Jenna Kerr Interview: On Design, Passion, and Flight

tattoo artist jenna kerr

If you have an eye for Baroque and Art Nouveau-inspired tattoos then you might already be familiar with Jenna Kerr’s work. Her work has certainly garnered attention over the last few years; glistening gemstones and intricate gold inlay brought to life in staggering detail. The style in which they are evoked calls directly back to work like that of jeweler Philippe Wolfers or Archibald Knox. Her designs are equal parts orderly and beautiful.

And perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise for such an enthusiastic traveler as Kerr. When not tattooing she can often be found flying herself across the planet. Flying and tattooing are her passions in life, and if you want to see more examples of the latter you can find them on her Instagram.

Above: The woman of many talents, Jenna Kerr.
baroque style tattoo, gems, jewllery, jewels
Kerr’s use of colour helps her ornamental tattoos to pop.

A lot of the earlier artwork you have posted on Instagram trend towards the new-school style, featuring bright colours and cartoonish designs. The London Tattoo Convention also called you one of the top female abstract tattoo artists in 2018, and many of your recent pieces in particular have incorporated elements of photorealism, with a heavy focus on ornamental gem designs. Please describe how your personal style has evolved since you first began tattooing.

I first started tattooing ten years ago and my style has evolved a lot. One thing which hasn’t changed is my love of ornamental design. I have always been greatly inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, Baroque design and jewelry. When I first started tattooing I had to take on whatever work came my way; I feel that this gave me a broader knowledge of the design process and also techniques that are involved in other aspects of tattooing.

During this time what I realize now is that I was laying down the important foundations of the rest of my tattooing career which has been vitally important in the progression of my art. Even now I like still like to mix my work with small pieces of realism or neo-traditional elements. I am now fortunate that I have clients who are trusting enough to allow me enough artistic freedom in the design process so that I can still continue evolving as an artist, pushing myself in order to get better at what I do.

swan tattoo on arm
Graceful lines match with intricate detail with stunning effect.

Much of your work from the last several years are ornamental, featuring gems and occasionally borrowing elements from pop culture like Sailor Moon or Disney. Explain about your fascination with these themes and how you formed this tattoo style?

Throughout my career I’ve always used ornamental elements and included jewels in my designs, they were just executed in a very different manner, but my tattooing ability has progressed with time. The harder I’ve worked and the more I’ve pushed myself my style has naturally evolved.

Traveling has also helped. By travelling more and meeting influential artists in the industry this has helped to inspire me to want to progress. I get asked by clients for Sailor Moon or Disney themed pieces from time to time; I feel that this is because that particular style of artwork sits well with the tattooing style that I do. I try not to take on too many of these projects as I don’t wish to get pigeonholed for doing that type of tattooing, I much prefer to concentrate on my own original designs.

pink and purple jewelry tattoo on arm
Pearlescent hues wonderfully compliment Kerr’s deep purples.

You are a member of the World Famous Tattoo Ink Pro Team, a company known in particular for offering vegan, non-toxic, and cruelty free tattoo ink. Please describe how their influence has impacted your professional and artistic growth.

I am hugely grateful to World Famous Tattoo Ink for everything they have done for my career so far. They have been a massive significance in the development of my work in many different ways, and through them I have met so many other inspiring artists. Being part of the World Famous Team feels like being part of a tattoo family which is very fulfilling.

The first time I used World Famous Ink I was blown away with the versatility of the ink, it is so easy to blend the colours in the skin and gives good overall saturation. As the ink is so easy to work into the skin this means that I’m not over working the skin, and in turn means that the heal is far better and the colours remain so vibrant. (As many of my pieces are all full of colour finding the right ink company is paramount!)

I’m just about to realise two ink sets with World Famous, there will be a “Baroque” set which consists of six inks, they are gold and brassy tones. There will also be a “Jenstones” set which consists of eight inks and with this set you can create pink/purple [tattoo] jewels.

 blue ice jewelry tattoo, baroque
The detail in some of Kerr’s gems makes them feel as if they are portals into whole other worlds.

Prior to tattooing one of your creative outlets was making clothing, in particular corsets. Tell us about the importance that once had in your life. How that background shaped your work in other creative mediums?

Even though I studied fine art in my final years of higher education, I always wanted to get into fashion or jewellery design. However, there were no courses at university level in my area at the time to take this any further, so I decided to teach myself how to sew and construct outfits. I was always fascinated with Corsetry and how a corset shapes the body to give that desirable hourglass shape. The structure of the garment also fascinated me.

I owned two corsets at the time so I studied the craftsmanship and how they were pieced together, as they were both different in design this gave me an insight as to how corsets could be constructed differently using different patterns and different fabrics. After I purchased some basic corset patterns I wasn’t satisfied with how they sat on the body when they were fully made, so I ended up making my own corset patterns, and in doing so this taught me a lot about problem-solving in the design process and working with the human form as my living canvas.

insect, nature, jewelry mashup tattoo
A beautiful bumble bee brought to fabulous life.

You have described your other passion in life, besides tattooing, as being aviation. Your Instagram even documents your growth in learning to fly, from being a co-pilot on a flight across the planet to making your first solo landing. Tell us more about this passion.

From when I can remember I’ve always been fascinated with aircraft and flying. The idea of being able to fly captives me, However, in my early teens I had a horrendous experience on a commercial flight, after this event I became fearful of flying for quite some time to the extent where I wouldn’t board a commercial flight. Then five years ago I decided to face my fear head on and rekindle my passion for flying. I went for a trial flying lesson at my local airfield and even though I was terrified initially I was instantly hooked. The passion and the enjoyment of flying again completely took over my fear. I feel that aviation balances my work and social life.

I think that it is important to have a hobby or interest that is not related to work in any way as it helps to balance your mind and helps you to focus on something different. I am a strong believer that you should always continue learning throughout your lifetime to keep your mind active and sharp. I have met some of the most inspirational and amazing people through the love of aviation and achieved something that I never thought I would be able to achieve as well as conquering one of my biggest fears. There is nothing more thrilling than being at 3,000 ft on your own with the ability to fly where ever you want to, it’s the ultimate freedom.

art nouveau tattoo nature, jewels
Art Nouveau combines elements of the natural world the precision of intentional design.

Describe how you are able to balance your time and energy between your two passions, flying and tattooing.

I’m not sure if I would call it balance as I never stop working. I can’t switch my creative mind off, but I think that this is the same issue for a lot of artist and creative thinkers. It’s a common occurrence for me to be working until the early hours of the morning, as all of my tattoo designs are originals I draw in my evenings, tattoo during the day, and then emails and all other projects are completed in my own time.

My art is my life passion and so I’m always doing something that revolves around that, flying is time set aside for myself in order to fulfill my second passion and to enable my mind to focus on something other than art and more importantly investing in something that is more academically minded.

demonic tattoo jewelery art
Some more fantastical designs have possess an anime-like aesthetic.

You are one of two artists at the tattoo studio you work out of, “Devil in the Detail.” Explain how your peer, Ben Carlisle, has impacted your development as an artist.

Working with other artists who are passionate about their craft is fulfilling in so many ways. I feel that it is important to work with other artists that are driven and invested in their craft, that way you all bounce off each other and encourage each other to stay driven as well as learning about new techniques, new products and new advances in the tattooing industry. Ben Carlisle and myself have worked together for the majority of our careers. We have have helped each other to grow as artists by purely being hungry to better ourselves with art in general, whether it be tattooing or painting… even though recent years have not allowed us to do much in the way of painting.

“Devil in the Detail” is an every changing studio, always progressing. We have recently welcomed Asha Tank to the team she is apprenticing with us and she is going to be specialising in black work styles. I know that she will do very well given her passion and progression already in such a short period of time.

Images © Jenna Kerr
Astrid Antonia

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Astrid is a freelance professional and creative writer born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, but possessed by a West Coast soul. Her interests range among all things nerdy, fantastic, kinky, and queer. When not writing, Astrid's interests include theatre, video games, hula hooping, and fencing. Follow the author @ Instagram Facebook and view more articles.