Lauren Hepple of String of Hearts Tattoo in Southsea shares her love for cat tattoos and the inspiration behind her ‘growing bodies’ tattoo series

Photograph taken by Bradley Salmon

How long have you been tattooing and how did you get into the industry? I have been tattooing for around three years now. Tattooing was always something I wanted to do but after being discouraged at school from looking into it seriously as a career, I moved onto other arts practices and worked in textiles briefly. After a few months of this, I saw a local studio advertising that they were looking for apprentices. I sent my portfolio in and that’s where it all started.

What does tattooing mean to you? Tattooing is a big creative outlet for me. Even while I can still draw at home, creating a piece for someone and bonding over the experience is very fulfilling. It is also a medium unlike anything else. It is constantly evolving and changing and with each tattoo I do I get new opportunities to push myself to create the best work I can. It’s a huge motivation to be able to see myself grow as an artist.

Outside of my personal work, tattooing is all about the community. I have been missing my clients and seeing other artists. Over the last year especially, even while we haven’t been able to see each other in person, the support has been overwhelming.

How would you describe your style? I always use the term illustrative to describe my work. It has strong roots in printmaking which is where the off registration colour comes from. 

Where do you get your inspiration? I tend to separate my work into two categories of things that are full of fun such as the fruit cats or animals, and then the work that focuses on the growing bodies – and the inspiration comes from different places for these.

The cats are created when I’m in a good mood and am not too stressed. I’m always influenced by what I scroll past on social media – and an idea will usually stick from there and I have to make it into a cute illustration.

The bodies are created from days I don’t feel so great and am feeling the pressures of the world around me. They’re a great way to get emotion down onto paper. They help me work through anything that’s bothering me and having them resonate with other people feeling a similar way is what made me keep creating this work. 

We love your cat tattoos, are they your favourite animal to tattoo? Cats are always my favourite animal to tattoo – not that that means I don’t enjoy others, but their round faces always make me smile so much. Along with the fact that I do a lot of these pieces to look like my clients cats – hearing their love for their animals as the most wholesome thing. 

What else do you love tattooing? I love tattooing anything with a little note of love to their owners on them. This could be on illustrations of hands or on little envelopes. I love hearing what they mean to my clients – each one is so unique. 

Your drawings and tattoos of the ‘bloom girls’ share a message of self-love and growth, how does this resonate with you? Is this something you like to talk about and share with others? I first created one of the growing bodies after hurting myself skating and it meant I couldn’t do something I loved for a long while. I found that super tough so had to channel this energy into something else. After creating this first one, it resonated with a lot of people – and they expressed to me that it really showed what they were going through. This connection is a huge driving force for me when creating the growing bodies. These have now moved from encapsulating how others and I were feeling emotionally, to expressing the journey we had been on and the progress we are still making.

To me, the phrase ‘still growing’ is a constant reminder that I am always on a journey with self-love, and it’s not an overnight achievement or something to be ticked off a list. It’s a constant practice. 

During this time I also wanted to see more representation of bodies that looked like me in this industry, and when changing how the bodies looked, I had input from others wanting to see more of these illustrations that represented them. What these illustrations mean to others is what keeps me creating them. I have drawn pieces to specifically look like clients and being part of their self love process is something I am so grateful for.

For me, when I create these they are a time of focus for me. I am an anxious person and sitting focusing on these creations of self-love, stop me spiralling. Literally writing ‘I am enough’ or ‘watch me grow’ stops me being so hard to myself, and taking a beat to think what’s actually going on right now and what I can make manageable.

Things might be tough but that’s okay, I’ll get through it.  

Can you tell us about your own tattoos, have these helped you to see your body differently? My tattoos make me feel more at home in my own body. I don’t have many where the design has any hidden meaning, but so many are done by friends, and always take me back to a positive moment in time.

My work focuses so much on self-love and self-positivity – I feel the artwork that is on me is part of my process in being more comfortable with myself. Having artwork on me that makes me feel strong always helps on days when I am struggling with my body image. 

Follow Lauren on Instagram for more gorgeous growing bodies tattoos.





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