Reproduced from The Celtic Crier, Irish Community Website

April, 2011


Interview with Pat Fish, Celtic Design and Tattoo Artist

"We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Pat Fish, a well known tattoo artist Located in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. Pat Fish specializes in Celtic design.  I perused her website before our interview. Through her website I discovered what a fascinating woman she truly is. And after the interview all I could think was, "Wow, this lady is amazing". She is a remarkable person, a woman who knows who she is and knows what she wants. She is someone to be admired and respected.
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did doing it!!!
Slainte."     -  Marcene Bronson, The Irish Imp




At what age did you get your first tattoo and what did you get?

I decided to learn how to tattoo when I turned 30, so I looked for the best person I could find to do my first tattoo so I could ask him to teach me. That turned out to be Cliff Raven, and he put a life sized green koi wrapping my left shoulder. It was remarkably fortunate that fate led me to him; he was a fabulous individual who strongly influenced me in many ways. 

He told me at the very beginning that "Tattooing has three equal parts: Art, Craft, and Morals. The art you have the talent and skill for, the craft I will teach you, and the morals no one can teach you if you don't already have them." 


What inspired the decision for your first tattoo?                                                                                    

I wanted to change my occupation, and do art full-time. Tattooing seemed to me like the best way to accomplish that. But the only person I knew with a tattoo told me I would have no credibility as a tattoo artist if I just learned how to do them and set up a studio, he said I HAD to also be tattooed. So I went to get one and make sure I LIKED getting tattooed, as a prerequisite to learning the trade. I picked a koi because of my name and the Japanese symbolism of the fish meaning "perseverance in adversity", and I wanted it big because what if I didn't LIKE the process and it was the only one I ever got?

Of all the tattoos you have, which is your favorite and why?

My left forearm is one interlocking Celtic knot carpet pattern that I drew up and then went to London to have Alex Binnie install. Not because he does Celtic things, but because he is a genius and I figured as long as I could draw it up as a stencil he was the only person I could imagine being capable of getting it on me. 

It took two days, and I love it. Now I do this kind of full-wrap work on clients with the aid of Photoshop and computer technology, far easier than way back when I had just a Xerox and a cone of paper cut to the shape of my forearm and lots of grid lines on it.

What interested you in becoming a Tattoo Artist?   

I wanted to do an art form that was a craft, and had immediate connection with the client. No art gallery, no publisher, just me and the person for whom I was creating the art. I saw tattoos as having an ineluctable savor, providing a sigil more permanent than almost anything else in life. And I wanted that kind of role, being the agent of completion, the one who brings to fruition the yearnings and desires for something symbolic and meaningful.

I had taken a BA in Studio Art and one in Film Studies, and had a teaching credential in art, but I was working as an interviewer and journalist at the time and wanted more art in my life. I was illustrating my articles with pen and ink drawings, and it seemed to me like they looked like they could be translated into tattoos.

How old were you when you gave your first tattoo, what was the tattoo and who did you give it to?

I was 30, and I had a good friend who had just turned 18 and gone out and gotten a dreadful tattoo, a spider that looked like it had been stepped on. I figured right off I could do better than that, so I put a butterfly on her and just kept on going. 

She let me learn on her, I suspect everyone who learns to tattoo has a friend in their past who did, and I promised that once I got more proficient I'd fix them all..... maybe she'll read this interview and come back and I'll have the opportunity to make good on that promise.

What advice, if any, do you give to potential clients?

I have two videos I play for each client that I also have on my main website and on YouTube. In the first movie, the pre-flight entertainment, I explain about why I use disposable equipment, the need for a sterile environment, and try to set their mind at ease that they have come to a studio where I am deeply concerned about the medical and moral aspects of the trade. 

Then in the second video, that they watch after they have gotten their tattoo, I explain in detail how I recommend they take care of it and why I think those methods work best. Keeps me from having to repeat myself, and makes certain that every client gets the same level of information I consider vital.

What inspired you to do tattoos of Celtic designs?

I feel very strongly that my heritage as a Pict influenced my choice of Celtic tattooing to specialize in. I have always been drawn to this art, it holds my attention better than any other, and I am always challenged to perfect my installation of the ancient motifs in skin. Most of what I do has never been a tattoo before, but is directly inspired by the illuminated manuscripts, stone carvings, high crosses, all the designs that have withstood the ravages of time. We can't know what the ancient ones tattooed on themselves, but surely their skin art would have been similar to their other art forms.

Many people mistakenly believe that tattoos first came to Europe with the seafarers returning from the voyages of exploration to the South Seas. Far from it! The Picts were given that name by the Romans because they were "pictorial people." As mercenary soldiers who hired themselves out across the continent they were highly visible on the battle field with their many tattoos. I want the people descended from them to be able to bring those patterns back alive as skin art, and while everyone else can yearn for "tribal" tattoos and end up with black stripes from Borneo, we Celts have the resource material to create our own ethnically appropriate epidermal embellishments.

What are some of your favorite Celtic designs?

I prefer spirals above all other designs, so any time I can work triple or double spirals into interlocking sequences I am happiest. Bringing something alive that has been trapped on a carved stone for centuries, putting it into the skin of a descendant of the first people who gazed on that stone, what a great occupation I invented for myself! And spirals are the path to the center that wheels and spins back out again. 

My favorite are the triples, because unlike the Eastern religions, with their yin-yang duality, this or that, black or white, male or female, the Celtic world is NOT dualistic. It is all made up of threes, black white and green, yes no and maybe, good bad and thinking about it. When I put a symbol like that on someone they have it as a touchstone, a reference point, a centering mark for the rest of their lives.

What does it mean to you to be of Celtic heritage?

There is a racial type that is the Celt and Pict, and when I am in any of the Celtic nations I immediately feel as if I am in a kennel full of my own kind of dog. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't understand that kinship, that sense of right place. It doesn't mean I hate other races of people; I just am preferenced toward my own. Just like I'm fine if you want to have any kind of dog, but for me only Irish Wolfhounds will do!

I am doing what I can to give Celtic people a way to celebrate their own visual heritage with their tattoos. I spent half my life without any ethnic identity, because I was adopted away from my family. Now I see much in my intrinsic nature that I connect to being a Pict, a Celt, a Scotswoman, a Campbell.

On your website you say as a child you would go to bed praying for God to let you be Irish...Why did you want to be Irish?

They just seemed like they knew how to LIVE! And who doesn't want to be LUCKY? The irony is that I am 100% Scottish, Clan Campbell, on both sides of my heritage. But as a child I was being raised by a Russian adopted family and I just KNEW I was not one of them, and I felt drawn toward the Irish people I met. 

Still I spend more time in Ireland than Scotland, but in my self-image as a self-employed businesswoman and a self-motivated educated person, I feel I'm being a canny Scot.

In your profession, what kind of challenges do you face?

I have a hard time with repetition, so in the 1990's when half the people wanted a tribal sun on their butt crack it was like a production line, one after another. But I stuck with it, and developed my skill, and slowly as word of my preference for Celtic and Pictish designs grew I was able to devote a greater and greater percentage of my time to a more satisfying kind of work.

Now my best challenge is when I see someone's work that I admire and I am inspired to incorporate some part of their technique into my own work. I am fortunate that many of my clients come from far away and are open to listening to my ideas about how we can make the best possible tattoo for them. 

What is the strangest experience you have had while giving someone a tattoo?

I once had a man covered in blood come in the studio in a rage, and my client and I and my guard dog barked him back out and locked the door and called the cops. I thought he was high on crack and had been stabbed, so I called for an ambulance. When they came it turned out it wasn't his blood, he wasn't injured, he went off in the squad car and as it turned out the bodies of the people he had just murdered were in a park bathroom two blocks away. I moved the studio out of that neighborhood within a month!

Have you ever given yourself a tattoo?

Yes, I used to get "special access" permission to go into Stonehenge every Fall Equinox when I would be in England working. One year I took hand tapping needles in and I did a symbolic mark on myself and 4 friends inside the stone circle, all lying on the Slaughter Stone one by one. 

People often ask if I have tattooed myself, so I figured if I was going to do a wee one on myself I ought to at least make a good tale of it.

You have raised Irish Wolfhounds, can you tell us about them?

They are the King of Dogs. Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked, as we all should be. They have been war dogs and the hunters of the dire wolf and the giant elk, and when those jobs were done they became the companions of royalty and artists. When bards and artists wanted to travel the land from one castle to the next they went with wolfhounds at their side, to protect them from brigands and beasts. Mine do that for me now. 

They are my personal trainers, keeping me active and walking, and in their stalwart company I fear not. I have never actually raised any, and my present two littermate brothers I brought home from the Nutstown Kennels in Hollywood, Dublin, Eire.

Last words of advice for readers eager to get a Celtic tattoo?

Get the best artist you can afford. This will be a statement of your personal aesthetics for the rest of the world to see for the rest of your life, so don't rush. Make sure the person you want to patronize has experience in this difficult form of tattooing, you don't want them learning on you and making mistakes. Look at photographs, they tell you the level of skill the artists has. The same guy who can do a great skull may not be the one to do a complex high cross with interlaced knotwork.

And please look at my websites and consider buying one of my unique designs to be your own. I work very hard to be true to my craft, to my heritage, and my belief that right action brings positive results. In my many years in the tattoo world I have met wonderful people, seen landscapes and sacred places that feel like dreams, and heard the stories and hopes and heartaches of thousands of people. I have done what I could to leave each of those clients with a piece of beauty, an enhancement that can never be lost or stolen, an externalization of their internal aesthetics.