Listening to the recording of my interviews makes me realise two things. The first is that I sound a bit like a chipmunk. The second is that I may have a little bit of a girly crush on Ashley. Well, who wouldn’t really, with that velvety voice, short blonde hair, cute dimples and all those tattoos? I’ll say it again: who doesn’t love a woman with a little bit of ink?
“Eventually I’ll just have one [giant] tattoo,” she says about her own tats. “My favourites are my portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Aretha Franklin. And, of course, my first Australian tattoo — a picture of a lighter and script that reads ‘A little bit of rock & roll!’”
A little bit of rock and roll is exactly how I’d describe her. Her love affair with ink began when she was 16. From the moment her artist put needle to skin, Ashley was convinced she had to be a part of the magic. “I knew when I got my first tattoo that this was what I wanted to do. I just love it. The sound of the machines, hanging out with everyone in the shop, just the atmosphere — I love it.”
Ashley got her start back home in the States from “the best tattoo artist in town.” She says, “He promised to teach me outside the shop as long as I stayed in school for art. So, I went to school and learned to tattoo at the same time.”
After ordering her supplies through him, Ashley began her own backyard operation. “I know it sounds super dodgy, but he worked for the best shop around, so I was learning a lot.” A few months later, she packed her bags and moved to Montana, where she worked for another shop.
Fast forward three years, and Ashley sits in the basement of Primitive, the last stop of a seven-month working holiday that took her from the Gold Coast to Sydney, and finally Perth. “On my second day in Australia, I just walked into a shop in Gold Coast, spoke with the chick who owned it and she gave me a job,” she says plainly. “Spent a couple of months there before I went to Sydney and the chick hooked me up with a shop there. And then I came here, saw a sign in Marc’s shop window, walked in, and pretty much started working here.”
The travelling tattooist is quick to point out the differences between working Down Under and in Montana. “In Montana, if you’re a girl working in this industry, people expect you to have stars tattooed on your face and for you to do bad-ass portraits,” she says, alluding to a certain LA Ink star. “Don’t get me wrong, I think what those shows have done for the industry, in terms of opening people’s eyes to what’s possible, is fantastic. But I don’t have time in my day to watch them. I don’t think she’s the best portrait artist in the world. But she looks good on TV.”
While she may not do bad-ass portraits, what she does specialise in are colours and “anything free and crazy,” her all-time favourite being an abstract phoenix back piece. And the worst tat she’s done? She recalls with a shudder, “‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ on some little frat boy’s hairy ass cheek. Then he turned around and winked at me and said I had nice hair. I was stabbing him with a little bit more force after that.”
Apart from tattooing and stabbing frat boys in the ass, Ashley’s other passion is sculpting. “I grew up around art. I love drawing, did a bit of painting and sculpting. I haven’t really had a lot of time to pursue sculpting since I’ve started tattooing full-time, but who knows. I’d like to get back into it.” Ashley’s plan for the foreseeable future is to go back to school and dive headfirst into more artistic pursuits once she returns to Montana after her short stint on our fair shores. But hopefully she won’t give up the tattooing, because I most definitely sleep better knowing that the world of body art is safe in the hands of women like her.
(Text and photos are © Sarah Rodrigues)