Kayleigh Peach was so determined to become a successful tattoo artist that on her first day as an apprentice she got the word “cursed” etched over her eye.
She thought her tattooed face would put off most employers and leave her no choice but to pursue her ambition.
Now aged 26, with 60% of her body inked, Kayleigh, who is from Erdington in Birmingham, explains how her risk has so far paid off and how tattooing has changed her life.
‘Dad said I couldn’t be bridesmaid’
I definitely get some looks. You forget you’ve got them so you’re like “why are they staring at me?”
I get asked about the tattoos on my face quite a lot. I think people view throat and face tattoos as more extreme.
You do get bad criticism, like people say you look a bit thuggish, it’s intimidating or it’s a bit much. My family isn’t the biggest fan of them.
My dad got married and I’d just had a big one on my chest and he said I wasn’t allowed to be a bridesmaid.
But he’s a lot more accepting now that I do it as a job. I’ve actually tattooed him.
It was hard because I could tell I was hurting him so after I finished I got him to write “Dad” in his handwriting and I got him to tattoo it on me.
‘I used to think I was cursed’
I got my first tattoo when I was 18. It was my best friend’s surname on my ankle. He got my name too. Now I’d say 60% of my body is covered.
I got my first face tattoo on my first day as an apprentice tattoo artist when I was 24.
Basically, I got it so that I couldn’t get a normal job so I would have to persevere with what I was doing.
I got “cursed” above my eyebrow. I used to be quite critical of myself and see the glass half empty. I used to think things happened to me for a reason and I would punish myself for things mentally.
Then I got a rose on one side of my face, which is to do with romance and beauty, then leaves on the other side, which symbolise new beginnings for me in my life.
‘I took the full plunge’
Before I started tattooing I lived above a pub and I was drinking and partying a lot.
You had to walk through the pub to get to the flat upstairs and everyone would be like “come down have a drink” and I’d end up staying out.
When I started tattooing I decided to go straight edge for six months and since then my life has changed for the better.
I took the full plunge and quit my day job and went straight into an apprenticeship.
To start off with you earn literally next to nothing. But now my boss says I’m one of the busiest junior artists he’s ever seen.
It’s a lot about customer care and how you treat people. It’s not just your work they come for, it’s the environment you work in and you as a person.
Now I’m earning enough to be comfortable. As you get more experienced you earn more and put your prices up.
You charge by the hour or the piece and 50% goes to me and 50% to the place I work for the business and materials. It’s like renting a chair.
You have to apply for your tattoo licence and I’m self-employed so I have to look after my own accounts.
‘I help people in pain’
I absolutely love tattooing. Your mind is never stagnant; you are always creating, learning and meeting new people.
You’re constantly talking to people and when they are in pain they open up and talk about their problems.
It’s about making people comfortable. Some people will be very nervous and I help them through it.
Some of the stories behind some of the people I tattoo are heartbreaking or really joyous.
It makes you see more clearly in life what matters. It makes you appreciate things a lot more. I have a lot more of a positive outlook on life now.
I help a lot of people who are really self-conscious about parts of their body, or stretch marks or scars from self-harming.
If you have something pretty on a part of your body that you have negative feelings about, it can make you feel much more confident and happy.
‘Tattooing and modelling gave me confidence’
Growing up I was a very timid and quiet girl. Tattooing has definitely given me more confidence. It’s just the way you hold yourself when you’ve got a certain part of your life on your skin.
I started doing modelling when I was 19 and it kicked off in a way that I couldn’t believe. I was in a music video and Skin Deep magazine.
There was so much attention and you get bad criticism as well as good, but I just take it on the chin and I think “I’ve got this”.
The tattoos on my face make me unique. Even when you get old and wrinkled, it makes your skin a bit prettier.
It’s a nice hobby to have to collect pictures on your skin. You can look back and remember when you got that, where you were and what it means.
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As told to Jennifer Meierhans. Photos subject to copyright