In september, Derm-Ink was honored to partner with HMP Tattoo & Barber, during their guest at Ground Control in Paris. Sarah, with her needles and chopsticks, Lee with his scissors and comb, they left their Brighton’s parlor for a traveller lifestyle to meet new people and cultures.
Curious to know about the duo, we asked them questions on their travelling, tattooing and barbering projects…
To start can you introduce yourself briefly?
Sarah : My name is Sarah Lu, otherwise known as Needle & Chopstick. I’m from Brighton, England. I’m 34 years old. My parents are from Vietnam. I graduated in 2001 with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design and Advertising. I have been a graphic designer and creative advertiser, working between NY, London and Brighton, for the past 14 years. I have been tattooing for the past 2 years.
Lee : I’m Lee Hudson and I moved to Brighton 3 years ago. I’m 33 and I’ve been a barber for over 18 years in various places in England. I had my own franchised barbershop in Brighton, but luckily, Sarah and I met, and we started our own independent business together called HMP Tattoo & Barbers.
How did you both meet?
Sarah : Lee had commissioned me to do web design and marketing for his shop, and that’s how we got together! He knew I was doing a little bit of tattooing but not a lot at all. I started my tattoo career when we met, two years ago.
How did you learn tattooing?
Sarah : I taught myself. I’ve got friends that are tattooists, so I used to watch them but no one else was doing hand-poking tattooing. I just did it.
I’m a graphic designer, it’s what I love to do and also advertising and marketing. Tattooing for me was more of a hobby. It sounds pretty bad but it was for over 10 years. I only did illustrations for myself, then suddenly I had to draw for my tattoo clients.
Why did you decide to travel?
Sarah : We realized that running a business and being in a relationship together was a bit too much. We wanted to do other things in life…
We kept the name HMP, but we don’t have a shop anymore. Now we are traveling in different countries doing guest spots, and trying to barber and tattoo in crazy places!
Do you still have a place to stay in Brighton, or did you leave everything?
Sarah : We left everything! We still had our business until two months ago. In June, we decided to stop then we sold everything. The tenancy agreement of our flat was running out anyway. We just did it very quickly before we could change our minds!
Why did you start traveling in South America?
Sarah : We wanted to do something really different, almost extreme. We were both really scared about doing it. So we thought the best thing to do is to book two one way tickets to Peru, and just see what will happen!
Lee : Yes, but we don’t know why we chose Peru…
Sarah : No, I think we just chose a place that was very far away. After working so hard for 2 years with no holidays, we supposed it would be best to go to a place a bit mysterious. Just to break away…
Did you meet the local people?
Sarah : Yes, we stayed in a home-stay, in a village. We lived like the people over there. We did farming, fed the animals, cut vegetables and even some fishing!
We want to go around the world, meet people, see how they live and also learn about barbering and tattooing in different places and cultures. Lee only needs his scissors and his comb, and I only need my needles and chopsticks. This way, we should be able to go anywhere.
In Peru, Lee cut hair in the Amazon jungle and I tattooed on Lake Titicaca. Now we are in Paris, and next stop is Portugal, and after that we don’t know… We are thinking about going to Africa once we have some savings.
Where in Africa?
Sarah : We want to go there as volunteers. Going to a place like Africa it’s actually more about helping people…
Lee : Yes, we found an organization that has projects all over the continent, but there are many options so we don’t know yet. Maybe Uganda. It’ll depend on which one suits us the best. I could do laboring and Sarah could teach.
Sarah : We can also help young adults to set up their own business and make money with it.
So your idea of traveling is not just about tattooing or barbering?
Sarah : There are two sides to it. You know we talked about it for so long! “If only we could close the shop for 6 months and go to Africa!” and “If only we could close the shop and go to Peru!”
And we actually did it!
Lee : But we are going to take our tools with us. We might have the opportunity to do some work out there, for the original reasons of learning different styles and techniques.
You have both a lot of tattoos. What was your first tattoo experience?
Sarah : I was very young and my first tattoo was in Chinese! (laughs) Very cliché! And it says “Green Day”… the band, because I loved Green Day! (laughs) It’s on my stomach.
Lee : I have an awful first tattoo! It’s a kind of lizard I’ve got covered since, with something equally as bad! (laughs) It’s on my back…
So yeah, I didn’t have a great start with my first tattoos! I was 19 and traveling around the Greek Islands. I found this random tattoo shop, that I’m sure didn’t follow any of the sanitary rules. And then I went straight out into the sun, which was really bad!
Sarah : Well, we were both young at the time, and we didn’t know any better. Now things have changed a lot! Ink and techniques are better.
Lee : I didn’t realize how important it was not to scratch the scabs!
I’ve never been told not to, very weirdly. So I destroyed it before it was healed! Now it just looks awful! (laughs)
What do you like about having tattoos?
Sarah : For me every tattoo, either good or bad, big or small, is a part of my life. I can tell you a story about every single one. Some, I’ve drawn myself and others I’ve asked an artist to design it.
For example this flying monkey is a drawing that I did when I was eleven and I found it at my mom’s, when I was about 20 years old. It reminded me all of these childhood memories. It’s a monkey because I was born in the year of the monkey, wings because I wanted to fly at the age of eleven, and the background is a rain forest because maybe I wanted to travel! (laughs) Obviously, I just wanted to break away. It means a lot to me, I had to have it done.
Lee : On the contrary, this arm hasn’t really got much meaning to me. It was design by a friend of mine, who is an artist. Since I met Sarah, I actually started to put more thought into my tattoos.
I kind of wish I had my time again, I would probably have had a different arm. I will put more meaning into it from now on.
So you comprehend tattooing differently, since you met Sarah?
Lee : Well, I just realized that for me, putting more thoughts into it is a better reason to get a tattoo. It’s not good just to want to be tattooed for the sake of looking tattooed.
Sarah : The best is when style and sentiments are both combined. It looks good and also it means something for you.
What’s the next step for you?
Sarah : After Paris we are going to Portugal, but at the moment we don’t really know what’s going to happen next. That’s the great part of it!
We’ve been running a business about two years together and I was running one before that. I’ve always had the 10 next years planned in my head. It’s the first time I haven’t got that. I’m so much more creative than I’ve ever been. I feel free!
Is it scaring not to know what’s going to happen?
Sarah : It’s terrifying! We are out of our comfort zone. I’m so used to have a career, a place to live, etc… We’ve just started our trip, so the unknown-doors are now open!
But we are sure that we going to get better and better, because we are going to learn so much about our skills, about ourselves. Well who knows…
A Paris du 1er au 6 Novembre // Contacter firstname.lastname@example.org pour prendre RDV