Tattoo Artist: Rose Hardy

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Rose Hardy: This Kiwi artist talks to us about her signature style, travelling and her preference for large-scale work.

Inked: Your style is quite unique in the way that you twist traditional into something of your own, how did you come to find that style?
Rose Hardy: I guess it just kind of developed on its own after a few years. I was just busy trying to do clean solid tattoos and not screw them up! I decided early on to only use certain line weights (even if I wasn’t comfortable doing so) so everything had the same look. It was always important to me to be able to have a recognisable style but I definitely didn’t push “being original” because some things just have to mature and come naturally.

Inked: You’ve done some very impressive large-scale pieces, what attracts you to such massive projects? How do you approach these differently from smaller tattoos?
Rose Hardy: I do prefer larger work – for the photo’s sake – and obviously large work has so much more impact. Because the pattern work I do can get quite complicated, having a large space to cover gives me more freedom to go crazy with it without restraining on certain details for the sake of ageing or cramming it into a small space.
In contrast to the large work I get asked to do a lot of hands, which is the opposite from a design point of view. Getting the same look, but on a tiny scale, and designing it to age well, especially around the knuckles, is very challenging.

Inked: There is a femininity to a lot of your work, especially when it comes to subject matter, but the lines are strong and bold. Last time you spoke with Inked you told us that this is because you “have always tried to tattoo like a guy, to have a certain strength about my work”. How are you able to strike a balance between the two through your work?
Rose Hardy: It’s hard to explain (laughs). Around 2003 when I started tattooing with Dean Sacred and Adam Craft, I felt like there were a lot of tattoos that you could totally pick were done by a women. Not in a bad way, just in a feminine soft kind of way. Most of the tattooers I worked with or looked up to were/are guys, and I wanted to tattoo like anyone could have done it. I wanted a solid look and not to be scared to just go for it, to give the designs strength. But I still design things that are feminine subject matter, so I guess the balance falls somewhere in there?

Inked: Now that you’ve made the move from Down Under to New York how does the tattoo scene differ on this side of the planet?
Rose Hardy: It’s not too different as far as my client base goes. Melbourne has a great tattoo scene, which I feel grew a lot over the last few years. The difference with tattooing in New York is the lifestyle – and not just with tattooing. People work very hard and very long hours here. Not that they don’t in New Zealand or Australia, but there is a bigger emphasis in New York to work, work, work. Which I love, but it definitely took some getting used to. In Melbourne it’s like, “I’ve made enough money today, I’m going to knock off at 6pm and go have a cocktail.” In New York, if there is money to be made you make it.

Inked: How has being such a well-travelled artist changed your outlook on your art? Is there a benefit to travelling all over the world for your work? Do you ever find that travelling can be a strain on your work?
Rose Hardy: Tattooing is a double-edged sword for me. I started travelling in 2007 and loved it. I moved between Auckland, Melbourne, Brisbane and London every few months for years, dodging winter and not having a permanent place to live. I had so much energy for it and met and learned from so many great people all over the world. Not saying I’m old now [laughs], but travelling wears me down a little. Having to do marathon sessions on people to get tattoos finished can be exhausting, for them and for me.

On the other hand, I love being able to visit all my friends and working on people who would not normally have a chance to get a tattoo from me is great. The social side will always keep me going places.

Inked: You have worked in other mediums, including painting, how do they differ from tattooing?
Rose Hardy: 
Painting is such a sideline for me right now, but I’m planning on bringing it back! I slowly work on things if I’m asked to be a part of a show or project, but never really do things for myself anymore. I just need to make the time for it again. Painting is much harder for me than tattooing, I always feel great with the end product, but getting there is super challenging.

Inked: You come from an artistic family, what was the first medium that you worked in? How did you find your way to tattooing as your main creative outlet?
Rose Hardy: I don’t know that there was one first medium – I was always encouraged to draw, paint, colour and sculpt for as long as I can remember. My dad is mainly a wood sculptor but paints in watercolour, oils, acrylic, everything. It’s always been a huge part of life. With that kind of upbringing and having tattooed parents, I was encouraged to pursue tattooing if I wanted to, which I did.

When I was 19 a friend of mine was getting a back piece by Adam Craft and he asked Adam if I could come to a session to watch and do some of the tattoo. Which is fucking crazy to me thinking back. I went along, met Adam for the first time and he handed me the machine and I did some black whip shading on my friend’s back. I can’t imagine my reaction if one of my client’s friends came in to a session and asked if they could try it out! Thanks Adam [laughs].

Inked: What is your favourite subject matter to tattoo?
Rose Hardy: Obviously, I love a lady head, and decorative jewellery and patterns. In New York I get asked to do less of these, which is fine, because I was literally doing two lady heads a day for years. I think my new favourite thing would be birds.

Inked: Do you ever like to work outside of your style? If so, do you feel that knowing other styles is a necessary skill for a tattooer?
Rose Hardy: 
That’s a good/hard question because I know certain things come naturally to me and other things do not. When I started learning, I had the energy to try and do every style I could – and wanted to do it all well. Whether I did or not is a different story [laughs]. I was fortunate to gather a clientele for custom work after a few years, so I honed in on that style and put all my energy into that.

Inked: Is there any tattoo that you’ve been really hoping to do but haven’t had a chance yet?
Rose Hardy: I am so lucky to have great clients that are open to my interpretation and suggestions. I can honestly say I am doing all the things I want to do. But if I could hope for anything, it will always be to do large-scale work!

Rose Hardy, Kings Avenue Tattoo, New York City.