Interview with the tattoo artist Rose Hardy

Rose Hardy is an amazingly talented painter and tattoo artist from New Zealand who made it to NYC and called it home; since her beginnings her tattooing career has been sky rocketing, and today her name is established as one of the most creative, original and glamorous tattoo artist out there. Her unique style makes her work quite recognizable, especially when it comes to depicting female characters. She is also one of the most famous female tattooers worlwide, often in the spotlight, and that can be a little intimidating (also because of her stunning presence!), but she likes to keep it simple and down to earth… and she still manages to be very much humble, honest and sweet. She has been tattooing out of Kings Avenue Tattoo in NYC, for a few years now and that’s where I meet her for a quick chat and few pictures…

Tell us a little about your upbringing and background… When you discovered and fell in love with tattooing?
I grew up in a small town on the North island of New Zealand called Whangarei… I guess tattooing was always in front of me, my dad has an eagle on his forearm done in the 60’s by a guy named Tiger Mitchell. He also has a hand-poked scorpion on his other forearm that he did himself. When I was about 13 I would attempt to tattoo lettering on my sister and our friends – stuff like ‘Jason 4 ever’ (she laughs). My mum went crazy after she saw one on my sister and I had some fresh dots on my hand. Luckily I didn’t do them deep enough so nothing stayed in completely.

When did you come to NYC to tattoo and what brought you here at Kings Avenue Tattoo?
In 2012 I received an email from Kings Ave asking if I wanted to come and do a guest spot. I was super excited! I love Grez and Mikes work, and had been thinking about a trip to get tattooed by both of them. But that year I was traveling a lot already, so held it off until the 2013. I worked for 3 months over the summer and had a great time, since I first came here in 2007 I loved New York. Long story short, Mike sponsored me for an artists Visa which turned in to a Greencard, so for now, I am here to stay.

Rose Hardy, Kings Avenue Tattoo, New York, USA
Tattoo by Rose Hardy, Kings Avenue Tattoo, New York, USA

How this city influences your work ? Where do you get your main inspiration for your tattoos?
Obviously working with everyone at Kings Ave has pushed me and influenced me in certain ways. This city has such a high energy (compared to Melbourne where I was for 5 years before), where you feel like you should be busy working on something all the time- there is so much going on. In some ways I get exhausted from it, but it has some kind of energy that makes you push forward and try and get ahead. Because if you don’t, it feels like you could get left behind. As far as artistic influence, a lot of the things I look towards come from the past. Old photography, fashion, jewelery. There are so many incredible galleries in this city with a wealth of reference and inspiration.

Rose Hardy at work, photo by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev
Rose Hardy at work, photo by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

You are developing a very unique and personal style in tattooing: is this exactly what you wanted to do or artistically you are following a different path than you initially imagined?
That’s a good question! I never really knew where I was going with it… I am constantly asking myself whether I need to push a different style, or bring something different into the way I tattoo. But I feel like it has to happen naturally. There has never been any forcing in the way that I draw or trying too hard to draw what is fashionable for right now. My designs have always kind of changed or evolved when they needed to, for specific clients etc.

I really just concentrate on my clients ideas and expanding on them with what I think will work well, and somehow a natural style has just happened.

How is being a woman in this industry and which artists inspire you the most? Any women?
I’ve have always had a positive experience as a female tattooer. When I started, I got so much help from the guys around me – and continue to. I feel like I have mostly worked with very respectful people, and don’t really have any situations that made me feel on the outside. I have always worked with other woman and have made some of my best friends through tattooing. I have so much respect for Nikole Lowe, Claudia Sabe, Sarah Schor, Jenn Lee, Jane Laver – so many. All so strong and such hard workers and amazing artists also amazing painters!

You are a very famous artist, present in every magazine, at the most important tattoo conventions, 87k plus followers on social media and you are also on tv. How you live with being a superstar in this industry and which advice would you give to someone who is just starting out now?
(She laughs) I would not say superstar, but thank you (she smiles) I feel the same as I always have in tattooing and try to stay focused. It’s really great to have people respond to my work positively. I have solid friends in the industry that support me and thats what I care about. I am so appreciative of those people, and where I am in tattooing right now. I am also really thankful for the timing of everything for me. I started in a small country and offered something not everyone was doing, so got busy. I started traveling right when social media hit and made it possible to set up clients in other cities and connect with other great artists easily through MySpace etc. Right now, it is so over-saturated and there are a lot of people doing great things. It is not as busy for some people as a result. I still maintain getting a real apprenticeship is important – to appreciate what you are being given with tattooing. Social media makes it easy to get popular – but maybe momentarily. I see a lot of people with this sense of entitlement – like they deserve a lot, without working hard or putting in the time. The main piece of advice is to work hard for what you want. As cliché as that sounds (she laughs)… it’s true!

Rose Hardy at work, photo by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev
Rose Hardy at work, photo by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

Who is Rose when she is not tattooing? Whats your fav hobbies/things to do?
I really need a good hobby actually! I paint when I can, and I’m usually drawing 2 days at home for the week. Listening to podcasts or watching true crime stuff. I still love traveling and visiting friends. But don’t really have a go-to hobby as such.

You can check Rose’s work at www.rosehardytattoo.com and follow her on Instagram: @rosehardy

Take a look at the art print Rose made exclusively for Tattoo Life on our store: Don’t miss it!

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