It’s not surprising that Summer’s body has created a flood of comments across social media and raised more than a few eyebrows from those not accustomed to seeing so much work on the female form. But the quality of the art, created by tattooist Coen Mitchell, has undoubtedly converted many to the beauty of this style. 

photos by Jason Ierace

It started with a simple request; Summer spotted a tattooist’s work and approached him to see if he could do a half sleeve for her.

At this time Coen Mitchell had just started working in his newly created “linework style” and created a mosaic flow fox for her while also completing a mandala on her armpit. Despite Summer’s pain collaboration was born. Summer kept returning to get more work done until eventually her body became a half-covered canvas of his work.

What has developed between the two is, well, a darn hilarious rapport. What started as a straightforward artist/client relationship now resembles squabbling siblings, or as Summer suggests “a love, hate relationship”. But ultimately they’ve become the kind of friends everyone loves to have around “homies” who like to poke each other with sticks.

“It’s never a smooth journey for us though,” admits Summer. “We’ve had a handful of arguments and disagreements over the past 15 months over the artwork going onto my body. I’m super fussy and he’s stubborn! In the end he always gets full creative freedom. But of course I trust him. Look at all the work he has produced so far; it all complements my body perfectly.”

Coen [laughing] says it’s not always tattoo talk. “Summer has a secret fetish for BDSM so generally she has some stories to tell or some marks to show, which is always a laugh.”

Coen, by his own admission, was an art nerd growing up and took as many art classes – everything from drawing and painting to pottery – as possible. Then in 2010, aged 16, he headed to a local tattoo studio and got his first artwork. At the time he was still deciding which direction his life and career would go but always knew it would be in the field of art and design. While in the chair, watching artist Richard Warnock create a permanent form of artwork on his arm, an interest in tattooing was sparked.

Coen Mitchell began attending a well-known tertiary provider to receive formal art training however after just his first year was offered a full time apprenticeship at Taupou Tatau Tattoo Studio in Wellington, New Zealand.

In recent years Coen’s home has been at Matt Jordan’s Ship Shape Tattoo in Auckland, a studio renowned for fostering exceptional artists. During his time there he admits to not only enjoying the company of the Ship Shape crew, but also learning so much from them. However, 2017 see Coen “homeless”, not just without a studio, but literally without a home as takes on the new title of “travelling artist”. Coen says the idea is “to fit some travel in, learn new things and meet new people”. “So, I plan to hop from city to city, country to country to spreading my art and making friends.”

While on the road it’s unlikely Coen will take on more pieces as time-consuming as Summer’s canvas. Which isn’t surprising when you stop to think the two have so far completed 15 full days together, or around 105 hours so far. That’s a lot for someone who admits she “never planned on ending up this covered!”

“When Coen started my arm he mentioned an upper thigh piece, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. I loved his work so much I couldn’t resist! That quickly eventuated into the beginning of a full leg sleeve. It then extended onto my stomach followed by my chest and just kept on growing. The whole process is addictive and I love being unique and one-of-a-kind.”

Finding themselves at the same place at the same time for this shoot gave the pair the perfect excuse to complete Summer’s arm. Once the mosaic side of her body is complete, the two are contemplating covering the other side of her body with black and grey realism.

Of course, modern tattooing is given life online and the beauty of the social media means that every Tom, Dick and Harry (mostly Dicks to tell the truth) feel that they need to shout about their “right to my opinion”. Coen Mitchell’s art and Summer’s body are no exception. While there is amazing support for the collaboration, there are also comments that suggest that quite a few people forgot to pay their brain bills! Luckily Summer, who cops most of the negative comments, says that while it’s very overwhelming at times and “definitely a shock to read”; that it doesn’t affect her in any way.

“I can’t even begin to comprehend how some assumptions have been made. I put my body on display and share my journey with many over social media and the Internet for them to appreciate both Coen and my efforts. My body may not be perfect and, yes I do have flaws, which many people have been quick to point out. But I’m comfortable with who I am and what I look like. People will always form an idea about someone based on what they look like [but] often it couldn’t be further from the truth. I do appreciate all the kind feedback and support I get. As for the negative ones… there’s a special pic just for them.” (See our contents page! – Ed)

Summer still considers it humbling to be recognised for her tattoos. And mostly she appreciates all the support she receives from family and friends and others who follow her tattoo journey.

“The amount of people who stop me in the street, either because they follow Coen or I, or just to appreciate the art work on my body has blown me away! I never imagined people recognising me but the kind words and compliments I receive from people of all age groups is overwhelming and has been amazing, and I want to thank everyone.”

For Coen it’s been a remarkable ride. Having amassed 147,000+ Instagram followers and 200,000+ Facebook likes he still finds its odd when his creations are widely shared. “It’s crazy to just be chilling at home scrolling the ol’ Facebook news feed and seeing many of my tattoos I’ve done been constantly shared worldwide by tattoo pages. I’m really grateful that most people appreciate my art and want to share it, but like most things, there’s always the ‘haters’ especially when a girl like Summer has her body exposed to show her tattoos.

“I feel it’s jealousy most of the time and people sit behind their phones and pick at anything they feel will give themselves attention, for example there was a good 100 comment thread on one photo on Summer that discussed her breast size – which is obviously stupid and nothing to do with the
art on display.”

Fortunately 90 percent of what’s out there is positive, including emails and messages filled with compliments and love. Which isn’t surprising as Coen’s work is not only beautiful to observe, but also has something intrinsically delicate about it. His hints of colour in his mosaic pieces bring them to life. In addition his patterns are far from generic with attention to detail that would be missed by a lesser artist, and each wraps the client’s body as if they were born with them.

It’s unsurprising that with the adoration of his work has come the the copycats, people who take his art work to pass off as their own. At first Coen was shocked but it’s now become a common occurrence. “Over the past few years I’ve screenshot nearly every ‘attempted’ replica of my work I’ve seen and there’s hundreds. It’s particularly disappointing for my clients but I can’t stop anyone, all I can do is laugh and move on.”

Summer admits that while it would be easier to find a local artist who’s not on the road to tattoo her, there is no way she’ll even consider allowing another tattooist to tattoo her. “Coen’s work, creativity and attention to detail is worth the wait and travel. People ask: ‘what are your tattoos? What do they mean or represent? Do you come up with these designs?’ It’s all Coen’s ideas and designs that turned me into the walking piece of art I am today!”

As for where it’s most painful to get tattooed, Summer says there are definitely parts that are more tender than others. She concedes, however, that she doesn’t mind a bit of pain [cue Coen laughing].

But for her it wasn’t the armpit that hurt – Summer says she “didn’t feel a thing” – but admits getting inked on her chest and sternum was at times “unbearable”.

It’s not surprising that her body struggles when she likes to book three-day sittings (usually conventions), six to eight hours per day. “But Coen and I usually understand what is expected from both of us. He’s a hard-worker and I endure! We both prefer to smash out the pieces,” she says.

For all the to-and-fro between these two there is the uttermost respect between artist and canvas. With Coen saying of Summer: “Artist’s don’t always come across dedicated clients that basically spend all their hard earned savings to travel to the artist and sit like a rock just to have the artist’s work, so thank you to Summer and the rest of my clients who let me do my thing and Inked Australia/NZ mag on giving me this opportunity to express my art.”

To follow Summer on Instagram or Facebook.
To follow Coen Mitchell on Instagram or Facebook.