Interview: Andrea Zanin

I studied Fine Art, specialising in Illustration, and then worked as an illustrator for a few years doing mainly children’s books and illustrations for magazines, but I always had an interest in tattoos, piercings and body modification. A childhood friend opened one of the first tattoo studios in Barcelona, where I am from originally, and I did reception work in his studio while studying. But it wasn’t until I met Jesse, my husband and co-owner of Scratchline Tattoo, that I began to pursue my interest in body art. He was heavily tattooed and extremely passionate about everything to do with tattooing and body modification – he did his final anthropology dissertation on the subject! He gave me my first tattoo machine as a present and told me I should start tattooing him. So I did. And now we run a business. Scratchline Tattoo has been open for three and a half years and finally everything is falling into place.

I wasn’t expecting to start a business so soon but I knew that it was something I was going to have to do at some point. The thing with the tattoo industry (although it’s a bit better now) is that it’s a man’s world and it’s not family-friendly. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I had a difficult time getting a job and then when I fell pregnant with my second daughter, my (then) boss told me that my job was not sustainable in the long term – having to take time off for my baby meant that I was no longer a reliable source of income for him. It was then that I decided that work was going to have to be my own thing, on my own terms.

Jesse and I started playing with the idea of opening our own studio, but as a future project. We looked at a London map and decided on a few areas, and as soon as I started looking for a retail shop I found one in Kentish Town and we fell in love with it. We signed the papers for the shop in June and my daughter was born in August – so much for ‘future’. I was painting the walls with my massive belly and I was still working on the decor (because I like doing my own decorating – I did all the furniture in the shop) right after my baby was born. I think I was very naïve and I don’t know that I would have done it again in the same way but I didn’t really have a choice… it was just the timing. It’s never quite right, is it?

When I was pregnant with my first daughter I had a difficult time getting a job. When I fell pregnant with my second daughter, my boss told me that my job was not sustainable in the long-term

The first year was ridiculous; we couldn’t find people who we could rely on and who we liked working with. We were low on energy and were pretty much tattooing as and when, mostly Jesse because I was doing the small baby thing although I was also trying to push myself because we needed customers to make the business work. We don’t have family nearby so if I was at the shop Jesse was with the girls and vice versa. And we still work like that; we normally don’t work together although now that one of my girls is at school and the other at nursery full time, we can both work simultaneously, which makes things easier. Jesse has been amazing. We share everything; I did pregnancy but everything else is 50/50. Family and business were always going to be joint projects and he has kept his word. I couldn’t do either without him.

We sometimes find it difficult to separate work from home and often we need to make a conscious effort not to talk about work when we’re not in the shop. But being co-owners is certainly useful because we know that when something happens and one of us needs to take time off, when one of the kids is ill for example, we can do that. If we weren’t business owners, either I would have to have an amazing job that would allow me to take the time I need or Jesse would have to do it, or I’d have to work part time – it’d be difficult.

Time has always been the most challenging thing about managing both a business and a family. There are still days when I just want to cry because I don’t have time to do anything, not even shower! Lack of sleep and free time can make it difficult to focus on something new or develop a new idea when it immediately pops into my head, but it’s doable. I rarely work around my children. I make a conscious effort to have one day in the shop when I am not tattooing but am only there to draw. Sometimes inspiration will come while I’m walking in the park but if you’re used to working in a certain way and you sit down and do it (some days will be less crazy than others), you will end up working on your chosen day or at your chosen time if you make the effort to do it. Sometimes I’ll have my phone with me and if I have an idea I’ll just make a note of it, and that will be it. I do draw constantly with my children but I try not to draw for them because I don’t want them to stop being creative, so when they ask me to draw things, I say “no, you draw it” and when they tell me I do it better, I say “no, you do it your way and I do it my way.”

Time has always been the most challenging thing about managing a business and a family. There are still days when I want to cry because I don’t have time to do anything, not even shower

Children have crazy minds and come up with the weirdest ideas; sometimes you start telling them a story and they finish it with something so strange. I like to listen to what they say and then use it – not in my tattooing designs because those have a particular briefing (a collaboration between the ideas of both myself and my client) but if it’s for me, an exhibition or a commission, then I do use a lot of that because I do like to have some sort of abstract or surreal thing going on in my drawing. My children inspire my art. They also ask me about my work. They see our work stuff at home; we have designated work areas where we keep things out and the girls know not to touch it but often they can see what we have been working on and ask to have a look, and I find it really nice. I love now that my kids are a little bit older and we can ask one another about each others’ days (the baby bit was always the worst for me… the lack of conversation) and I can say “I did a really cool tattoo” and I can show them.

I admire stay-at-home mums. For me, it would be difficult to stay at home; I think I’d be the most horrible partner and the most horrible mother if I felt that I didn’t have anything exciting to tell my family at the end of the day. Juggling family and business is tough, everything is so finely balanced, but the experience has been amazing. We’re very happy where we are right now.;

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