Daisy Watson is reinventing the very idea of tattoos. With her abstract expressionist designs and Keith Haring-style shapes, the Berlin-based artist is a long way from tribal tats and Chinese symbols. And with 220K Instagram followers, Daisy sits at the forefront of a new generation of tattoo artists that don’t play by rules. Using fine lines and an avant-garde aesthetic, she delicately crafts surreal pieces of wearable art. Whether she’s inking eyes on inanimate objects or designing faceless figures, Watson’s work always maintains an element of the absurd. That’s probably why she only uses careful black ink—her objects themselves are enough color.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk about her style, stick-n-pokes and sexism in tattoo culture.
Name: Daisy Watson
Favorite Song To Tattoo To: All of Kollage by Bahamadia
Worst Tattoo Request You’ve Gotten: The “Tree of Life” and an evil clown
How did you get into tattoos?
I was 19 and studying fine art in Brisbane. I was never particularly obsessed with tattoos but I was excited by the more fine line work that was coming up around that time. I realized there was far more to tattooing than the traditional or stereotypical designs I’d seen. The first tattoos I was personally exposed to were stick and pokes—friends were giving them to each other and I just loved the spontaneity of it. I was gifted a tattoo machine for my 20th birthday, shown the basics by a mate then pretty much learned on myself.
When did you get your first piece?
My first tattoo was a stick and poke of a diamond—classic 2010 vibes.
What was the moment you went from liking ink to wanting to be a tattoo artist?
There definitely wasn’t one moment where I decided I wanted to be a tattoo artist—I was already drawing and just started to do them on skin as well as paper. It has been a very organic journey from the beginning—I was just having the best time ever tattooing my friends. I actually couldn’t believe it when people I didn’t know contacted me for work.
Your tattoos have a very surreal, abstract style. Where does that come from?
My style has developed over the years from drawing, tattooing and being influenced by people and places. As I have grown, my taste has changed and it’s felt really good to have been breathing life into my art while becoming more and more confident in it. My aesthetic has become far simpler as I have learned how to edit and embrace my kind of wavy style of drawing. Recently, I’ve been really inspired by collages, so I often draw multiple components together. I’m alway aiming to get a good balance between organic and geometric lines and shapes.
How do you navigate being a woman in a notoriously male-dominated space?
Most, if not all women in the industry will experience sexism—it is a total boys club and there are some really awful mentalities rooted in parts of the culture of traditional tattooing. I have consciously kept separate from that world and would like to think I’m a part of a new generation that just won’t tolerate it.
Do you think being a woman gives you any big advantages or disadvantages?
Not particularly, although this is probably due to staying on the fringes of the industry and doing my own thing. But there is an advantage in being a woman and tattooing a lot of women—I understand how intimidating tattoo shops and experiences can be, and I’m really passionate about providing a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment, like the kind that I would want to be tattooed in.
You obviously have a large online following. What role has Instagram played in shaping your career?
Instagram totally changed the game for tattoo artists especially, and has played a huge role in where I am today. It’s basically been the platform for the recent shift and redefinition of who and what makes a tattoo. So many artists and illustrators are kinda just figuring it out themselves or together, and doing the coolest and most original tattoos. Instagram connects me to that, and it’s so inspiring.
So that’s been a big influence on your designs. What else?
My designs are influenced by so many things—signage, packaging, books, people, the internet. I try and just trust my eye to be drawn to and inspired by things that will make great designs.
Are there any pieces you’ll never do?
The first and biggest nein danke that comes to mind is the southern cross, being australian and all. But the tackiest ideas can be the best ones—look at the ‘90s revival happening right now. It’s so good. I just tattooed the WiFi symbol on the biggest babe the other day—it’s so nice when people don’t take themselves too seriously.
Your work feels so much more like classic abstract expressionist art than any traditional tattoos—more Keith Haring or Picasso than Sailor Jerry. How did you develop your style?
At the end of the day, I feel so much more like an artist than a tattoo artist—my talent isn’t in making perfect tattoos, I’d like to think it’s in my ideas and designs. I never did a traditional apprenticeship which definitely breaks the rules in a lot of people’s minds. And for a long time, I was really embarrassed and apologetic for it. Recently, though, I’ve decided to own it—I really believe I owe my style to it, after all.
Do you approach drawing differently than you approach creating a tattoo?
My tattoos are an extension of my passion for drawing so skin has always been just another canvas to work on.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I just want to make work that is fun, casual, spontaneous and full of life. I sometimes like to think of my tattoos as fridge magnets—memories, reminders and jokes that might be spur of the moment decisions, but become a treasured collection of places, people and experiences. I just feel so honored to get to even be a tiny part of that.