CHRISTINE NOBLE is a tattoo artist and all-around badass hailing from my sister city, toronto! i met christine about 5 months ago on a trip to toronto with my boyfriend. she and one of my closest friends and DJ miss esther benoit (aka DJ e.steria) had just started dating, and i was super excited to meet the motorcycle riding, tattoo covered chick that esther had been talking about for weeks. after meeting her, she was quick to join in our group’s social dynamic (which basically consists of making fun of each other, chain smoking, dancing and talking about how in love we all are). i loved her immediately. outgoing, positive and, above all, incredibly kind, christine is not only one of the most talented tattoo artists i’ve had the pleasure of meeting, she is easily the most down-to-earth girl i know. she has a lot to say about life, tattoos, music and what it’s like to be a chick in an industry dominated by men – read all about her manifesto after the jump!
listen to a mix made for christine by her wife and constant inspiration, DJ E.SteriA, while you read! xx
how long have you been tattooing? how did you get your start?
first and foremost, i’d like to mention right off the cuff that i’ve been into drawing and art my entire life. i learnt how to draw through copying the sunday paper comics and ninja turtles with my pops. and now i’ve been tattooing for a little less than five years now (it’s a little cloudy as to when i actually started) and loving every fucking second of it.
what was the first tattoo you got?
the first tattoo i ever got just happened to also be the first tattoo i ever did. it all went down when i was fourteen and was experiencing a bout of insomnia. the procedure screamed jail-house, involving a lighter, two tape-bound pins and some india ink. i did this outline of a butterfly on my left hand and as much as it’s a girly, dinky and faded little tattoo, i just don’t have the heart to get it removed or covered cause it was my first. at the time it symbolized change to me, something i was desperately trying to covet because it had become apparent that trouble was bound to follow me around. since then, change has been a constant theme in my life, so it’s proven to be quite fitting. i had a few offers from friends for me to tattoo them back then but didn’t feel comfortable doing it on someone else so i did another one a week later on my ankle, the roman numeral for 7, and have since had that one covered up.
awesome! i can’t believe your first tattoo was by you! you have serious balls, woman. so what happened next, where did you go from there?
well, in my last year of highschool, the last time the leafs were in the playoffs, after i had “straightened up” considerably, i was trying to figure out what to do next. the options were looking like going to university for musical theatre and being a starving artist, or going to law school and selling my soul. i wasn’t sure about either of these for me. all i knew was some of the kids in my circle were getting me to draw half sleeves and pieces on them with pen and marker for lunchmoney and joints. that shit really got me thinking. i started getting a little more into it, stealing a bunch of tattoo magazines from the chapters and rifling through them, trying to memorize the names attached to work that I liked.
then I got lost for a few years, indulging in heavy alcohol and substance abuse before I went back to school and started attending U of T. at that time, i was working retail on queen street west, hustling herb and sneakers, and started getting tattooed again. getting tattooed more led to hanging out more at tattoo shops, like sal’s barber shop in chinatown. this is where i started learning about sterilization processes, and how to make needles part-time with greg kidd while i worked 2 other jobs, sold weed and tried to get through university.
eventually i left the retail world to start as a receptionist at imperial tattoo. by then i had already grabbed some gear and was tattooing myself and friends out of my apartment. along the way i was really lucky to have the right people shed some light on a few things for me at the right time, mainly wizard damian, and master mister chino. eventually, when i had compiled enough decent looking pieces in my portfolio, i got into my first non-descript street shops as a tattooer and that’s when derek lewis of hartless scooped me up and really schooled me. i learnt immense amounts during my time with him and his wife christine. that was more of a custom-appointment only shop, so i feel that my drawing and conceptions of perspective and composition really evolved. from there, i moved on to became part of the fam at yonge street tattoos where derek had also worked previously. being able to work along side all the artists there was surreal for me because 3 years prior, when a friend was working as their receptionist, i was standing in that shop and had a fucking epiphany. that’s exactly the moment where the desire to become a tattooer was re-awakened in me and now i was a tattooer representing YST. another dream materialized and realized.
so you never really had an “apprenticeship”, you just kind of jumped right in?
i never had a formal “apprenticeship,” but i definitely started at the bottom: by cleaning toilets, mopping floors, setting appointments and grabbing coffee. the generosity of all those that had given me a hand along the way never went unappreciated and i dedicated myself to applying everything i have learned to honor the tradition and their belief in me. now a days, recalling and tracing my “pedigree” with other toronto artists is interesting because a lot of the interactions intersect. the torontonian tattoo history is relatively young, spanning only a few decades so i am proud to know that i am a part of that. i’ve contemplated compiling interviews because the culture and history is so rich. i mean, all the old timey’s have immense amounts of stories and had to find their way in a much more inaccessible environment. so that may be something i actually do in the future.
i would definitely suggest it. even though i’m just starting interviews for littlecity, it’s really amazing to hear people’s stories! so, how many tattoos do you have? what’s your favourite piece?
uh, i lose count every time i try to tally up how many tattoos i’ve got now. after a “dedicated” effort, i came to the number 37 in 2 out of 3 tries. i love them all for different reasons. my back piece is a tiger creeping down the mountain-side being worked on by chino, it’s not done yet, but when it’s finally completed, it’ll be stunning. i also really love the rose he did on my neck, which was a birthday gift after i started working at imperial. the rose is loosely linked to my favorite book, le petit prince. many of my tattoos have sentimental significance, but lately i’ve started to get shits-n-giggles tattoos for fun because its bad to take yourself and life so fucking seriously. par example, i’ve got a wolf with rams horns that was done by dan sinnes, a talented tattooer from luxemburg i’ve been following for a long time. the wolf’s got a third eye thats actually an eyeball in a vagina, bald man in a boat and all. it’s fuckin rad as fuck and i want to start doing that shit too.
hahaha, awesome! i totally agree, i was all about getting really serious meaningful tattoos, but i’m starting to see the light on not taking them too seriously. what was your most memorable tattoo?
damn. there are a lot of crazy things that gwan in the strange and carnival-like world of tattooing. how bout this, i’ll tell you about my first client on toronto’s yonge street strip one summer, which coincidentally was the first facial tattoo i ever did. imagine me fresh as a spring lamb, out in the gritty area of dundas square. the “shop” as i can loosely call it had three haphazard tattoo booths in the back, an abandoned harley in the backroom and a fake ID booth up at the front. it was my first day at this new place and the only client to walk in during the last bit of the day was this lighteyed-lightskinned-homie-type dude wearing a dolphin’s jersey, reeking of body odor and donning facial tattoos like a serious motherfucker. he wanted a tear drop underneath one of his eyes, so not believing what was in front of me, i asked him for ID. his health card was shredded to 1 cm by 1 cm pieces, and then taped back together. i made him pay up front for the tat and he presented a bunch of change onto the front counter. when it came down to placing the stencil on him, the single tear he originally wanted turned into 3 more going down his face, then a cross on his forehead and then all sorts of other shit. i thought it best to keep him focused on the original task at hand and not argue too much with a dude that had things like “celebrity” and “silence xo” tattooed all over his face. at this point, i was still trying to be nice and just get the tattoo done. i got a few pics of this dude, cause i was completely astonished at the whole experience, being a noob and all. when he was about to leave he asked me for a hug – the motherfucker licked me from my neck to my ear and i was mortified. he left and i looked around the back of the shop to see nobody around. from then on i decided that if i was going to do this and sometimes be face to face with the grimiest, i’d be able to handle myself in any type of situation that occurs…and to always have a blade on me.
which artists would you say have helped your career the most, been your greatest influences?
tattooing alongside such talented artists as chino and adam was a big fucking deal for me. honestly, it was like being thrown into the shark tank and surprisingly, i made it out alive and earned the respect of my peers.
what is the best part about being a tattoo artist?
i feel that tattooing just suits me entirely. you’re talking to a person who honestly feels with every ounce of her soul that she’s found what she’s meant to do. my mind is hypercritical and analytical so i pay a painful amount of attention to detail and i like interacting with people for the most part. don’t forget that we do put up with a lot of bullshit from the public. you can get anything from a pleasant businessman, to an obnoxious teenie bopper, to a hard pimp gangsters sitting in your chair, so we have to be versatile. there’s a lot of prep, ritual and repetition to it even though the nature of the job can be very quick-on-your-feet and no day is ever the same. there are rules that you have to strive to perfect, then be open to breaking them when the time is right. the osmosis of creativity amongst artists is also quite magical and tattoos never lie. it’s entirely possible to decipher from someone’s work if they’ve still got the passion for it and want to evolve, or if they’ve lost it and they’re just doing it to pay the bills. the latter of which, i believe is enough reason to get the fuck out of the industry and do something else.
so, would you say that tattooing is the biggest part of your life, so to speak?
tattooing is so immensely involved and multilayered. it’s more of a lifestyle than just a job, and i think other tattooers would agree with me. there are thousands of unclocked hours of diligently working towards the craft and staying sharp. you’ve gotta be proficient at so many aspects that all come together and that’s why after being in this industry for half a decade now, i’ve realized that it takes a specific kind of person to do this job and do it well. and then you see somebody doing it better than you, and you get a big-time fucking ego check drop kick to the face. so there are a lot of things here to keep me in changing states of being obsessed, satisfied and always wanting more.
another thing is that people trying to get into this industry don’t understand is that you have to get tattooed. you gotta know what it feels like, to empathize with the clients. tattooing requires you to be dedicated to give up your body, to test your mental strength while you endure tens of hours of physical pain in its name and presents opportunities to learn from those tattooing you. too many art students come to me asking me if i’ll show them some things, but when i ask them if they’re willing to get heavily tattooed or tattoo themselves, they’re very reluctant. i would not trust a tattooer who had no tattoos.
definitely. that’s like trusting a hairdresser with bad hair!
i sacrificed a lot to get where i am now, my time, my body, my money, my friends and family, and i did it willingly. if it asks me for more, i will give in. in return, tattooing gave me everything i have now and will accompany me to whatever heights i choose to bring it. because of this, i am dedicated to defending it from the many forms of leeches that are out there, continuously trying to steal pieces of something i love so much.
that’s very inspiring!! who or what would you say inspires you?
i gather inspiration and information from everywhere. from the oppressive socioeconomic state of our monetary based society, to the way the sun beams off the water in the lake, to david lachapelle or to valentino, to my brother’s architectural designs, to martial arts, to museum exhibits, to doodles on washroom walls, to the pin-stripe lines on lowrider cars, to 70’s classic rock EP record sleeve art, to that scrawled placa in the barrio walls, to that dope 80s fantasy frank frazetta type airbrush mural of an amazon broad riding a sabertooth tiger on the side of a van, to the tunes i’m vibing out on, to rave flyers, to really gnarly 80s skateboard graphics..can you tell i’ve got ADHD?! right now i’m totally vibing off of vikings, japanese erotic-shunga art, biker culture and DJ e.steria’s mixes.
what about tattoos and tattoo artists, who are your heros, what inspires your work?
when it comes to tattooing, i look at the work of people i consider to be “tattoo masters” and i try to break down their tattoos and drawings, and evolve my ideas of application and composition. i compare my work to theirs and give myself constant constructive critique checks, because i’m an utter perfectionist. when it comes to wanting to emulate a certain style or something, like i am trying to do with realism or west-coast style black and grey tattooing, it’s always good to go straight to the source. i love all the history of tattooing and the gritty, underground aspects of it. it’s a unique form of art and i’m into learning from those around me, because every tattooer i’ve come into contact with has got things to teach and offer, even if they don’t believe they do.
as mentioned before, i am constantly inspired by individuals that i consider to be masters of their craft, especially in the areas of tattooing and tattoo art that i gravitate more towards. peeps like jack rudy, freddy negrete, mister chino, grillo, jose lopez, carlos torres, chuey quintanar, steve soto, jun cha, mr. cartoon, tim hendricks, laura satana, dave sinnes, i’ve got long lists for each style!
is art/drawing an equally important part of your life? obviously in order to sketch your work it’s important, i mean in a more general sense, outside the world of tattoos.
man, drawing has always been an enduring love in my life. that and reading, have been the only things that can contain my scattered energy and get me focused. there are a lot of artists and musicians in my family so good influences have always been present. for the most part, i stay sharp for tattooing by drawing every chance i get. you’d be surprised how much you can get from a quick contour line doodle. i’ve always loved other mediums too, like conte, charcoal and graphite because they help with understanding light sources and blending. keeping it real, i’ve always been enamored with large fucking scale graffiti painting but i really have stendhal syndrome on the regular from hyper realistic oil paintings like the ones that trechnikoff or shawn barber does. above all, i’ve retained my love for what i consider to be art in it’s purest form, which is when my pencil hits a blank piece of paper.
okay, let’s switch it up a bit with some of my favourite questions – if you were a super hero, what would your powers be?
i’d be telekinetic. if i could actually manipulate the material objects around me, there’s really nothing i couldn’t do, right?
what artists or bands would be on the soundtrack to your life?
man, what a question. my taste in music is very eclectic. i like everything from triphop (tricky, portishead, massive attack) to conscious-underground-oldschool-hiphop (wutang, jeru the damaja, gangstarr, blackstar), liquid dnb, jungle, tech/house, gangster-get-money rap, bluegrass, country, jazz, classical, opera, classic rock, rnb, motown (think tarantino soundtracks), chicano rap (cypress hill, psychorealm), gypsy music, 90s industrial (NIN, skinny puppy, suicidaltendencies), heavy metal (slipknot, white zombie, deftones, tool), hair metal, death and black metal, all sorts. if you’ve got brass instruments, strings, pianos, vocals and a good beat, then i’m down to ride. music is essential for us to work well and efficiently, so if there’s bullshit playing it really affects my ability to work. i’ve realized this more now that i’ve been in a few different shops.
your website, truesaytattoo, describes your work as “the love, labour and manifesto of christine noble, written one tattoo at a time” – can you tell me a bit more about what this means? what does tattooing mean to you?
well, i was aware that when i started a blog and threw caution to the winds and whims of the internet that i’d be liable to the things i put out there on it. i consider myself to be pretty opinionated and outspoken, and i do not believe in censoring. in fact, the quickest way for me to look like someone just died, is to tell me to “tone it down.” so, i wanted to create a platform where i’d be free to share my experiences, my work, as well as the reflections i have while embarking on this symbiotic relationship with tattooing. i also wanted to illustrate to any followers the kind of unwavering passion i have for what i do, and that it is definitely an arduous path but that through every single tattoo i do, i learn, i evolve and a little piece of my soul can be found in it. i also like to display epic sources of inspiration that work for me at the time of each entry. it’s just shit that people should see. i’ve had a few concerns though, because when you put yourself out there and you try to be honest, you open yourself up for not only critique, which i’m okay with, but also the fine line between being honest and personable, and trying to keep my personal life private becomes blurred. i’ve gotten some inappropriate messages in my inbox already, but i guess that’s all part of the whole networking-self-promotion game these days.
i definitely know what you mean – putting yourself out there for others to read and learn from and about can be a really intimidating thing, as i’ve learned with the growth of littlecity. so, tell me about the clothing line you’re involved with, martial artistik?
martial artistik is a toronto based dope-ass apparel line that I’ve recently teamed up with through a homegirl, suling tran. su is an amazing hub for networking in the dirty dot cause that girl gets around the way and knows what’s really good in the city. she basically got me on a photoshoot project for her friend cousin joe, for the new MA lookbook and mentioned we’d be done up as ninjas. how could I not get down for that? so, joe and julian are basically the driving and creative force behind martial artistik. through joe’s love of kungfu movies, past experience of being a bootleg tee printer and his graphic design background, what emerged was a quality product and a brand with a clear message: art, tradition, and creative expression is worth defending and that honing your craft is just like perfecting the fundamental principles of any martial arts. all is one. this is a mission statement that i can completely relate to, as a western and thai boxing student, which is why i have chosen to rep MA to the fullest. i completely believe in supporting homegrown toronto talent and aside from corporate brands, which i have decided recently to cease consuming, this is what i choose to rock when i’m doing the damn thang.
christine for martial artistik – ninjastyle
awesome! let’s get back to tattooing – do you feel that there’s a certain prejudice you have to overcome, being a female tattoo artist?
honestly, i consider myself a little “spoiled” when it comes to my upbringing in the toronto tattoo community. like i had mentioned, i was very lucky to have all the right people come to me at the right times. but i’m certain my being a woman has either blocked me at certain moments, and also propelled me forward others. i mean, a hard-g-type dude walks into a shop and sees me, he may not want to get tattooed by me or initially believe in my abilities, however that might also work in my favor cause he might not mind a female working on him for hours at a time. either way, i don’t let it bother me because at this point my work speaks for itself. i’m such a tomboy and my interests have always gravitated towards things that are considered to be attributed to the male gender that i’ve always wanted to conduct myself as and be regarded as that “tough” and down-ass chill chick who can roll with the big dogs and hold her own.
i think there’s also much to be said for realizing what your so-called assets are and knowing when and how to use them. i wanted my integrity as a strong and capable woman to speak for itself and above all, i am on an outright quest to earn respect from my peers. straight the fuck up. as a gender studies major i do possess the analytical tools to understanding a lot of the experiences i have as a female in the industry, but i try not to get caught up about it and just kind of roll with the punches because i can. i’ve seen all female shops come and go, and besides, i like the boys-club-feel of this industry. it makes me respect the real lady tattooers out there who are tough as nails and talented as fuck.
okay, last question! i’m curious about regrets and tattoos (i’m thinking like, that chick with “drake” tattooed across her forehead) – what are your thoughts?
aw fuck, with the internet, all sorts of fad bullshit trend type tattoos become so prolific so fucking quickly. i mean, i get asked for the same fucking rihanna tattoos all the time. they’re really just not the best tattoos to get and they’re hella unoriginal to boot. but because she’s in the public eye all the time, the same shitty tattoos become recreated and become ubiquitous. i try in earnest to convince people to get something a little more unique and tailored to the flow of their bodies instead of just jumping on a band wagon. trends are for fucking fashion, and those are only articles of clothing, imagine rocking a tattoo that you find out five years later, every other girl has, and you can’t ever take it off. i try my best to present all of these points to people so that they’re able to make the best informed-decision possible. at that point, if they’re insistent that they just have to have that tattoo, then that’s when i decide whether or not I’m going to do it. i’m a firm believer that people get the tattoos they deserve, and you’d better believe that also applies to the lowballing motherfuckers who walk in with a three hundred dollar pair of shoes on but don’t want to pay more than $60 on a $200 tattoo.
in this industry, i’ve learned that above all you have to have ethics. i call it “honor amongst thieves”. i decided to be as open as possible as a tattooer, and be down to do whatever, whenever but there are things i will not tattoo. stuff like racially offensive shit. gender offensive stuff is a merky area for me too, so it depends, but absolutely no fucking face/neck/hand tattoos unless you’re over a certain age or heavily tattooed. face/hand/neck tattoos are a big deal right now, and they’re straight up life-ruiners. people don’t realize that tattoos still possess stigma in oh, 98% of the world. fuck, i feel weird sometimes even when i’m just outside of toronto, i can’t imagine how i’ll feel when i travel to abu dhabi or singapore, but i can’t wait to find out.
i’d like to thank emma (littlecity) for allowing me this opportunity to share my opinions on something that i care so much about. i’d also like to give a shout out to all my fam, ink and blood, worldwide. UAL, MA, SCD, WTC.