It was there, in the City of Lights, that a beautiful possibility was born. Returning to Vancouver, the gals got their crew together and became the greatest ‘mostly female’ tattoo and art collective in the city; perhaps the whole country. Firmly rooted on Gastown’s Powel Street, they are Liquid Amber and they are undeniably awesome.
It all started in Paris with a wild idea. How does the rest of this story go?
Luvia: We were travelling around the city, taking in the sights and we hadn’t planned on getting tattoos at all. Justina had been sketching some tattoos while on holiday and eventually, I asked a local where a good place would be to get tattoos. She told us of the Kaplan Art Studio. Later that day, we went there and discovered this amazing artists studio with sculptures and paintings. In the middle of it all was a single tattoo bed. What we both loved about this studio was that it was made up of multiple art mediums. That blew our minds as we both had a conceptual understanding of what a tattoo parlour was: men, bikers, beards and flesh art. This studio in Paris had none of that and we thought: “What can we draw from this and bring back to Vancouver?”.
Justina: The most inspirational part of it was that she was a female artist I could really relate to. She was unlike any tattoo artist that I knew of in Canada. When I walked into her studio, it felt like a home and it looked like my art studio. It was an amazing and inspiring place to be, so I decided I wanted to bring that essence back to Vancouver. That’s what I wanted my tattoo shop to be.
Back in 2001, Liquid Amber first opened their doors in the Kitsilano area. After a few years, you relocated to Burrard and Davie and then eventually settled in Gastown. What inspired the move to Gastown? Can you now call it home?
Justina: For us, it had that feeling that were looking for – the same one that we experienced in old Paris. The neighbourhood had the age, history and the wood, the brick, the slate tiles – a place full of true character and soul.
Luvia: Our lease was up and we questioned if the Burrard location truly represented us, our vision and our drive forward. We realized that it lacked the characteristics that Justina mentioned and we really wanted to connect with that essence and feeling that we experienced when we were in Paris. Gastown has that feeling in droves. This is an artist’s community. You can walk down the street and see art galleries, independent designers, crafters and entrepreneurs. We were deeply attracted to this welcoming community and truly feel at home here.
What’s it like to be a business owner & entrepreneur in Gastown? What’s special about this neighbourhood?
Justina: I love that Gastown has all walks of life. It’s not particularly suited to just one type of person. I also love the textures of Gastown. I find it inspiring. I lived in England when I was younger and coming down to Gastown totally reminded me of when I was a little girl in England.
Luvia: I feel that Gastown is a departure from what you would expect in Vancouver. In Vancouver it is predominantly skyscrapers that make up a glass city with businesses at the bottom. There are clean lines, contemporary architecture and there’s no grit, no messiness. In my opinion, it lacks character. What Gastown has been able to hold onto is that original Vancouver character. This is where Vancouver started. Gastown has been able to hold onto that spirit, because for a period, it wasn’t a desirable neighbourhood. Thankfully, the people who lived here, held space for us and for others yet to come and they have kept it in its original form. We owe them a great debt for doing that because look at what we now have. It’s beautiful.
Justina: I feel that in Gastown, everybody supports everybody. On a daily basis, there’s usually someone from one of the businesses saying: “Here, have a free pizza” or “Here’s a drink on us”. We’re constantly getting that and it feels a lot more homelike to me than downtown Vancouver could ever be.
Luvia: I think we’ll always have a space down here. We may branch out and open up a second location at some point but it’s important to us to have a home base like Gastown as it truly reflects what we desire to share as a business. This location is us; it is our home.
This (mostly) female studio is a safe, supportive space for artists, guests and people of all walks of life. How is this created and maintained?
Luvia: We say ‘mostly female’ because we don’t want to alienate anyone. If we called ourselves an ‘all female’ shop, it wouldn’t make sense because we want to be all-inclusive and welcoming to everyone. We don’t judge anyone – whether you are covered in tattoos or don’t have any at all, it doesn’t matter. We get business professionals, young punk rockers including people of all shapes and sizes.
Justina: I have always wanted to make sure that Liquid Amber has a family feel to it. When we bring on a new artist we check out their portfolio and if it’s great, we then see if their personality jams with everyone else on the crew.
In Gastown, what are some of your favourite places to hang out?
Luvia: We’re in one of them right now – Birds & Beets – I love this place. I really like the patio at Chill Winston. I love that Meet is here in Gastown now, located in the awesome little courtyard area of Gaolers Mews. Being a vegetarian, it’s great to go there. I value businesses like that – grassroots, independent. The day we see some big corporate chain restaurant come to Gastown is the day my heart will sink. I hope we can hold onto that unique, independent, grassroots feeling here. Our history is something we can learn from and improve on and we should never forget it or we will be destined to repeat the same mistakes, over and over. That starts with our buildings and our surroundings; that textural feeling of where you are reminds you of where you’ve been. If we keep putting skyscrapers up, how are we going to know where we’ve been?
Justina: I have nothing to add to that. (Lol). That was amazing! I like to hang out in pretty much every place that Luvia likes to hangs out in.
Liquid Amber Tattoo & Art Collective will be celebrating 15 years this August 11th.
This milestone event, celebrating Liquid Amber Tattoo’s 15th year in business will feature local burlesque performances by Justine Sane and Melody Mangler as well as live music by local bands Miss Quincy and The Showdown and The Fever.
Door prizes will be given out from generous local businesses, and a silent auction will also be held with original artwork by artists of Liquid Amber, as well as other artists in Vancouver.
Partial proceeds from the art auction will be donated to Girls Rock Camp Vancouver.
Everyone is welcome to attend! Full details can be found here.