Featured Artist Interview | Crystal Alexandria - InkedWay
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Featured Artist Interview | Crystal Alexandria

Meet The Artist

Crystal Alexandria is a geometric and ornamental artist/owner at Dark Ocean Tattoo in Vancouver, British Columbia. She lives with her long time girlfriend and their French bulldog, Memphis. Their happy little family is thriving now, but Crystal’s path was far from straightforward. She’s been licensed in the field for 10 years, and has one of the most interesting artist origin stories so far.

Crystal Alexandria (right)

Some of Crystal’s most impressive pieces are complex geometrical patterns and ornamental designs. Within 10 years, she has gone from the most basic of doodles to masterful geometrics that cover large swathes of her client’s skin.

you don’t need to be good to start, you need to start to get good

The learning curve was a steep slope for her in the beginning. Prior to her decision to pursue tattooing, she’d been working for a company painting houses and had no experience in illustration.

Her girlfriend at the time came home one day and presented her with an ultimatum; become a tattoo artist, or the relationship is over.

“I like a challenge, I’m generally up for a challenge… I didn’t really have any direction.”

-Crystal Alexandria

When I asked Crystal if such an extreme demand was a source of resentment in their relationship, she said that at the time, she didn’t see it that way. She was eager to take on a new challenge, especially if it meant keeping her companion around.

It didn’t take much convincing for Crystal to become an artist, and it’s become clear that the occupation she chose is actually a perfect fit for her. Now Crystal is in a relationship with someone much better suited for her, and her career in tattooing has blossomed tremendously since then.

Style Is as Style Does

Though her geometrical designs are striking, she’s no stranger to color. Her portfolio is filled with vibrant full color tattoos, in contrast with the simple elegance black and grey of her ornamental pieces. It’s safe to say that both styles are as beautiful as they are different, like two sides of the same coin.

Through the years her skill in blackwork as well as vivid colors has lent itself to a diverse range of projects. In her own words her Crystal also works in several other styles, like these realistic (and adorable) stickers and embroidered patches.

Crystal uses such and such ink and needles for her work, and even knows how to solder her own needle groupings (though she doesn’t, for the sake of time). She learned this old fashioned technique during her three month apprenticeship, however her time studying under a mentor was cut short.

Easy Come, Easy Go

Initially, Crystal was accepted as an apprentice after bonding with her would-be mentor. She’d brought in some flash sheets and was turned down, but the artist had a change of heart when Crystal came in a week or so later to be on the receiving end of the tattoo needle.

The resident artist was taken with Crystal’s winning personality, and offered her the apprenticeship after all. Despite there being several other candidates who were perhaps more qualified, Crystal had that special something that awarded her the coveted position.

Two weeks after Crystal had accepted the position, her mentor split town. The owner of the store allowed her to stay in the shop under a few conditions: firstly, she would have to teach herself now that her teacher was gone, and second he would take half of her earnings.

Crystal hung tight, and was able to self teach her way to the top. Crystal has since opened her own shop with her beloved girlfriend and business partner, Amanda, who helped to encourage and inspire her to explore new styles and mediums.

Contact the Artist

The best place to find more of Crystal Alexandria’s art is on Instagram and TikTok: @crysalexart . Her work can also be found at her studio’s Instagram account @darkoceantattoo .

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Full Transcript

14:03:15 How are you today?
14:03:23 Good you I’m doing good good so Why, don’t you introduce yourself, and tell me where you work I’m Crystal Alexandria.
14:03:34 I have a shop in Vancouver called Dark Ocean Touch.
14:03:38 You very cool. And how long have you been working there? About 4 years?
14:03:45 4 years awesome. And how long have you been in the field overall About 10 years?
14:03:51 Very cool. It is Well, what’s your favorite part of the process, the process of tattooing Yeah.
14:04:03 Like start to finish planning it to executing it.
14:04:08 Oddly. I really like stenciling doing like, cause they do a lot of geometric work, or really like layering things, and like finding how they fit with the body best.
14:04:20 Anything a little visually tricky i’m into yeah I like to translate a lot.
14:04:28 And then just actually touch it. is super fine the drawings a little harder for me.
14:04:32 I don’t come from an artistic background. so that part is always a learning process, but I figured it out mostly.
14:04:40 Yeah, i’ve read in your little blurb that you sent me that you did landscaping.
14:04:45 Is that correct? and house painting yeah that’s awesome that’s totally different.
14:04:51 Field. How did you make just from one to the other?
14:04:55 I was dating a girl who came home and said you’re going to be a tattoo artist.
14:05:01 I don’t draw she said I don’t care, figure it out, or in breaking up with you.
14:05:06 So I figured it out yeah, it was a very hard learning curve.
14:05:12 But I figured it out i’m doing it 10 years later.
14:05:19 And yeah, what was not with that girl anymore? I was gonna say, is that like what?
14:05:24 How was that challenging for you like to? has chosen this path for you?
14:05:31 No, I I like a challenge. I don’t know I generally generally up for a challenge.
14:05:40 I wasn’t really I would I don’t know I didn’t really have any direction.
14:05:43 I was like 31 is i’m 41 and I was 31, and I was like, oh, well, I don’t know i’m just painting houses for some crappy company.
14:05:55 Am. I just gonna keep doing this for our I drew some Jerusalem terrible, terrible flash!
14:06:06 It was terrible and we’re a little in a small town, and I there was 2 shops.
14:06:13 One was an h a shop, and one was all girls and I was like i’m gonna go to the all girl shop and brought it to the girl, and it was like I want an apprenticeship, and she was like you suck
14:06:23 There’s 5 other people that want the job and I was like that’s cool.
14:06:27 Just tell my girlfriend I was here and then I went to get attached to from her like a week later, and she just decided she liked me so much that she wanted to teach me, and then I I done a couple
14:06:43 more months of my apprenticeship, so I know how to do really old school things like I can make my own needles.
14:06:51 I don’t but I know how to solder you know groupings.
14:06:58 And
14:06:59 And I done like a little ted on my skip town.
14:07:05 That’s some random guy who walk like came through who was going through town.
14:07:09 She just like had a one night stand and disappeared.
14:07:13 And the owner of the shop. Just let me stay he was like you can stay, and you can teach yourself.
14:07:18 But I won’t have your money and I was like that’s cool I don’t.
14:07:21 I don’t know where else I do it so I did and I did.
14:07:25 Wow! Yeah. And then I was there for a little bit, and then I came back to the city, and then I got a job at a really great shop in the city, and then I was there for 6 and a half years.
14:07:38 And then decided to open my own that’s awesome That’s like journey to get there.
14:07:44 But yes, yeah, sounds like he was a lot great place yeah yeah it’s been good.
14:07:50 So it’s it’s been a lot of work. but it’s all like evened out.
14:07:56 Yeah, Yeah. So you mentioned that you know how to solder your own needles.
14:08:01 And now you said you don’t but what materials do you use like literally just your your needles and your needle bars and your side?
14:08:11 It’s really as simple as it sounds they make it make it sound a lot harder.
14:08:15 It’s not that hard, but I mean very tedious if you you know.
14:08:23 Sometimes i’ll use 6 needle groupings in one tattoo.
14:08:27 So if you’re like making your own needles and then sterilizing them in an auto play, that would be a lot of work like tattooing is like leaps and bounds from what it used to be Yeah, I was
14:08:40 more meant meaning, like you know, like types of brands that you like, or you know, your favorite groupings, or whatever.
14:08:51 Oh, oh, oh, I I only use one brand of needles.
14:08:55 I use The needles by radical tattoo supplies great great cartridges.
14:09:00 I’m mostly use round shaders like round shaders soft curve eggs, mostly.
14:09:06 Yeah, very cool. Yeah. What about the types of inks do you use?
14:09:12 I know you do a lot of geometric like black work.
14:09:16 Do you do color? I do. I do. So I use starbight and world famous, and then their blocks are all great.
14:09:24 So yeah, nice. Yeah. So are you willing to talk about any of the tattoos that you have on your own body that you Oh, I have.
14:09:38 I have lots of crap in my body. I have. I have lots of I had to teach myself statues.
14:09:47 I have lots of i’m 41 so when I was dating, and I was getting tattoos.
14:09:53 There was no Instagram. There was no Facebook there was.
14:09:57 Hey? Do you know anyone that does tattoos? or hey, what shop in town?
14:10:03 So like like the the the kids these days. They have no idea how good they have it. like. you can go in Instagram and type in, you know, Japanese tattoo artist, and you can get a list of a 1,000 and then research them.
14:10:18 like. If I had the ability to do that I would have a lot.
14:10:23 I i’d have the same the same type of tattoos like I’ve got like a lot of like heavy black work and geometric.
14:10:34 But very well done, and very well planned like. if I had known.
14:10:38 If I know the things that I know now, then
14:10:43 I would have, you know, planned full sleeves, plan to back piece, and also I feel like tattoo artists.
14:10:51 Now, hopefully, I mean I am but like are more transparent with people about like, hey?
14:10:57 Sorry to fly in my face, hey? don’t put that Don’t put that piece of script in the middle of your back, because if you want to get a full back piece later, you’re gonna have to get that covered or
14:11:10 laser or something like nobody told you that then, they were like Oh, yes, i’ll take your money, thank you.
14:11:17 It might you know they wouldn’t tell you would blur together.
14:11:20 So I I I mean I only have like Oh, no, I have my chest.
14:11:23 We really can’t see it, too, But I did that in a mirror years ago, and and then one of my friends filled in the very center for me, because I can get that part and I I like that one
14:11:40 a lot. Yeah, otherwise i’m kinda like that’s my tattoos.
14:11:45 I’m more just I tattoo the things I wish I had on other people, which is kind of cool.
14:11:51 Nice I can’t believe that you did that in a mirror that seems so hard.
14:12:01 Yeah, I I might have been just like young and crazy, young and down maybe that worked worked out.
14:12:09 It looks great. Thanks. Do you have a favorite tattoo on myself?
14:12:19 Hmm! I like my chest. the whole whole back inside and sides of my head are all done, too.
14:12:26 It’s just all flower of life I like that one I just never see it. No, i’m not i’m not really attached to any of my tattoos if that makes sense they’re kind of just
14:12:40 I I they’re kind of just how I look they’re kind of just how I look, and kinda like where I got from A to B E sort how I got from a to B like there.
14:12:53 I literally can like, look at different parts of my body and I know when I got this, or how I got this or whatever, and but i’m not really attached to any of them.
14:13:01 Like I wish they were different, but I don’t care but I don’t particularly love any of them.
14:13:06 If that makes any sense. Yeah, I get that yeah well, like the work you’ve done, do you have a favorite tattoo that you’ve given to someone else.
14:13:18 No I no no problem it’s usually usually what i’m what i’m currently I do so many styles.
14:13:31 It’s so hard like I do geometric tattoos, and I do patch and sticker tattoos, and I do color real sounds.
14:13:41 Florals, and I do just like illustrate a black like I do.
14:13:45 I get bored really easy, and I do neotride.
14:13:49 So I just do all of these things. so i’m like Oh, today I’m doing this giant ravens and flowers color, chess piece.
14:13:56 This is amazing. and then tomorrow, and doing a full geometric layered leg sleeve, and that’s my favorite thing that day like I.
14:14:04 I like them all for different reasons. kinda like different listening to different music for different I mean, my music tastes are like that, too.
14:14:13 I like everything from country to like really really hard core black metal.
14:14:18 So yeah, very nice, yeah I like thinking about it that way. that’s a fun way to yeah right like when you get bored, just listening the same saying every single day, even if you love it.
14:14:33 That’s that’s how I felt like I I like i’m. I’m known for my geometric work.
14:14:42 Cause that’s that’s just what I what spoke to me in the beginning, and I just didn’t think that I could do anything else. I just didn’t know and so that was that’s what i’m like really known for but
14:14:55 that was like day in day out that’s all I was doing and then I was like i’m gonna lose my mind.
14:15:02 Let’s try something else. so I just did and it wasn’t perfect.
14:15:07 But it worked out well, and then I just tried again and again, and it worked.
14:15:13 You have any horror stories of trying something and it didn’t work out
14:15:22 Maybe like way back, maybe like way back. Why not? really? not really?
14:15:27 When I went from this teaming. Yeah, not no, not really.
14:15:30 Horror stories like maybe some things that yeah didn’t get executed the way that I wanted.
14:15:41 Honestly, because, like clients wanted to make changes and I didn’t have the boundaries to stop them, and I just went with it, and then was like, oh, Nope, this doesn’t look as good as i’d originally planned
14:15:52 it’s fine, you know, like the difference between like fine and like this is freaking great, you know.
14:15:58 That kind of difference. so like it’s good but if you and to me, and I stood up for the way.
14:16:10 I designed it. Then it would have been better and that’s on me really. I mean, like Hmm.
14:16:15 The customers always right, but not really like but not but not really because you don’t, you You know you don’t.
14:16:23 You don’t pay you don’t hire and pay an interior decorator to do your apartment and then micro manage everything.
14:16:33 But maybe you give them preferences, you know I like this color, and I like this style of whatever.
14:16:42 But you don’t micromanage it also I think it’s the same thing.
14:16:46 I think that’s also why social media is really good is that research. your artists find an artist who does what you like, and then give them your preferences and allow them to create activity to create that piece the way.
14:17:01 It should be if that makes sense yeah yeah so I wouldn’t say horror stories.
14:17:07 But i’d say things that I don’t love but they do, which is perfect great.
14:17:15 You love it, but I know that maybe it would have been better right.
14:17:20 That makes sense. Yeah, Well, I think there’s something to be said about having a level of expertise, and then not being listened to on something that you have that expertise in it can be and and not and not like and flimsy
14:17:40 boundaries right like being like Oh, I want I want this person to like me, or I want to please them, or I don’t want to lose the client, because I say no.
14:17:52 But sometimes it’s a smart thing to do but I guess that’s all stuff.
14:17:58 You kind of just learned by getting older and not doing it. and then you go.
14:18:03 Oh, Well, that was an awesome okay next time i’ll left it do that?
14:18:07 Yeah, yeah. what are some of the things in clients that you love?
14:18:14 Oh, I love clients they’re so fun I I I had learned to be a people person like I like people, but i’m not unless I have to be i’m not super chatty like unless like i’m
14:18:28 doing this, or like you know someone’s picked a topic that i’m that I know a lot about or something.
14:18:37 But I like knowing about people. I like I just actually. I tattooed on a cruise ship for 2 weeks in September, and I just just at nobody was from nobody was from Canada.
14:18:51 Nobody was from Vancouver, so I just people would sit down and be like, Where are you from?
14:18:55 What do you do, and just let people talk, and I just love listening to people and like hearing about where they’re from, and why they’re there, and what they do, and what why they’re getting this tattoo or what it needs them
14:19:08 or what it doesn’t mean to them I don’t know, and people are just like nice generally.
14:19:15 I don’t, I you, know, you get your like odd person here and there, but like generally, people are just nice, and they’re happy to be like creating art with you, which is pretty fun.
14:19:27 Yeah, I have a lot of clients that are I mean again. I’m.
14:19:30 Not like a super social person, but like clients that I would consider my friends, you know, like that, like we have each other’s phone numbers, and maybe we don’t get together because i’m not super social but like we’ll text
14:19:43 each other like funny things once in a while, or like get a coffee or something.
14:19:47 So yeah, yeah, that’s awesome you have relationship with some of your clients right enough.
14:19:57 People that you know you’ve worked on them from like blank canvas to full sleeves or anything like that.
14:20:03 Oh, yeah, I have a couple of clients that like get started with one piece.
14:20:08 I have one lady named Maria and she’s got like sleeves and an entire full back piece.
14:20:16 Then like like, just cover it. People that are just covered I was like Wow! like people actually let me like draw this stuff on them like, and I get paid to do it.
14:20:25 It’s pretty wild. yeah that’s right That’s a pretty good job.
14:20:31 I’m definitely worse things you could be doing Oh, yeah it’s good, I mean, you know, ted to me though I did not.
14:20:41 I I probably didn’t know this because my experience at that point with tattoos was like walking into a shop just with an idea, and them just being like you up and just like tattooing it on without any any anything right and
14:20:57 so I didn’t realize that tattooing was so customer service heavy.
14:21:02 I had no idea I was like. Oh, you just like person brings you a picture or tells you an idea, and you draw and put it on them.
14:21:09 I had no idea you have to like talk to people, and you know, like, go back and forth and figure out designs.
14:21:18 And I Yeah, So it’s it’s a job where like you have to be like you have to be personable.
14:21:25 I suppose maybe you could be a really good artist in a total jerk, and people might still get tattooed by you.
14:21:31 I don’t know I would I wouldn’t want to but it really good.
14:21:36 Yeah, Right? like, really good. Well, we are getting towards the end of our time.
14:21:47 So anything else that you’d want to say or promote like if you have a message or a new project, you’re working on, or no anything anything like that, any you know when your books are gonna open up again, anything Oh, I need my
14:22:05 books are gonna open up again on february fifteenth, so people can get through Christmas and Valentine’s Day sort thing.
14:22:15 Yeah, no, I I don’t have anything really i’m not a message person.
14:22:23 I don’t know Is it quiet. non cool tattoo artist started, though, I like it. I just wanted to make sure I give you the opportunity.
14:22:30 If you had No, I mean I need thank you for having me.
14:22:36 I guess that’s what I want to say thanks for the opportunity.
14:22:41 Thank you for being here and taking the time to to speak with me.
14:22:44 I know that. Yeah, No problem to keep a busy schedule.
14:22:47 So it’s okay, it’s my day off it was a good day.