MORE than 150 trophies line the shelves of a little corner tattoo studio in Hunter’s Bar, Sheffield.
Photos show the owner inking everyone from footballer Paolo Di Canio to rock star Tyla Taylor, while a series of industry magazines proclaim the place one of the world’s most celebrated body art parlours.
Welcome, reader, to Feline Tattoo Studio, in Hickmott Road. And meet said owner Fiona Long, a Woodseats mother-of-one who 22 years ago was told she could never be a tattoo artist – because she was a girl.
She has, it seems, proven those doubters wrong.
“It was a bit like a red rag to a bull,” laughs Fiona today, all blonde hair and black eyeliner but, perhaps surprisingly, not a single visible tattoo.
“I was an unemployed artist on a government employment training scheme and I’d been assigned a work placement at a dressmakers but all I was doing was cutting material. I wasn’t learning anything so I walked out. I told my supervisor I wasn’t going back and he said ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ We were sitting in his car and there was a sign behind his head for Tiger Sid’s tattoo studio in Worksop, so I said ‘I want to be a tattooist’.
“He said I couldn’t because I was a girl but I wasn’t having that. I’d never even thought of being one before – it was just something to say.”
But that something to say, it turns out, has led Fiona, originally from Worksop, on a dream career that has seen her work round the world and win all those awards.
Not that getting started was easy.
Back then, few tattooists liked training others for fear of competition.
But after months of pestering Tiger Sid – him of the sign – he relented and gave Fiona her first job.
There, she learned her trade and developed her bold, brash and colourful style.
After travelling the globe working in different studios she set up Feline in 1995. Within a year she had been named the UK’s best tattoo artist for the first time.
“I started Feline because I didn’t like how tattoo parlours were intimidating places where bikers would grunt at you,” she says.
“I wanted it to be somewhere customers could have a cup of tea and talk about what they wanted.”
Certainly customers have kept coming back.
Fiona has hundreds of repeat clients, while the popularity of Feline means she employs three other artists and a piercer.
It is undoubtedly a Sheffield success story – although there have been mistakes along the way.
“You wouldn’t believe how often new dad has come in and I do their baby’s name for them,” she says. “Then a day later they’re back saying ‘I know you checked it with me but I spelt it wrong’.”
She’s made the odd mistake herself too. “We’re only human. I once started colouring the blue of a Union Jack red. I realised and turned it into a shadow – the guy never knew and loved it.”
Oh, and Fiona herself – even though there’s no tattoos on show – has plenty.
“I’ve lost count of how many I have. I never do visible tattoos though. Not for myself or anyone. I’ve seen too many people regret it.”