What’s your medium?

Tattoo artistry offers intimacy and a celebration of permanency in an ever-changing world

Marin Macmillan’s style explores ecology using the human body as their canvas.
The exploration of self through ink on skin has been practiced across the world for thousands of years. Be it declarations of love, reminders of values, stories of heritage, or the art of another to decorate one’s body with, tattoos are part of human nature.
For the fourth edition of this column exploring an artistic medium, The Journal sat down with Montreal-based tattoo artist Marin Macmillan and Austin Derrheh-Prentice of Kingston’s True North Tattoo to explore tattooing, the permanency of their work, and their journey’s as artists.
Derrheh-Prentice spent his childhood filling sketchbooks with his drawings.
“I don’t remember a point in time where I wasn’t doing art; anytime we travelled when I was little, I’d have at least two sketchbooks on me,” he said.
Growing up around tattoo art through his parents’ unintentional propagation of Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry’s work instilled in him a fascination for classic American tattoo styles.
“I became obsessed with this hula girl design when my dad came home in a Sailor Jerry t-shirt and once I was a bit older, I looked into who he was,” Derrheh-Prentice said.
He became fascinated with how people use tattoos as a therapeutic method, sensing an opportunity to combine his desire to help people with his art.
“I always found it really fascinating to look at why people get what they get because there’s something so cool about something so permanent,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t think about the permanency before they get tattooed and then 20 years down the line, someone’s going to ask them why they got [their tattoo] and they’ll remember the exact reason.”
The intimacy of tattooing has allowed Derrheh-Prince to build a loyal client base who allow him to experiment and explore with new techniques.  Seeing his work evolve on someone’s body is unique for him after professionally tattooing for eight years.
“I could tell you exactly when a rose tattoo was done based on how it looks because it shifted so constantly before COVID.”
Derrheh-Prince‘s favourite tattoo on himself is from a Danish artist named Henning. He snagged a cancelled spot with his idol at the 2019 Montreal Tattoo Convention.
“I’ve been following his work since I was 14; in my personal opinion he’s one of the world’s best Japanese tattooers and incredibly gifted.” 
When it comes to getting tattoos, Derrheh-Prince recommends those exploring not to get swept up in the allure of tiny intricacies of artist designs when they’re fresh, but rather seek more information on how they heal.
“A fresh tattoo doesn’t matter; what matters is how it looks healed. I wish more tattooers were honest about that.” 
Macmillan’s interest in art wasn’t always  tattoo-specific.
“Honestly, I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil—tattooing came maybe three or so years ago. I started right at the beginning of the pandemic.”
What initially started as a creative learning project between Macmillan and their partner at the time has since evolved into their part-time job as they study at Concordia.
“My favourite thing about it is the intimacy of the interaction and the level of connection that tattooing requires,” they said.
“Even if you aren’t talking to your client or there isn’t a dialogue the whole time, the idea that you are permanently altering their body and them trusting you to do that is so intimate to me.”
Macmillian’s style of art is distinct: their designs follow the idea of interconnection and ecology through an eco-goth presentation. Their favourite projects are those in which their clients give them creative reign.
“Whenever people want more compositions than singular pieces, I get really excited because then I can work with the idea of connection in a larger and more complex context.”
With their body covered in art, choosing a favourite is a bit of a daunting task for Macmillan.
“For the aesthetics, my favourite ones may be my two neck pieces, but I also have this hand tattoo that says ‘I need to know’ and that is very near and dear to my heart.”
When asked about what it feels like to have someone want their art on their body, Macmillan said it’s mind-blowing.
“It’s a huge honour. Honestly, I’m consistently flattered and humbled and grateful—I love that people love my work.” 
For Macmillan and Derrheh-Prince both, embracing the little imperfections that may come with permanent art has been the biggest challenge for them.
“The biggest lesson is that it’s always going to be different and that’s the beauty of it. Because it’s permanent, you really want it to be perfect, but being a handmade practice—it never will be 100 per cent  perfect,” Macmillan told The Journal.
As Macmillan continues their work as a tattoo artist while studying anthropology at Concordia, their next steps are looking to integrate the two.
“I’m thinking about how tattooing can be a medium for mapping our connection to the world onto our bodies—how tattooing can connect us back to the land and ourselves in ways that we’ve been disconnected from in contemporary Western culture.”

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