Anna-Claire Whysall is a Durban gal making her mark in Cape Town. Specialising in a style of tattooing known as blackwork, Anna’s pieces rely on heavy lines and large areas of thick, black ink. She’s currently honing her craft at Emerald Fox in Muizenburg, where she works under the name of ‘Sorry Mom Tattooer’. Image-wise she’s drawn to gothic symbols and exotic patterns, and if you’ve scrolled through her Insta feed you’ll know that she’s especially fond of illustrating kickass women. We had an entertaining chat with the Heat City punk about weird tattoos, wheatpasting and bananas.
What was your first tattoo?
My first tattoo was a tiny lil baby anchor on Dusty Rich who was one of two artists who worked at the shop I apprenticed at. He was like “Anna, you wanna do your first tattoo?” and within seconds I was set up, clammy handed and ready for it. It was super simple and allowed me to get a feel for it.
How old were you at the time? What’s happened since?
I started apprenticing just after my 18th birthday at a shop in Durban, my sweet hometown, called I Art Ink. I was there most days learning the basics and working my butthole off. I apprenticed under one of the most badass babes ever, Nicole Pansegrouw, who I honestly believe is some kinda angel sent from heaven above. SHE’S SO NICE. I then moved to Cape Town and got my degree in Visual Communication (mainly focusing on illustration) at Vega. After graduating last year, I dived back into tattooing (my one true love) with a more mature outlook, and now I’m lucky enough to be working as a blackwork tattooer under the name ‘Sorry Mom Tattooer’ at Emerald Fox in Muizenburg.
Did you ever practise on yourself?
I started out by practicing on fruit, bananas mainly, and was very lucky cause I had a shit load of very willing friends who let me practice on them. One of the people I am most grateful for is my man-meat, Josh. He gave me both of his legs to practice on and let me do whatever I wanted on him without any hesitation. I mean…what a guy! Not to mention that he puts up with my ghetto booty on a daily basis. I’m now doing a super cool project on him, I’m doing mini blast-overs and gap fillers on his arms. I appreciate all of the people who trusted me in the beginning and saw potential in me. So to actually answer the question and not write an entire essay, no I did not practice on myself but rather on my lil minions/guinea pigzz.
Have you always been into art and design?
Totally! My dad is a photographer in his spare time and my mom is a DIY goddess and breathes creativity with everything she does. I have always been given a lot of freedom at home when it comes to creativity. All ideas were encouraged no matter how weird or out the box they were. Ever since I popped outta the womb I’ve been doodling and sinking my grubby lil paws into some kinda creative thang.
I use to draw a shit load and then painted for a while, which lead to me branching out and doing a couple of big murals with one of my very talented and special friend, Pastel Heart (RIP) who showed me the ropes and encouraged me more than anyone else ever has. Whilst studying I started putting up wheatpastes all over Durban and Cape Town. My first paste was in the Stellawood Cemetery in Glenwood, Durban. The background was made up of a repetitive Grimes print with my twist on it, followed by one of my huge gothic, ethereal looking babes in the foreground. Looking back now, geez I had balls. It was so big and not once did getting caught even cross my mind. I was such a lil hoodrat!
Once I learnt how to use Illustrator, it was game over. I honestly don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in front of my computer doodling away and singing super loud and off tune. I liked the fact that I could create vector based images and blow them up any size. This worked well with my new found love, wheatpasting cause I could print large scale stuff (the way I feel some of my stuff should be viewed) and then be able to keep the original, cause I get attached to my stuff. Putting original once-offs on the street wasn’t too cool especially seeing them ripped down, I was like “NO YOU BASTARDS THAT’S MY FOKKEN HARD WORK”.
I still paste my stuff up often, I sometimes even do it with the dudes from Emerald Fox. It’s so cool to be surrounded by people who love what I love and support and encourage me. I’m such a lucky idiot!
Do you have a mentor in the business?
I am lucky enough to have had/still have a few mentors. Nicole who I apprenticed under taught me a lot when I was starting out and I will be forever grateful for that. My current mentors are the dudes who work at Emerald Fox with me, who constantly uplift me, give me advice/tea, and share their knowledge with me.
My ‘shop dad’ as I call him, Shaun Dean (owner and tattooer) has tattooed most of my body and I admire him more than he will ever know, but also secretly want to kill him cause he is so good at everything. Shaun has more talent than I’ve ever seen in a human. Shaun thinks I’m like a South Park character cause everything I do/say at the shop sounds hilarious but I don’t think I’m funny at all.
Luke De Ravin, the man that knows what I’m thinking before I’m even thinking about it aka one of my best friends. This idiot tattoos the most insane mandalas you’ve ever seen but his prison tattoos are what make my head spin! Not to mention, he has the hugest heart. He’d do anything for anyone in the shop although he doesn’t like to admit it. (Luke let me tattoo an infinity sign with ‘Crustal Meth’ written inside it on his leg.)
Alex Travers, the shop manager and apprentice. We have this joke that he is my child/lil bean that I need to nurture to full health. (Like those beans you got in primary school and had to water and look after.) His drawings are super traditional and fresh. We want to break his fingers cause at the rate he’s going, he’s going to overtake everyone!
How would you describe your current style? How do you see it evolving?
I’m a blackwork tattooer, inspired by eastern imagery, Karma Sutra, 18th century Indian paintings as well as traditional flash. I don’t think I could put a more defined label on my style cause it’s constantly evolving, especially now since I’m still super new to it. I see myself diving deeper and deeper into blackwork and refining my technique.
You design a lot of flash pieces. What’s your favourite thing to illustrate?
Flash is super important, you’ve gotta have a body of work behind you that shows people what your style is and so that you’ve got enough new stuff for walk-ins and other customers. My fave thing to illustrate would probably be Indian looking ladies with bodies made up of patterns. Well, at least for now, that’s what I’m super into at the moment but I also like drawing barbed wire, blackwork roses and more traditional shit. But, ladies do resonate with me. There’s something about drawing them.
Why do you think tattoos are such a powerful form of expression? What role do your own tats play in asserting your identity?
Cause they’re a way of expressing who you are as a person and help aid your individuality/set you a part from the rest. My tattoos are for me, I don’t care what other people think about them.
What’s going on in the tattoo scene in Cape Town right now?
A shit load! Blackwork tattoos are starting to become popular here and lots of new styles are starting to form. I look at places like London for example and see artists with such unique styles blowing up. I believe that a tattooer is not a jack of all trades, you go to a certain tattooer for their certain style that they have got down. Just like an artist isn’t expected to do everything from watercolour paintings to mosaics, tattooers should be viewed the same way. And I think that this mentality is starting to form here in Cape Town.
What’s your actual tattooing process like? What’s the most challenging bit?
My tattooing process is pretty much the same as any other artist, set up, tattoo, breakdown. The most challenging bit is always the linework and making sure that the trace doesn’t rub off. After the linework is done, I feel like I can breathe for a second. I guess linework is challenging for me cause I’m such a perfectionist.
What’s the weirdest tattoo you’ve ever done for someone? Or do you have any tattoo horror stories?
The weirdest/best tattoo I’ve ever done for someone was actually on Luke, the other artist at Emerald Fox. We were joking around about cliché tattoos that young girls get so obviously infinity signs came up and he was like “Anna, you’ve gotta tattoo one on my leg!” So I did. But instead of ‘love’ or ‘faith’ written inside it, he wanted ‘Crystal Meth’ written inside just to take the piss!
I don’t really have any horror stories. Everyone I tattoo is generally serious about the pieces they come and get and it’s a super professional and hygienic environment so not much can go wrong. I guess one shit thing was when this one dudes socks smelt like a ball of old cheese and I just felt so sick but managed to just block my nose and carry on. Haha!
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into tattooing?
Find a studio that will take you on as an apprentice. There is so much you need to learn before you go ahead and tattoo. Hygiene is so important and you need to know how to dispose of your needles and stuff correctly and how to set up and break down. There is a lot more to tattooing than just putting a needle to skin. Being in a shop environment will teach you a lot, humble you and help you with your future! (It’s also a lot of fun and helps you make some of the best friends, well in my case at least. I feel like such a lucky ball hair!)
Would you like to share any future plans of yours?
My plans include evolving my current style and working on it more. I’d also love to eventually go guest at some spots in the UK for a month or so and bring that knowledge back with me. But for now, you can find me in my station at Emerald Fox with a cup of vanilla chai tea, surrounded by taxidermy and skulls, doodling/tattooing.