Hot Copper

Being a heavily tattooed lady, one of the things I am most often asked is if I think tattoos are addictive. Well, here I am over 20 years on from getting my first small tattoo and with over 60% of my body covered I think I can safely say unequivocally yes, yes it is. But what a wonderful addiction! Everywhere I look on my body is a memory and an awesome little work of art that I can take with me anywhere I go. One of my favourite tattooists is Clare Hampshire, a country girl who now lives in Melbourne. Clare has a style that is instantly recognisable and she has recently opened her own studio, Hot Copper, in the wilds of Coburg (Victoria) – a fast growing little ‘burg that has come a long way from the industrial estates and orchards that marked it’s beginning.

clare-hampshire-1After deciding that she wanted to work for STR Body Modifications in Wyong, Clare set about landing her apprenticeship. However there was one small snag, and the studio wasn’t interested in taking on an apprentice at that time. Clare didn’t let that stop her though. “I’d been interested in tattoos since my early teens,” she says, “it seemed like a good way to be able to make art and a living at the same time. STR weren’t interested in taking on an apprentice at the time, but I decided that was where I wanted to work. I wanted to show them that I was keen and ready to start whenever they were ready, so I got a part time job where I could work in the mornings, and spent my afternoons in the shop hanging out, watching, and helping wherever I could. My persistence paid off because 8 months later they offered me an apprenticeship.”

Though she started out trying to follow a more traditional route when she first started tattooing, she now uses a distinctive colour palette that is quite unique, making her work instantly recognisable. “I was mainly interested in old school tattooing when I started, and I used to try and play by the rules of traditional tattoos when it came to colour, shading, line weight etc,” Clare explains, “only changing things up by making them a little more girly I guess. But over the years, and working with other artists who specialised in Japanese, graffiti, dot work and more illustrative styles, I guess I’ve been inspired and tried to steal my favourite parts of their work and add it to my own. I don’t ever really think about consciously trying to change my style, but I guess it comes about organically with what’s going on around me, and the people I’m working with.”

clare-hampshire-3“The best part is the people I get to meet, every day being different,” Clare adds, “and the fact I get to make art for a living. The worst part is the homework and admin side of things, which often takes up more time than actual tattooing. But you have to take the good with the bad in any job, and even the bad ain’t really so bad.”

So if Clare weren’t tattooing what would we find her doing – anything goes? “I always really wanted to be a florist,” she says, “I loved arranging flowers as a kid, and looked into it when I finished school and didn’t think tattooing was a possibility.”

Recently Clare opened your own studio – Hot Copper, in the heart of Coburg. Not only does the studio boast a roster of amazing tattooists, but a steady stream of guest artists makes it one of the most dynamic shops on the block. “Hot Copper opened in July this year,” says Clare, “it’s something I’d been thinking about for the last year or so. I felt like I was at a point in my career where I wanted something more, that I could sink my teeth into. I had all these great ideas about creating a warm, inviting and comforting space both for clients and for myself, and I pretty much just took all the best aspects of all the great shops I’ve worked at over the years and put them together to make what I think is a pretty cool space. The other artists I share the space with are Lauren Fenlon, Brittany Kilsby, Jovic and Kat Weir. They’re all good friends of mine and all artists whose work I love. I’m so glad they all wanted to take a chance and move over to a brand new private studio, and I feel super lucky that I have such cool, inspiring people to hang out with every day!”

clare-hampshire-9However it’s not all sunshine and light, and running your own studio is a serious business, especially when you’re just starting out. “The most daunting thing was looking at the empty space and trying to figure out where to start and how it was all going to physically come together. I had some excellent local tradies helping me out which made life a lot easier. The most rewarding thing is looking up while I’m working and seeing a shop full of people, everyone smiling, sucking on lollypops, drinking cups of tea, nodding their heads to good tunes and kinda looking as though they’re having a good time even though we’re hurting them pretty bad.”

Speaking of creating an amazing, comfy tattoo space the studio interior is fantastic. It’s a welcoming space, where you can sit back and relax, and get pummelled by needles. “I basically wanted the interior not to look like a tattoo shop. It’s really light and bright, there’s a heap of copper and pastel colours, timber and a shitload of plants. I had a pretty loose idea of what I wanted, but my builder, Kim, is a wizard queen and somehow managed to take my badly explained ideas and turn them into reality.”

It’s not all about piercing the layers of epidermis however, and off skin Clare produces some pretty sweet-as artworks as well. However, she laments she doesn’t get to paint nearly as much as she might like. “Painting is my favourite pastime and is when I feel most relaxed. I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life, but didn’t get seriously into it until I was in year 10. Then I quit for a couple of years because my year 11/12 art teacher was a total cunt and turned me off it completely. After I finished school I got really into drawing flash, but I’ve never had any formal training.”

Life would be pretty dull if it was all work and no play, and when not inking people, you might find Clare painting, reading, gardening, playing with her dogs “or out getting embarrassingly drunk on cocktails.”

Famous last words? “Do it yourself.”
Words: Jo Jette

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