Emily Malice on Her Style Evolution, Her Lifelong Love of Art, and Getting Tattooed by Her Dad

Emily Malice
Credit: Instagram / @emilymalice

As a child whose family frequently relocated, Emily Malice found solace in art. She would spend nearly all of her free time drawing, often heading outside with her supplies to sketch nature-inspired designs. While she didn’t necessarily grow up with dreams of becoming a tattooer, she learned early that art was (and still is) her passion. 

Her parents were fans of tattoos even then; so open-minded about the art form that they would bring Malice and her brother to visit tattoo studios when they were just kids. So it came as no surprise when she decided to get her first tattoo at age 15. For many people, that might seem like a premature age to decide to put something on your body forever—and it certainly is young—but it felt natural to Malice. In fact, it was her dad (who was not a tattooer) who did that first tattoo on her. 

Over a decade and a half later—and six years into her career as a professional tattooer—the now 31 year old resident artist at Femme Fatale Tattoo in London, has made a name for herself in the industry thanks to her signature fineline, figurative designs. Her tattoos (and her badass personal style) have led her to amass an impressive and devoted following of 190,000 fans on Instagram which include Halsey, the Grammy-nominated musician whom Malice has tattooed twice.

She’s is not just a tattooer, though. Malice is also an entrepreneur and designer—she co-founded Filthy Cute, a sustainable apparel brand—and an occasional model. She’s a gem, and here, she talks to us about her journey as an artist, her thoughts on the increasing popularity of tattoos, and her childhood dream of becoming a dinosaur.

On her journey as a tattooer: “My journey actually started when I went to a bike rally with my parents as a kid. I saw someone tattooing a sweet tribal tramp stamp in a tent, and I thought it looked fun and exciting. I’ve always spent my spare time drawing and reading, but this gave me a direction and a way I could apply my art.

I didn’t really have a typical apprenticeship, though. When I first started looking for apprentice positions, a lot of shops dismissed me, so I’m mostly self-taught. I would say my journey more formally began a bit later when, after I’d been practicing for a while on my own, I moved to London to work with my heroes at Into You [a renowned, now-closed tattoo studio that was run by Alex Binnie and a piercer named Teena Marie]. I spent all my time there absorbing all the magic and creativity that everyone was kind enough to share with me. Honestly, I like to think of Alex Binnie as my tattoo dad. I’m so grateful for all the time and support he gave me.”

On the evolution of her style: “When I first started [tattooing] I felt like I had to stick within a certain aesthetic, but when I discovered the work of people like Duncan X [who was also a tattooer at Into You] and Sean from Texas, I realized that you were allowed to draw whatever you wanted! When I discovered that there are no rules, I started drawing things I enjoyed and I felt were intrinsic to my life and my passions. Luckily, other people enjoyed it! I used to do a lot of dotwork, but currently I enjoy creating texture with different line weights and patterns.”

Like Emily’s style but not ready to commit to a permanent tattoo? You’re in luck, because she just released a bunch of semi-permanent tattoo designs. Shop the Emily Malice x Inkbox collection here.

On her first tattoo experience: “For my first tattoo, my dad did some sick tribal I designed on my ankle. He bought this savagely bad kit off of eBay and I basically made him do it so I could be the second kid at school with a tattoo. I was 15 years old, and felt like such a badass.”

On her lifelong passion for art: “Growing up I spent a lot of time on my own, immersed in my art and daydreaming through drawing. I never really had a plan [for my career], though. When I was a kid I wanted to be a velociraptor, and I was fully convinced that if I thought about it hard enough my cells would mutate and I could achieve my destiny. That didn’t work out but thankfully tattooing did.”

On the best part of her job: “My favorite part of tattooing is all the lovely people I get to meet and create art for. It means so much to me that people want to wear my art on their precious flesh.”

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🤤💧💦☔️👅 @shotbyphox

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On the rising popularity of tattoos: “I think it’s wonderful that tattoos are becoming more popular. I think tattoos are such a powerful way of taking ownership of your body; they can help you scratch away the surface to show a part of yourself. I used to have some self harm marks which I was very insecure about, but covering them with tattoos gave me an armor and an opportunity to start a new chapter where I wasn’t worried about people staring at my scars.”

On her most painful tattoo: “My feet were the most painful for sure! My friend Ryan Jessiman did them, and I love them even though I did cry a bit at the time.” [You can see her feet tattoos here].

On her favorite (non-tattoo) artists: “My favorite artists are a mix of friends and people I admire online. I love the work of my friend Karina Akopyan; she creates intricate pieces that tell stories based on Russian folklore and modern day fetishes. I love the work of Polly Nor, their work is spicy and makes me chuckle. I also recently discovered Daniel Martin Diaz, and I’m obsessed!”

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crispie freshie 🏥 @emilymalice

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A tattoo that Emily Malice did on Halsey in July 2019.

On what she does for fun when she’s not tattooing: “I love going out with my girls to see art—I’m very grateful that London has so many galleries. There’s always something going on! The rest of my spare time I spend with my best mate Steph [Bolam], working on our clothing brand Filthy Cute. We’ve got some new panties dropping on Valentine’s Day.”

On how she creates a great experience for her clients: “I think design, execution, and placement are the factors that make for a great tattoo. Also, being polite and welcoming to your customers. I like to make sure everyone I tattoo feels valued and respected. At Femme Fatale we aim to create a chill, welcoming, safe space for everyone.”

On her pre-tattoo rituals: “I like to sit and draw with my customers because I feel it brings both of our energies to the piece, and it’s way more fun and relaxing! I’m also enjoying doing yoga in the mornings before tattooing to keep my back and wrists strong.”

On the inspiration behind her designs: “My art is mostly anatomical, celestial, and botanical—it’s like a tapestry of my dreams, memories, and fantasies. I like to use my art to visualize thoughts and questions I have at that moment in time. But I also enjoy creating pieces that are simple and aesthetically pleasing to be subjectively enjoyed by the beholder regardless of how they’re interpreted.”

If you liked our profile of Emily Malice, who just released a semi-permanent tattoo collection with Inkbox, make sure to check out Grace Neutral’s story, here. (She works with Emily and has an Inkbox collection, too).

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