East-London based illustrator and artist Lola Blackheart chats tattoos, her journey to self acceptance and the inspiration behind her body positive art…
I grew up with an adoration for very old-school, traditional tattoo work, classic pin-up imagery of the 1940s and 50s, and in my teens I discovered the world of burlesque. The confidence and energy of these professional female performers of all different sizes and shapes, plus the empowerment they bring to their audiences, really resonated with me.
It was the first step in what I guess you would call my ‘journey’ of self-acceptance. I also discovered how using these women as inspiration in my artwork felt like a small way to not only feel part of this movement of strong, confident females, but also could work to bring others in to that world.
I went to the Brit School of Performing Arts, and (not many people know this) actually started out as a dancer. After a severe ankle injury as I was going into my third year there, I realised that my passion for the art department had also began to naturally outgrow that of dance, and I spent my final two years studying art & design. I suddenly felt like I actually belonged somewhere. The dance world can be quite cruel and demanding, especially when it comes to appearance.
I went on to study Visual Communications at Leeds College of Art, where I did my own thing and specialised in casting and sculpture, with some illustration too. I was making installations made up of things, such as big hand-painted skulls for high-end store’s windows by my final year, and had my own studio.
Moving back to London made this a lot more expensive and illustration became more practical (and a lot less physically challenging!) It allowed me to turn my ideas into a reality much quicker. Instagram definitely changed my life, and being able to share my work so easily and to such a broad audience really pushed me to keep going and to keep engaging.
I was first tattooed at 16, and kept going from there! There was nothing quite like the excitement of going for my next tattoo, especially in my late teens and early twenties. I had friends that were starting out as tattoo artists, so I have quite a few that I don’t reveal as much as others, but they all hold funny or interesting memories.
Some of my all-time favourites are my coffin on my arm by Matty Darienzo, my panther on my hand and ‘Lola’ cat girl on my upper arm by Dani Quepo, and my hand-poked bible with upside-down cross and saw on my forearm by Kirk Budden.
The meaning and purpose of my work and brand has definitely continued to evolve over time, and I’m at a point now where I really want to push these messages of self-love and self-acceptance. I wish this had existed at the level it does now when I was growing up and that I had been given access to beautiful imagery of women that didn’t all look a certain way (tall, thin, whit etc.)
I ensure that everything I see on my Instagram is either educational, inspiring or body positive, and I hope that the work I’m putting out there and the content I share falls under these categories in some way or another. I also love that the basic aesthetic of the 50s pinups is still so embedded in my work, as it brings that element of classic glamour, and the celebration of the female body – although we should all support vintage aesthetic over vintage values!
I’ll continue to create work that explores the beauty of bodies and how different we all are. I have some exciting hand-painted projects coming up, as well as expanding on what I offer in terms of products on my Etsy store. My prints will always be central, but releasing small runs of organic, vegan, high quality products is something I’m going to be pushing. It’s amazing to see the interest and reaction from people when I do release something like a limited edition t-shirt. I also continue to work a lot with brands, so as soon as I’m given the go-ahead to share this work I will!
I’m open to all kinds of commissions, both for individuals and brands, but my most popular is the ones where I draw customers as one of my pin up girls! You can read more about this, purchase and get added to my waiting list here.
Be sure to follow Lola on Instagram for more tattoo and pin up inspired art.