Our weekly Spotlight series is a close up look at the talented people using Format websites to showcase their work. This week, we interview tattoo artist Lee D'Angelo, also known as Rat 666 Tat.
Tattoo culture has historically been male-dominated, but as more and more people are getting tattoos, the industry is slowly undergoing a sea change. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of millennials have at least one tattoo. With tattoos growing in popularity and acceptance, the field is gradually becoming a more diverse and open space.
Toronto-based Lee D'Angelo is one such artist working to make tattoo more inclusive. D'Angelo works out of The Outcast Club, a queer feminist tattoo studio founded this year by D'Angelo and fellow artists Tate Sameshima and Alison James. The Outcast Club’s mandate is to provide a safe space for queer, trans, non-binary, and marginalized tattoo artists and clients, offering a counterpoint to the macho vibe that still characterizes many tattoo studios.
D'Angelo is entirely self-taught, having come to tattoo as an illustration student. Their tattoo work is creative, playful, full of delicate line work, and often inspired by activism. The resulting style is hard to forget and has garnered D'Angelo a large fanbase on Instagram, where their handle is the wonderfully memorable Rat 666 Tat.
On D'Angelo’s website, they use Format’s Horizon Left theme to display a select tattoo portfolio and flash art gallery in a simple horizontal scroll. A red serif font adds a classic feel to the site.
We got in touch with D'Angelo to talk about what inspires their work and their advice for other creatives thinking about starting a tattoo career.
How did you first get into tattooing?
I got into tattooing in my last year at OCAD. I was in the illustration program and had dabbled in stick n poke tattoos when I was younger so the two things naturally collided.
What artists or other inspirations influence your work?
I feel like art history is a big part of my practice, but so is political activism. I’m inspired a lot by protest signs, feminist art, pop culture and seeing how those things interact with paintings like The Raft of the Medusa or Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
It’s also important for me to use humor in my work to make serious topics like homophobia or sexism more approachable. I want to discuss these things in a way that feels empowering rather than bleak.
On your site you mention that creating a safe space for clients is your priority. What does this look like for you?
Safe space is my first priority and when I’m working at the shop I do my best to foster this kind of environment by being thoughtful about the space I take up, being kind, and being an active listener. Obviously things like racism, homophobia, sexism, body shaming, etc, are not tolerated in the shop, and in an uncomfortable situation safe space is maintained by handling these without escalating the problem. For me it is about mutual respect and making people feel welcome.
What advice would you have for someone looking to begin a career as a tattoo artist?
I never know how to answer this question when people email me looking for advice. I’m self-taught and experience tattooing from an outsider’s perspective. If you want to tattoo, maybe look into an apprenticeship if you find a shop that fosters a good work environment. If you’re tattooing in unconventional spaces, the only advice I can really give is to make sure you are doing it safely. Look at BodySafe’s website, look at the bloodborne pathogens test; do some research so you can feel confident in your own work.
How do you use your website to support your work?
I use my website to showcase flash art. The layout I chose is just an endless side scroll and it’s linked to my Instagram so people can see it easily. I also use my website for emails and bookings; it’s much easier than receiving a bunch of DMs.
Could you share a recent favorite tattoo that you’ve done?
Recently I tattooed a chain link fence over top of a large, poorly done Canadian flag tattoo. It feels really good to make someone feel happy about a tattoo they have and don’t like. It’s also a fun design challenge for me. I also recently tattooed Bart Simpson in drag, wearing fishnets and heels—that felt good.
Name two tattoo artists we should be following.
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