“Knives Out”, isn’t just an Academy Award-nominated film—it’s a way of life for tattoo artist Jenna Coffin. Coffin has gained worldwide acclaim for using the shape of a knife as the basis for her tattoos, incorporating women’s faces, cartoon characters and skulls into her pieces. This Amsterdam-based artist wasn’t always a recognizable face in the industry and it took meeting her husband, Jay Freestyle, to introduce her to the wonderfully wild world of tattooing.
Take us through your upbringing and what led you to become a tattoo artist?
I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t much to do, so I took up art as a hobby, painting murals on walls and making clay sculptures. I always admired my mother's talent for sketching portraits and animals, she was my inspiration as a child to become an artist. As an adult, I did what many of us do and took a job just to pay the bills, until I met my husband and he put a tattoo machine in my hand. I'm not going to lie, the first time was a wild adventure of sweating and shaking, but thank God it was a cactus so my shaking just made it look a little extra prickly. I knew I really wanted to continue to pursue a career in this field so I pushed myself every day to learn to design and refine my technique. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazingly talented artists who have helped me grow, supported me to become what I am now and who will push me to become better. It's exciting that as tattoo artists we can continually learn and evolve with our art.
What is the tattoo scene like in Amsterdam and how does it compare to other cities you've visited to tattoo?
Although Amsterdam is a very interesting place to live and a fantastic place to travel to, it’s a very difficult city to find local clients who want larger scale pieces or mixed style art. Since the city is majorly tourists, people mostly want small tattoos to remember their trip. I’m super blessed to have clients who are willing to travel to me to get tattooed or meet me at conventions around the world.
What inspired your knife series and what are some of the knives you've created this far?
Let me start off by saying that I’m not a psychopath. I was drawing one day and sketched my first knife out with the side profile of a woman's face. I thought it was pretty rad so I continued to make new versions of it and mix in different things into the handle. I've created pet portraits, movie characters, the classic skull and snakes, video games, vikings, BDSM-themed knives, you name it and I can create it!
In recent months, you've done a number of mixed style tattoos that combine elements of popular culture. Take us through designing these types of tattoos and what you hope to do more of in the future.
The new stuff I have created is by far my favorite. It's so much fun to bring these little characters to life in my art. The client picks a topic and I get to surf through archives of cool pictures or watch movies to find the pictures that fit into my piece. Along the way I've run into some nostalgic stuff I forgot about, which inspires me to create more amazing pieces. I’m really itching to do some knives with classic cartoons like Rainbow Bright or He-Man and I'm still waiting for someone to snag up a “Beetlejuice” knife, since it's my favorite movie. I would also love to create some manga stuff or some hentai.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell little Jenna not to wait until she's almost an old dried up raisin to start following her dreams. It's hard work to make it in any industry and be successful, but doing what you love as a career is the most rewarding feeling in life and it's worth the struggle. Don't sweat the small shit in life and please for the love of God, don't cut your hair into that hideous pixie cut mohawk you did in your early 30s, you are not Rihanna!