's OK.
I can do that.

I honestly don't get tired of doing girl heads.
People always ask me but--
I love it.
STEFANO C.: There was a time, like a couple of years ago
that she was doing lots of girls, doing everything.
Like doing like the hand holding something, doing
something, lots of face expressions.
VALERIE VARGAS: I did these two on the back
of calves on a girl.
I didn't do this one.
She didn't like that one because she thought it was too
much like this one, so I did a different one, with more
jewelry and different hairstyle and slightly
different facing.
Again, they're the bane of my life.
I get so many people wanting exactly those guys.
It's like, you can't have exactly the same thing.
That's not how it works.
STEWART ROBSON: It's awesome to see someone just grab a
style and wrestle with it and twist it and turn it into
something else.
The thing that maybe sets her apart from the Chris Conn
school of tattooing is each one of the faces
she draws is different.
Because there's a different mood, and she's really--
I think that came from her animation schooling and her
love of animation.
She'll watch all Disney animations endlessly.
She'll watch Robin Hood again and I can't stand it.
VALERIE VARGAS: At art school, I was studying animation.
And it was weird, because I always felt like the art kid
and then I moved to Dundee to study art, and then obviously,
you're not the art kid anymore.
You're just one of the art kids.

I wanted to do 2D.
I've always enjoyed drawing and right at the time I was
learning and I was in that course, 3D started.
Toy Story had just come out like the year before,
and that was it.
That was the beginning of the end.
And to actually use a computer as your primary source of
ugh, no, not for me.
I want to get stuck into something and physically be in
charge of it and not having to do it through another medium
which, again for me--
tattooing is just perfect.

You will sit here, and I will cause you pain, and you will
pay me for it.
And I'll be thankful for it.