Ethel Laka on being a tattoo artist


Ethel Laka is a Joburg-based professional tattoo artist. With over 10 years of experience, she chats to us about her craft.

By: Fundiswa Nkwanyana

1. I fell in love with drawing when I was a little girl. I’ve always been artistic and throughout my schooling, I excelled in the arts. Whether I was painting, sculpturing or drawing, I found joy in the art. Eventually, I stopped working in the dermatology sector to pursue a career as a tattoo artist.

2. Because I needed training, I used to hang around tattoo studios in order to learn about the art. This helped me because I was offered an apprenticeship at a professional studio where I spent a few years learning about the craft. During my apprenticeship, I received hands-on experience and learnt to customise my own needles, sterilisation procedures, hygiene, studio management and technique. After completing it, I started working as a professional tattoo artist.

Africa custom print done today! #etheltattoos #blackskintattoo #africatattoo #70juta #70jutastreet #braamfontein

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3. I love to create artwork on people’s skin. I enjoy helping people to express themselves through tattoos because most of them have sentimental value and meaning. I also enjoy meeting new and interesting people. This is a fulfilling job because people appreciate and love my work. I’m happy to have found my niche market because I don’t do offensive tattoos.

4. Being a black, female artist has its challenges. There have been instances where people did not want me to work on them because of their preconceived ideas of what a tattoo artist looks like. Luckily, I have a consistent client base because my work speaks for itself. During my apprenticeship, some people thought that I was a cleaner. But now that I have my own studio, they walk in knowing what to expect.

5. I still want to learn more about the art of tattooing. I plan to work and travel abroad for a few months so I can experience the scale on an international level. The demand for large-scale tattoos is increasing, and the techniques and machinery are evolving at a fast pace. I want to be a part of these progressive changes because I love what I do.