Interview by Chris Timm
Featured image by @mumbaphotos

Image by @raphael_blues

Do you have a specific memory that made you decide to get into tattooing?
My tattooing started by going on a date of sorts and this is where I received my first tattoo, a hairy mole with long hair, which was turned into a small person with long hair. I also had my head shaved that same evening, a few long hairs got a body, my long hair lost its body. From there I would visit and sit in her kitchen and tattoo myself, tattooed other friends (in a chaotic, horrifyingly unsanitary way), most of these tattoos never came out well and I do not understand how my friends at the time allowed their bodies as canvases to my jabbing with a simple sewing needle. My friends still offer their bodies for tattoos, however, now it is sterile work and with proper precaution and equipment, fortunately, for all parties involved. I had never thought tattooing to be so accessible, and at the time thought it was so easy, however, hahahah, there are lots of tricks, techniques, and feeling you need to develop for it.

Fabi’s first tattoo encounter.

Why do you handpoke instead of machine tattooing?
It is just the way I’m comfortable, all of tattooing has its limitations and handpoke its own limitations and its own possibilities or potentials. It does take a while longer to create pieces, but it is less physically traumatic and slower, and I would like to think, more present for the tattooer and the tattooe. Machine also has its own benefits with size and potential of things you can create from design to tattoo outcome itself, but I am pretty comfortable with the current setup of dot-for-dot markings, but there is forever more to be learnt. Matthew (@Somber_pokes) spotted some of my work on Instagram and has been a big mentor, in different techniques I can use as well as ways of going about the tattooing process that I had never considered before, shout-out Matthew for seeing me, breaking down the gatekeeping of tattoo knowledge, and picking me up in times where I felt stagnant! 

I also feel like there is a certain community of handpoke tattoo artists, cross-continental and within SA, which his cool to share and chat with other persons doing the same vibe, chatting about process and other experiences with one another, especially two other homies I’ve been doing a lot with Neo (@Astral_tatts) and Bobbi (@Bobbi_pokes). I don’t really know how machine tattooing works in terms of consumables, but I feel like it takes my costs down a lot and allows more people to get tattooed, there is less costs involved, and I always try catering to the different people who come to me (making use of a pay what you can slider), so some sort of accessibility, but not in the other (my location spatially, being in the far corner of the city bowl in CPT).

Machine (coil or rotary) tattooing and handpoke tattooing

Your flash all seems to follow a sort of sketchbook style. What is your approach to flash and tattoo design in general?
I’ve always been a big fan of sketching out persons and places where I find myself. Didn’t take the arts at school and so it was a lil fun exercise and thing to keep my mind busy. Never took it mega seriously but always tried to emulate the world. When I was about seven or eight my mom bought us (my brother and I) the first computer game which we interacted with ever, it was a game of knights and you built a town with little horsemen and knights, at this time I was really invested in knights, armour and swords. I also had all these historical civilisations books which included global north civilisations with their gods, beliefs, historical figures as well as the dark ages books. I didn’t speak, or read English at the time, but I adored (and was freaked out) by the images, still mega fascinating!

In the past six months I’ve tried multiple ways of designing tattoos, many from which I’m inspired off of the internet, such as the linocut designs from someone based in England (@Louisnt) and Cole (@Cruelbard) with their mystical and only dot-work designs. Trying to emulate similar things to what they create, however fun and exciting, I still want to do my own style or own type of doing the handpoke story. So, I’ve started incorporating my sketching as part of the tattooing, instead of trying to emulate lines or full colouring in spaces, the shading is really exciting, figuring out how to get the different gradients out on skin as with a pencil crayon pressed at different intensities. I’m always so stumped by people getting drawings or designs I’ve made permanently captured in their skins, it’s such an honour every time. So, for each piece that is semi sketch like, I draw things from life or reference with fast movements and to make the images dynamic. A good friend of mine (Raphael Blue) said it is strange because he lives with many of MY memories on his skin, which he has a small view into however, they are still my memories, and he can never fully understand what they are and where they’re from.

Fabis connection and inspiration to the world beyond, with Acacia sp. Thorns spreading far and wide.
Image by Ian Grose

Many tattoo artists will only tattoo their own flash/designs, you seem to be willing to tattoo anything that comes your way. Why is that?
Hahahaha! Yea! I enjoy doing my designs obviously, but also some people come to me for specific symbols that relate to them, symbols of healing, symbols of life change they’ve undergone, keeping their bodies as memory banks, keeping people close to who they can no longer access in the physical. There is so much of physical and cerebral entangled in this tattooing or mark making space. I also want to have space and time for people who trust me with augmenting their appearance and bodies in a certain way they seem fit; in things they hold close or things they find fun! Like I said earlier, most of my designs are of me and of my mind and I also want to allow space for people to bring their own ideas, their own memories and their own symbols for events that are specific to THEM. This also allows another space for collaboration and changes within their design, or ways to create and express said design. 

There is an incredible book written by Tamara Santibañez (@Tamarasantibanez) called “Is this magic?” and it is an brilliant compilation of experiences and cerebral associations with tattooing, reasons why people get tattoos and the works beyond the actual tattooing process itself, this booklet is obviously not a full all end all compilation, however a great read for anyone involved in tattooing in a psychological component to tattooing, the measures and nuance one as a tattooer needs to take to ensure safer spaces, awareness, power dynamics, and caution into the process of tattooing and interactions with any client. There is forever growth, as within any field, no matter how much of a specialist you are, there are can always more to learn and more space where one falls short.

Image by Grace Crooks

You’ve released 3 animations (Young Gripper, Pigeon Story and well as an animation for your father), do you have any other projects in the works or projects you would like to do?
Raphael Blue (@raphael_blues) and I are working on a video where I will be animating a bit in which I’m extremely excited about, more fun and collaborative exercises! I’m still new to the animation things and created these animations during the initial lockdown, a tedious but so satisfying way of creating animations by drawing it out frame for frame. KY Bxshxff (@Kybxshxff) is writing a graphic novel which they want to incorporate animation elements in which the reader can interact with the book, aided by a phone, they chose me, as well as two other illustrators, to be part of this novel, which I’m MEGA honoured and excited about! There is also a third animation project that I’m part of for Tsoku Maela (@Tsokumaela) for another project we’re working on, not yet much to say of these projects but within the year one can see the results of them! Outside of these illustration and animation projects I’ll be concentrating a lot on the tattooing and also some studies that I’m finishing.

Image by Ian Grose

You tattoo, draw, animate and make jewellery but what some may not know is that you are pursuing a career in lichenology (the study of lichens and symbiotic organisms). What drew you to this field of study?
I studied Nature Conservation at CPUT here in Cape Town, for the third year they have something called a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) year. Within this year each student continues their studies while being stationed at a nature conservation area, and for this I chose the Richtersveld (part of the Ais-Ais-Richtersveld transfrontier park), on the border of Namibia and South Africa, Sida !gub. Here I stayed with botanist Pieter van Wyk, where I was involved in fine-scale vegetation mapping of the surrounding higher mountains that Pieter was conducting at the time, I collected a lot of lichens as well as lower life forms (just a description, not a name haha). During the week I was a field ranger for SANParks and on weekends Pieter and I would drive out to remote areas and hike out mountains to take data at different altitudes and different directions (North, East, South, West), we created ten by ten-meter quadrants, where we would count different plant species and their estimated percentage cover within said quadrant. I would collect unidentifiable lichens, mosses, liverworts, and fungi, and do the same as with the vegetation but just concerning lichen. So, all in all, I carried around a lot of rocks. 

Image by @crooksister


How to get hold of Fabian:
@Newspaperbody
@splattered.egg
Email: fabiandholm@gmail.com