Wearing their hearts on their tattooed sleeves
On one wall there's a super-sized preying mantis; on the opposite, a flower burst. In the Shade is a tattoo and art studio of two halves, but it is also a meeting of two creative souls.
They are Gembol Farrell and Mikal Carter, old friends, eternal scribblers of art, followers of their own creative processes and tattoo artists as well. Farrell says the dream was to have a space that was theirs together but also spoke of their individualism.
"Having a side each means that we can pimp it out how we want."
Farrell's style? Soft, feminine, curves rather than lines – a flower burst on a wall. It's natural and it's beautiful. Then there's Carter. He's cool, it's all about the detail, the hyper realism, "from the classical to the fantastical", and the preying mantis sums it up – it jumps out at you and there's an inward flinch when you look at it.
They have flatted together, studied together and their mums are friends with each other. Farrell says they went to the same high school, but didn't hang out then.
"He was a dumb old fourth former."
But now there's an easy camaraderie and they just do their own thing in their Palmerston North studio – Carter at his computer where he is a bit of a whiz with animation, design and editing, and Farrell – drawing, sketching, making.
They found their way to tattooing through their art. Carter says he has always drawn and when he was 20 someone suggested that he try doing it on skin.
"I fell in love with it and I thought, if I'm going to do it, I'll do it for life. I decided to make that commitment and I just learnt as much as I could. It's while I was studying at UCOL as well and at the back of my head, I knew what I wanted to do. I finished studying and it became my fulltime job, and all of the stuff I learnt at UCOL came into it."
Farrell was really trying to build up her art practice, doing a drawing a day while working part-time. Like Carter, someone suggested tattooing.
"They thought my style kind of fit. I have always loved tattoos and have been inspired by them and my husband bought me a tattoo machine. I fell in love with it straight away."
There had to be a first tattoo, of course. They did it together, both tattooing their own feet. Carter laughs. "It was a bit of a bonding experience."
Farrell says it's a funny situation to put someone in and there is something very sacred about a tattoo. She says she honours that.
"It's an intimate thing and there is quite a bit of energy exchange. Sometimes they are a memorial or they mean a lot and people can get quite emotional. I think that's all really important and I enjoy and respect that depth."
Carter says the vulnerability of the situation sometimes creates "a bit of a therapy situation".
"Sometimes it can get quite heavy. You have to separate yourself a little bit."
Both have Greek lineage and Carter says his aunty once told him not to forget where he came from.
"Tattoos were used in slavery and they were a really negative thing. But I just said it's not the same thing – that was ink in the skin, this is art."
And it is. There is something painterly in their approach. Their process is painstaking. You don't come into their studio to pick something out of a book. Their first meeting with a client is always a chat and a process of creation. And they don't do just any tattoo. They do what inspires them and it has to be something they feel they can do well. Farrell says they have to "be into" the tattoos they are doing.
"We want to specialise and be searched out for what we do."
The tattoo industry has grown so much in the past 10 years, says Carter, and there is now room for a more "boutique" style.
"Tattooing has gained some sort of mainstream traction and there are artists coming at it from all different angles. It's just gone to the next level now. It's such a new world that you can get whatever you want."
They are both a bit ecstatic that they are getting what they wanted – their art is now their job. Carter says it wasn't always something he thought would be possible and Farrell says they are living the dream.
And it's a dream that has become a reality. They wanted to take the dark out of the tattoo world and in their new space it's all about the bright, white light of creating.
In the Shade is located on 47b Grey St, Palmerston North. For more information go to: https://www.facebook.com/intheshadearts/