Side story before we get into this interview… I want to move house. We are looking to move house and I’m really excited and ready for when we do move. It will be nice to have a change of scenery from the four walls I have sat in for the past 12 months. I like the idea of having a garden, or a balcony even…this is London after all. And I really want to live nearer my friends too. But most of all, when we move house, it will be somewhere I can finally, finally, put art on the walls. It pains me not being able to decorate the walls of our rented flat with all of the prints, posters and paintings we have collected throughout our lives.
Some of the most recent added to our ever-growing-but-never-hanging collection were by the crazy talented Georgina Leung. My parents bought James a couple of her prints for his birthday as we knew they would be just his kind of thing (we were right, he is obsessed with them), and since then, we have been scrolling through Rightmove with more urgency than ever before.
I worked with Georgie Leung and met her that way, but knew little of her tattooing and art work at the time. Having since discovered how incredible she is, I am so excited to have interviewed her for PARROT Talks. I hope you all enjoy this interview.
Hi Georgie, thanks so much for taking the time to be a part of PARROT Talks. Can you start by telling us a bit about who you, where you are based and what you do?
I’m based in North London currently and I would like to think I am a multimedia artist – but predominantly my time is spent either illustrating or tattooing! My work ranges from feel good ‘flash tattoo style’ drawings to Asian diaspora and nostalgia centric imagery.
You’re hugely creative and have many strings to your bow! How do you split your time between your tattooing, illustrations and your gorgeous tiny vases?
As lucky as it sounds, my Instagram has become quite the platform for me to soundboard off of. Therefore, selfishly I am also able to try new things when I get bored or curious, and this not only keeps it exciting for me but also my followers enjoy watching my ‘work in progress’ because maybe it makes them feel like it’s more of a journey into the unknown together. So in answer to your question, I juggle lots of random small projects all at once because I find that is when I am the most creative.
Do you have a background in design and illustration? Where did you hone your skills?
So I actually went to Edinburgh College of Art a good nine years ago now wanting to become an illustrator or graphic designer, to later wind up doing jewellery design because of my instinctive necessity to make with my hands and viewing illustration as part of the process. My skills have been honed over the many years working commercially as a Jewellery Designer, but what I am most known for only really came about in the last year or so. I spent so much of my energy on trying to climb that career ladder that it wasn’t until last year when I rekindled with drawing for myself, that my new small business was born as a result.
Do you work on your illustrations and art full time? How did you know when it was right to take the plunge and focus solely on your own work?
I became full time on ChopSticknPoke since only February 2021, before that I had traction and it was slowly building, but I had spent so many years on a normal monthly payslip that the idea of pulling the plug felt really daunting. I think I truly knew it was the right thing to do when I gained more followers, and my work was picked up by my now tattoo family, Rose of Mercy in Hoxton. I no longer felt like I was some hobbyist/amateur and it became an opportunity of a lifetime that I don’t think I could really pass up. My mental health is also something that I need to look after and the idea of running a small business alongside full-time creative work in the jewellery industry was too much and I knew something had to give.
What are the elements of running your own business that you love the most, and which bits do you find more challenging? I know I have some jobs which can stay on my to do list for months and months…
I am so very terrified of life admin. Therefore the prospect of taxes, expenses, pensions & student loan debt is weighing on my mind. (hah!) Having said that I don’t think I have ever felt so in control of my own life. My time is spent doing something I genuinely love, creating work that brings people joy and comfort. Not many people have the privilege in saying that, and being furloughed last year made me realise I couldn’t just waste such a golden opportunity to do what I really wanted. I really do love being able to give people elements of my personality through my work and tattoos, I don’t think there is a higher satisfaction.
Where did you learn the art of handpoke tattooing? I’d love to know about how this passion came to be?
It’s strange how life finds its way. I wanted to tattoo since I was about 16 years old, but my parents being first gen immigrant Chinese worried that that was genuinely not a good career path to take. Therefore, jewellery design was the more accepted and palatable route (and even that was fight!) Fast forward nine years, I’m in New York visiting some friends and we all went to her local tattoo shop for some small walk-in tattoos. The tattooist there was a modest Brooklyn family man named ‘Blazin’ and his wife Cindy was there. We all chatted a bit and I asked him some questions about tattooing and he said “hun, if I can’t bloody draw and I’ve made a career in tattooing, imagine what you could do!” I came back to London, bought myself a handpoke kit, did loads of research and asked around a lot, tattooed myself and the rest was history really! Haha but seriously I’m still such a novice, I’m really just trying to embrace new things and go with what life has served me. I was also at the time struggling with some trauma and in a way giving myself some tattoos became a healing process for me.
I am a big fan of your illustrations, can you describe your style and inspirations? There is a big focus on Chinese culture in your work – your ladies playing mahjong is such a favourite of mine. Could you tell us why this is so important to your work and why you’re drawn to this?
I grew up in the 90’s/2000’s in small city (then town) Lisburn in Northern Ireland. There was a serious lack of Asian representation in UK media and the internet was only just starting to become a thing in my teen years. My home life was the only sanctuary really where I didn’t feel ‘othered’ and segregated for how I looked and my culture. So even in my adult life, cultural nostalgia and memories bring me a lot of sentiment and comfort. Someone asked me the other day why I thought my work did well, and in hindsight I realised it’s perhaps because there was a whole generation of Asian diaspora 2nd/3rd gen kids who are growing up or in their adult life now, that also seek to reconnect with their cultural identity and find comfort in childhood familiarity that’s so heavily influencing my work. I feel like it’s now the time where people are finding their voice as POC on social media platforms, and connecting with one another through shared experiences has been really uplifting.
PARROT Talks is all about championing small businesses – can you tell us some of your favourites?
Wow this is a hard one! I have so many!
And finally, what can we expect to come next from Georgina Leung?
I really want to spend some time honing in my tattooing, as my last year was really up and down due to Covid. I want to feel like I am truly giving people the best I can do, doing good work and continuing to uplift the Asian community as well as celebrating my culture. Expect to see a more focused me this year!