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PREMIER ISSUE December 2001 Profile: Pat Fish
Pat Fish, proprietor of Tattoo Santa Barbara, has been called the "Celtic Queen of the West Coast." Her slogan - "Be art : Get a tattoo!" - sums up her approach to her chosen field, as she works tirelessly to convey her love for traditional Irish knotwork and skin decoration to the public.
Pat started out in academics, graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1979 with degrees in Studio Art and Film Studies. For a while she taught art for the Adult Education Department, but even then she yearned to be a tattoo artist.
Finally, when she turned 30, Pat decided that she wanted to do art full-time, and tattooing fit the pen-and-ink technique she preferred. So she got her first tattoo from Cliff Raven, who became her mentor and instructed her in the attitude and craft necessary to do the job. Her skill gradually opened doors for her that her gender had kept closed in earlier years: "In the years since," she reports, I have been extremely fortunate to have had friendships with many of the greats in the industry, and I consider them worthy role models I want to grow up to be like!"
Her current profession has turned out to be all that she hoped for and more. Pat considers herself very fortunate that her website brings in almost all of her clients, so she is able to specialize: "The forms of Celtic art are so varied, and the representationalism to loose, that I can make them turn and twist to fit the individual's body and whim. It is endlessly fascinating and challenging."
Last year, Pat began a particularly challenging work that is her favorite piece so far. "I did a set of wings that span across a woman's back and down her arms, and the kinetics are especially lovely," she says. "It was an excellent collaboration with a client who was willing to get a large and complex piece that took many sessions and still has some work to go." A picture of the subject is on Pat's website, and an article about the symbolism behind it is available in the archives of the online magazine Eclecticity.
The wildest tattoo she ever did? "How about a backpiece of the Goddess Kali the Destroyer, done as a hula girl with a skirt of snakes and eight arms holding implements of grievous harm? I think of tattoos as externalization of aesthetics and that Sick Boy had some real issues!"
Pat's favorite designs are those that work WITH the body, "so that they use the volume as well as the surface. And I prefer to take the interlaced knotworks of the ancient illuminated manuscripts and make them come alive in the skins of modern Celts.
Pats advice for those who would like to become tattoo artists? "Learn how to draw first, then get the best tattoo artist you can find to put your designs on you. Try to find an artist you really click with and offer to be very helpful in exchange for being taught the secrets of the trade. It is still a guild trade, and needs to be taught through an apprenticeship."
Pat continues to find immense personal fulfillment in her career. The profession "gives me daily challenges, constant artistic inspiration, and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment that knowing I have improved someone forever gives. It is a splendid way to make a living. I consider myself an agent of completion, helping people to add to their bodies something that will make them feel enhanced. A thing of beauty is a joy forever."