It’s the end of the day at the end of summer. A September Saturday, 2022 in a quiet park by an old church, nestled
away within Nottingham city – three goths gather on the grass.
Just kidding. Gemma had the honour of sitting down the absolute powerhouse of an artist, Anna Garvey. Business
owner, traveller, life-changer and all round general badass, Anna operates between her private tattoo studio Revenant in
Nottingham, Un1ty Tattoo in Shrewsbury and the whole universe on an actual boat.
In this recorded interview conversation, we chat with Anna and Breo (beloved piercer at Rogue Piercing) about Anna’s work
as a traditional tattoo artist, her development as a specialist post-mastectomy tattoo artist, her journey in the industry so far and some amazing stories from her travels.
“Memory is an interesting thing, you're never quite sure how true it is”
Gemma: You’ve been tattooing about 16 or 17 years. It’s ambiguous on the internet.
Anna: I think that’s about right, I started when I was 18 and I’m 36 but I have had small breaks along the way.
G: What drew you to that industry in the beginning?
A: It was an unusual calling because if you met my family, none of them really have tattoos or piercings. And also
back in the old days, it was still quite different when I came into it, it wasn’t like athletes didn’t really have physical
tattoos and film stars and stuff. Probably the first thing that drew me were music magazines, seeing rock stars and
that subculture, the exciting nature of it. And then as soon as I got tattooed, I just completely knew that was what I
wanted to do.
There was a really nice chap in the studio when I got my first tattoo, he was doing a PhD in something to do with
anthropology. He talked to me about the history of tattooing and gave me some books and it just opened up my
world. I was already a real nerd, I’d sit in the college library and read every book I could about it. I just realized that
this is a really ancient, human thing that also has a future. And that’s an exciting thing to be part of.
G: The early 2000’s, when you started tattooing, that was around the same time that the alternative scene in the UK
was really starting to expand
A: It was all like super subculture and then it kind of came into the light. In my early years, Miami Ink was the first
tattoo TV show. And whether you like it or not, it revolutionized what we do in the public eye.
G: It’s the first time I saw a heavily tattooed woman on TV.
A: You might see like a couple of the music mags, but the girls only had. Like a couple of stars or a little bit on their
shoulder. Nobody had lots of tattoos on TV before then.
Breo: I think the fact that Kat Von Dee was that successful, in that time, is important. She had her own TV show,
makeup line, tattoo business. She’s a very successful, heavily tattooed woman and that was a big deal in that era.
A: There were women who were successful in tattooing, but nobody who had really broken in to the mainstream.
“It’s a collaboration. It’s teamwork.”
G: How did you find being a young woman in an industry that was quite ‘male dominated’ back then?
A: The rhetoric around gender as it relates to the industry has certainly changed a lot. Memory is an interesting
thing, you’re never quite sure how true it is but I do think blissful ignorance was helpful. My Apprentice Master was
a guy and so was everyone I worked with. I was a little feisty punk rocker. I was really self confident in some areas,
really shy in other areas, I think youth was on my side at that point, because I just went in like a bull in a China shop
and was like, “I’m doing this and nothing that anybody does is gonna get in my way.”
And it didn’t.
There were things said that when you look back, wouldn’t be okay now. It was just people giving you shit. I got quite
a lot of shit off the customers. I actually had somebody walk out the chair one day. They sat down, looked at me
and said, “you’re not fucking tattooing me, are you?” And just stormed out. But honestly it didn’t bother me that. I’ve
always just been like live and let live. I never felt like, “I’m a girl and I’ve gotta prove myself”. I already felt like I had
to prove myself. So it was nothing to do with my gender.
It was to do with the fact that I wanted to get into a really difficult industry. And I knew it was gonna be tough and it
was tough and it was definitely a lot tougher then in some regards. But yeah, I was just really big headed.
G: That’s a very powerful attitude to have. How did you get your apprenticeship? A: There was only one shop in each town. Everyone was still really territorial. t was just luck and a good
combination of personalities. I put the work in and got my foot in the door and that’s how it happened. I’m super
lucky that that’s the way it went.
We see it all the time, people who really wanna do this, but I also realized that like I had to show my value to them.
What reason do they have to take this kid on and welcome them into the shop? I’d show them my drawings and
get to know everyone, I was already getting tattooed at the studio where I apprenticed. And then I worked super
hard, scrubbed the skirting board., did every errand ever, worked overtime. At the same time, I was in college
studying textiles, theatre studies and English.
G: I would’ve never pegged you for a theatre kid.
A: I used to really like behind the scenes stuff. I didn’t just dig it for the performance. I like it for the kind of literature side.
We studied some really interesting plays like that taught me about history and culture. I quite liked that kind of
coming together and making a project and seeing it through. So yeah, I was less of the performance arts kid and
more interested in theatre and the the study and behind it.
G: That’s how I feel tattooing is, people coming together to work on a project.
A: It’s a collaboration. It’s teamwork. And that’s the way I approach it. It’s not about me and my art and my career
and what I want to do. It’s about how can we come together, bring ideas together and create something.
G: Your journey started in Shropshire but it’s taken you all over the world, what has that been like for you?
A: Shropshire is a nice place to grow up and you definitely realize that more as you get older, how lucky you were
to be born in the place that you were.
B: I’ve never seen violence in that town. I have to say that, I’ve never seen conflicts in the streets. But it is a place
with some sadness.
A: Yeah, absolutely. I always wanted to travel and tattooing has afforded me that with the social networks behind it,
the opportunity, the confidence.
I was absolutely terrified when I first started traveling. At my first ever guest spot, I was so nervous that they closed
the studio and took me to the zoo instead. But I knew I had to do it. And I was like, I just gotta do it.
Obviously it gets easier and easier each time. It’s really taught me that you are responsible for your own path, you
are responsible for how you respond to situations, you’re responsible for working through the things that you find
difficult. Nobody else is gonna fix that for you, in a job like this., you’ve got to put the work in yourself and find the
solutions for yourself.
But every time I travel, whether it’s to Manchester or to Kathmandu, every experience is significant to my journey.
G: What took you out to Nepal?
A: *adorable Anna laughter* Spontaneity, ADHD type behaviour patterns. Hunger for a change. I’d been running
the business for a few years at that point and I was at the point where I could take a bit more time off. It was just
one random Sunday night and I was looking for a European show when I saw Kathmandu. I’d never even
considered going there. until I researched it a bit more and then realized that actually, it was in my reach. So I
reached for it and I met some amazing people like Marie from France. She’s such a good, close friend. One of
those people that even though we don’t see each other very often, I can genuinely see us being little old ladies and
drinking tea and talking about the world together.
Life just takes you places sometimes and you look back and think, “I don’t even know how I even got there but I
But going to the Nepal tattoo convention absolutely changed the trajectory of my career and life. The conventions
that I’ve been to here and in Europe were a lot more like competitive and ego driven. In Nepal, it was a real meeting
of minds with people from all over the world that are doing amazing work that are genuinely just there for the
absolute pure love of what we do. I met people there that opened doors for me that will never be closed.
So that was a hugely momentous experience. But then I also get a lot out of guest spots at friend shops where I’ve
met new people. People that I’ve shared good times and difficult times with, partied with and worked very hard
with. I think everything you do informs everything else eventually.
G: You paint a very wholesome picture of tattoo artists that I don’t think a lot of people outside the industry really
see very much A: Everyone’s different and just because we do the same job it doesn’t mean that we’re anything alike. I’ve always
said I don’t know loads of people in tattooing, but the ones that I know and have stuck around with me are really
good, genuine ones, and that’s more important.
Often we are quite sensitive and odd and we do this because maybe we don’t fit into mainstream jobs so we seek
out something alternative and then we end up here. We all have difficult days. and times when we’re not sure. This
a big thing that COVID taught me, we have to be grateful every single day. For me, it was really humbling. There
are so many forces that are bigger than us, that we can’t control. So I think every single day we get to do what we
love to do. That’s bonus.
“If you do nothing, nothing changes.”
G: Tell us how you got started with post mastectomy tattooing
A: My apprenticeship was pretty solid and I was taught a lot about covering scars and stuff. It took me a awhile to
realize this, but I just have quite a natural bonus that I’m not afraid of looking at scars and I’m not afraid of the
emotional side of it. I’m a miserable goth at the end of the day, life is difficult and I’m okay with that. I don’t love it,
but I’m okay with it. So I think that my personality helps. I’d done quite a bit of work covering scars early in my
career like scoliosis scars, surgery scars etc.
Then one client came to me and she’d had a full breast removal and I just knew I was ready to do this sort of work.
It was just one of the most beautiful, beautiful tasks I’ve ever had to complete. The whole experience of it was
amazing and I knew then that I needed to do more of this. I think my style of work lends itself to it, my personality
lends itself to it. And I just put the work in, I put the word out there it just snowballed really.
And now I do a lot of it, which is very humbling. Very special. Very difficult.
G: As the artist, how do you manage the emotional side of post mastectomy tattooing?
A: That’s an interesting question. My long pause says a lot, actually.
Of course my response is different with every person and with every situation. Sometimes it absolutely breaks my
heart and sometimes it doesn’t because life is difficult and life is complicated. The phrase “close to the bone” came
to mind but of course, with a full removal, it is literally close to the bone. It is close to the bone of life and death and
the really difficult bit in between.
It can be really hard but I like to exercise, walk my dogs, riding horses, doing something that humbles me and
centres me, that’s kind of my way of dealing with it. But some days I am just completely, emotionally overwhelmed
and I don’t talk about my feelings very much to anybody. But doing these projects reminds me that you have to
grow and you have to change and you have to constantly be a new version of yourself depending on what life
throws at you.
Comforting is a difficult word to use, but it can be comforting, the fact that we all go through these things. And it
doesn’t happen to ‘other people’, it happens to everybody around us and people that we know. Everybody’s having
difficulties and it keeps me level and it keeps me humble and reminds me to take the joy while it’s there.
“It's beautiful to almost, share a misery with someone.”
G: Femininity can be a loaded topic but I imagine for some people, having a full or partial mastectomy might feel
like they’ve lost some femininity. How does your style of art lend itself to that healing process?
A: I’m not a massively feminine person in the way I present myself but I do think that my soul is quite feminine. I
always look at post mastectomy tattoos as a technical project. It’s about the shape of the body. It’s about the way it
moves. And that then knocks on to create the femininity. You might not have a breast or you have a different breast
than before, but the rest of your body is still the same. Your mind is still the same, the way that you function in the
clothes that you wear is still the same. So it begins as a technical thing, but then that inherently becomes an
I find it really interesting how men respond to the post mastectomy tattoos. I was tattooing a guy the other day who
I’ve worked on for quite a couple of years now and he was looking at one of the my mastectomy posters and he
said “Genuinely, it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful to look at. And it’s beautiful to know that you did that with
B: It’s beautiful to almost, share a misery with someone. I don’t think it’s about gender, it’s about transmitting who
someone is as a person, into the tattoo. I think you have to empathize to a level, that with a ‘regular customer’, for a
‘regular tattoo’, you don’t necessarily need to.
A: Y’know, men can get a bit of a bad rep but most of you are bloody lovely and you love women. You love your
wives. You love your mothers, you love your sisters and your cousins. And to see the response of men to the work
that I do, I find it really interesting.
One of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever had with post-mastectomy tattooing was a client who, as she looked in
the mirror, her husband came up next to her and put his arm around her and he said “I’m so happy for you, darling.
I hope now that you see yourself as beautiful as I see you every day.”
And honestly, I had to turn around because, I can get emotional about it in my own time. That was their moment, t’s
not mine to claim. None of it is. I don’t claim any ownership over any of this. I just make a nice image. I’m the
facilitator of that.
B: You literally change lives. That’s exactly how I see you it, you change the life of someone. You made something
beautiful for them. They can look at themselves proudly. You create something with them that is priceless.
A: It is emotional because it’s not just to how they feel as the person who has the tattoo, it’s about how relieved
their friends and family feel that they can go forward.
G: For people who are a part of or who are aspiring to be part of this weird and wonderful alternative industry, what
advice do you have?
A: I can only advise from my personal experience. Our existence is only our own. But I do feel at this point in my life
that I have turned my weaknesses into strengths. I hate not doing something just because I’m scared of it. Just go
fucking do it. And then you do it. I know that if I push through that adversity, then things will be better. I will be
better. And then there’s other times when it’s because you don’t have a choice. That’s that’s the way I look at it. If
you do nothing, nothing changes. If you push through it and you can really dig deep and find the strength then you
don’t what you’re capable of until you have to. You don’t know until you are really pushed and sometimes it’s other
people and other factors and sometimes it’s you pushing you, but whatever it is, you’ve gotta just go along with it
and keep pushing.
You’ve got two options; do it or don’t do it.
“You can't just expect everybody to respect your decisions.”
G: So, Revenant. Incredible name. Especially when you opened it during a casual global pandemic in an entirely
A: That’s what I mean by do or don’t do.
The name just came to be in traffic on the M6 and I just knew straight away that was the name for my studio. We
are all revenant everything that we go through when it breaks us down to our bare bones, and then we have to
regrow and it’s super hard. We’re all, revenant every fucking day. So yeah, my clients named it.
I’d had a really crazy few years and I had been dismantled by various various factors and I knew that it was time to
change. Literally and metaphorically dismantled my life and then restarted it in Nottingham.
G: Revenant is one of the most beautiful studios I’ve seen. In the nicest way, it feels like you’re in some kind of
crazy old lady’s little secret cove.
A: Wonderful. That’s exactly where you are.
I like spaces and designing spaces and using them and also particularly being That studio space has been there for
hundreds of years and I don’t know what came before and hundreds of years after we gone, guess what? It’s still
gonna be there. We’re in a space where all of this creativity and this emotion and the laughs and the singalongs
and the blood, sweat and tears are happening and it’s just a little blip in time, one day it won’t be our space. it’s
very, very unique space. I mean, it was bloody hard to renovate. I think you have to lean into it as a space, I think
there’s no point fighting it. It’s very old, it’s underground, it’s brick, but that created it’s own warmth. And as I’ve got
to know it, it’s evolved into something with everyone that’s come through the doors and every piece of art in there
and everything that’s happened, that all becomes a part of the whole space.
G: What’s in the future for Revenant?
A: I don’t know. I’m at an interesting point of life. Rebuilding. And post COVID, I think we’re all just settling into how
life looks now. How we feel about things and it’s gonna take a long time, obviously. So at the moment I’ve kind of
taken my hands off the reins a bit. I opened my first studio at 24. I think some would call it maturity, but I’ve really
just settled into being a bit more present and the private studio is wonderful for me at this time. I regularly guests at
Unity and I love it because I get mega creativity. And they are like, in my estimation, so much above me,, and that’s
where I need to be right now. But not full time. I need to be there to get that input from those artists that I really
respect and that’s pushing me forward with my own private space at Revenant.
But also life can change. I’ve really felt that the last few years I’m not gonna have any real long term plans. because I
don’t know where it’s going to go. For now I’m really just knuckling down, working hard, focusing on my work on, on
my clients and the studios space and we will see what unfolds.
G: How has the opinions of your family and friends changed throughout your tattoo journey?
A: Yeah, definitely. And I am so genuinely proud of them. Pride could go both ways. You shouldn’t just be proud of
your kids. It’s nice, if your kids or your family could be proud of you back. And I really am because my folks are a bit
older. It’s not their world. There were difficult times to begin and now with the maturity of a 30 something, I understand. I did not at the time, but now I get it. Respect and understanding has to be earned and worked at and
you can’t just expect everybody to respect your decisions.
They’re really proud and they’ve met loads of people of people through my career that, you know, in former times
they might not have sat down and had a cuppa with. They’ve seen everything that it’s afforded me and they’ve seen
the ups and downs. They’ve really been there for me. And I could not have got as far as I got without their support,
which took work. I got it and I appreciate it every day, I really do. They’re proud of the way that I look and proud of
the fact that sometimes it ruffles feathers, but they’re like, ”Ruffle feathers, because you work for it!” I’ve been really
lucky with that.
I often speak to other people who are having slight difficulties with their families about their life choices and my
advice is like work at it and talk to them and try to explain your viewpoint. And don’t be upset and angry at them for
not getting it because their life experience is theirs and your life experience is yours. They have to take the ride with
you and they have to learn it in their own way. Parents are people too and they have views of how their life was
gonna turn out and how their kids were gonna turn out. It can be difficult for them when you don’t match up to their
expectations. But if you can say “Okay, that that was the then, but this is the now. I’m way happier”, I think in time
you can work through things. But if you wouldn’t die for them, their opinion doesn’t really matter.
Most things in life are a reciprocal arrangement of some kind. And if it’s not reciprocal, then it just doesn’t really
matter. It’s none in my business what people on the internet think, for example. And that’s why I don’t internet a lot
as well. I choose not to open myself up to that. And maybe that’s partly because I don’t want to welcome aggro into
my life, but also it’s just because I’m just not really that bothered what people think. I don’t need to share my opinion
with you because it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve got my biggest critic on my back all the time.
I’m just really proud to be a part of something that helps people access a bit of themselves. We exist in a tattoo industry
where we can live how we live and look how we look unapologetically and I think sometimes we don’t realize how
brave and lucky we are to do that. And when we give people a little taste of that and a little taste of their own
strengths, knowing that somebody else will leave feeling a little bit stronger than they came in. It’s really a privilege.
And there’s a violence to what we do. Maybe, as people who are sensitive and have been through some shit, the
violence in what we do is less of a worry. Tattoos and piercings are painful. Life can be painful. A piercing is
seconds of pain, a couple of months of discomfort and that’s something that you’ve chosen and I’ve helped you do
that. And like, I’m not super afraid of that side of it, of the blood, sweat, and tears. With scars and stuff, I remember
when I first started tattooing over people’s scars and I was talking to my step mother about it and she reminded me
that some people are really uncomfortable with that. With looking at scars or feeling scars. I think it can be a
beautiful thing. And also it’s a testament to how awesome the human body and medical science are. The body will
heal after we’ve chopped bits off and that’s an insane miracle every day and a very beautiful thing. Biology, art and
science is the reason I got into doing what I do.
I’m a great believer in the power of smoke and mirror and fiction and magic and all those things. I think it’s a really
important thing to help us get through life. To create and to imagine and disappear into a good book or a movie and
it’s just really special to have a role where you can do that. There’s a quote from Tom Robbins which I love: “Those
who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death.”
Make sure to follow Rogue on social media.
You can find Anna at Revenant Tattoo.
Read more of our interviews here!