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Interview with Abz Mills

This Lesbian Visibility Week, we at Pink Saltire wanted to share with you a queer artist in Scotland. Today, Richeldis (she/her) spoke to Abz Mills (she/they) – a very talented tattoo artist based in Kirkcaldy.

Tell me a little bit about yourself! 

I’m Abz Mills, Im a queer biracial person living in Kirkcaldy. I also work in Kirkcaldy as a tattoo artist, I work at Spaghetti tattoos. We’ve recently moved premises to 36 Mitchell Street, so that’s where I’ll be if anyone wants work in the future!

I do a lot of illustration and digital art as well, especially during the pandemic, as all of the tattoo shops have been shut. Thankfully we’ve been given a date we’ll reopen, which is the 26th – so I’m really excited about that!

What style of tattooing do you do?

Mostly illustrative, anything I can use my imagination. If people are coming in with really weird ideas I’ll be able to make it into something really fun, really beautiful.

But, because I trained in street shops I cater to all styles, so if someone comes in wanting a portrait, I’ll make sure it looks like a really good portrait. If someone wants a name and a banner and some stars, I’ll still give them that. There’s nothing really that I’ll turn away because like I said I was trained in street shops and that’s what pays the bills. I’m honoured that people still want me to tattoo them after 10 years!

So yeah, mostly illustrative, new school, bright, colourful bold lines, something that will stand the test of time.

Anything nerdy and geeky as well, like cartoons and anime. We end up nerding out while I’m tattooing as well, so if they’re feeling good and in their happy fandom, I’m happy as well.

Image 1: Examples of Abz’s tattoo work – bright colours, animals and characters predominate. On the left is Abz’s social media handle @abzmillstattoos

What have you been doing to keep yourself busy now while not being able to tattoo?

When I’m not drawing on my ipad, whether for personal use or for whatever other event is coming up , I’m mostly playing the xbox. That’s my chill zone, and it helps me kind of escape. I like a choice based game, where you can choose your story – I love the imagination of it. Video games have become such an artform as well – I kind of take it as like ‘oh its homework, it’s inspiring me, it’s keeping me creative!’

I prefer playing solo games and not online because it gets a bit chaotic and people are all angry and yelling at each other. I like to chill out and pretend I’m a little space warrior or like a viking or whatever is next on the game pass.

So what would you say your favourite game is at the moment?

The Sims 4. Yeah creating little houses – I just made a desert island house and next to that is an eco-friendly vampire home! But if it’s not that, I always end up going back to Skyrim because that’s really fun and it’s an RPG as well. And my step-kid is right into Skyrim as well, they love fantasy – they seem to be more on the xbox than I am at the moment! Which I’m fine with as I approve of that game and I remember I was obsessed with it when I first played it, so it makes me proud and happy!

Do you do any Dungeons and Dragons then if you like RPGs?

I have done in the past and I would love to do more! It would be really cool to reach out and find a way to do that, because I’ve always stuck with the same kind of characters since I started. But, because I’ve moved around a lot with my job I never have like a set party of people to play with, and I’m always a little shy and anxious with meeting new people and I don’t really go to comic book shops and stuff to mingle with the nerds.

With the digital art you’ve been creating, have you been selling any of the pieces?

I was commissioned to do a few pieces of artwork for the Black Lives Matter mural trail in summer last year, which was exhibited in Edinburgh. It was outside the Usher hall. It depicted a black boy with a megaphone and a mask on with Black Lives Matter, and on his T-shirt it said “Justice for Sheku Bayoh” – which is the Black man that was killed in Kirkcaldy by police. So I thought it was important to me to showcase that and use my platform to spread awareness, and it seemed to get a lot of traction. I was commissioned for that and then they had space for poster boards. So I was able to give them some of the digital art that I had been doing to fill them too – that was really cool. It seemed to get a lot of awareness.

Most of the stuff that I do is for charities and things for Pink Saltire and for the African Carribean Society, Scotland. So, promotional art which isn’t for money but to be visible and to be seen for the people and for the Black and Brown folks in Scotland as well.

I want to be a kind of umbrella for all these different people that don’t see themselves represented in art and culture – or they do, but they have to dig through it all to find it.

I think if I just put more of me and less of what I think will sell into my art, then more people that want to find people like me will see it and be inspired. I’ve been trying to funnel what I want to see with my art and to find myself again, to find my younger self – I didn’t have as many rules or as many cares.

Image 2: Abz standing in front of their Black Lives Matter mural piece (as described in above text)

Image 3: Abz standing in front of the poster boards she designed for Black Lives Matter. The one on the left has a green background with a black person with vitiligo standing with their arm up, hand in a fist; above them is the word “Visibility” in gold lettering. The poster on the right has a purple background, with a black person centred with the word “Empower” below their portrait.

That perfectly runs onto the next question, which is what does your art mean to you?

It means everything really. I mean, it’s not only my source of income, but my source of therapy and my day-to-day life – if I’m not drawing something for fun, I’m drawing something to fix something or drawing up plans for our forever home etc. But also just cartoons and doodling things – it really is part of my everyday life.

It helps me understand the world too. It always has.

Cartoons have always inspired me. When I was a kid and realising that cartoons were just moving drawings, that was when it kind of was like ‘Oh my god, I could do this!’. That was my main plan – to be a cartoonist when I grew up. But when I got to college, it’s all very digital and it’s all 3D art, so I guess maybe I gave up too early, but also I just go with what feels right for me.

I think it’s important to trust your gut with a lot of things. I’m glad that i did, because it led me to met lots of people and experience things that inspire me every day.

What does it mean to you to be part of the LGBTQ+ community?

It was nice to find similarities within all of us growing up. It’s nice to be accepted for all my differences, because everybody in the LGBT community has got their differences, but that’s what unites us and unifies us. In the rainbow family, we’re so comfortable with just being ourselves. We can just totally loosen up and not have to watch what we say, or make a joke and be like ‘was that too gay?’.

It’s taken me a while to find people that are like me, and I’m still working on it, but it’s okay to never find people that are exactly like you because we’re all individual.

I think the LGBTQ+ community has also got a lot of growing up to do within itself because we’ve got a lot of healing of trauma and things to do. We’re still very damaged. I grew up in the nineties and then in the 2000s and in the media there were still a lot of gay bashing and LGBT folks were the brunt of the joke. So that’s still in the back of my mind.

A part of me feels like I still can’t be myself out in public, even though it’s 2021 and people are so fine with it. When I walk down the street with my partner a part of me still has anxiety – that I’m going to get beaten up, because I don’t think you ever really get over that trauma. A small thing can trigger something that you just, you just tighten up and shut down.

I hope that I get there eventually with feeling comfortable and being ourselves.

And I hope anybody that this reaches also feels that there’s comfort in just being yourself and being free to be yourself. Because you can inspire others by being open and being yourself. You can inspire the next generation to just be who they feel and who they are.

Do you feel like there’s much overlap between your art and creativity and being LGBTQ+?

I didn’t use to because I think I was still struggling with that and I don’t necessarily think as a person when I’m making art. I did a little piece not long ago for trans visibility day, which was just a cute little group shot of characters. I tried to make it as inclusive as possible – I think a lot of stereotypes that people have for trans people is you know the bearded lady, or basically a lot of quite offensive things, and it shouldn’t be about that. In the future, the more illustrations I do, I’m going to try and encompass more of that inclusivity and see if it makes a bit of a change and an impact and a difference.

What would you like people reading this today to take away from our chat?

If people could even just support their local artists. There are tons of different resources for Scottish artists, but also Scottish artists of colour and Scottish LGBTQ+ artists – there’s tons of us.

So just do a little bit of research. Give your artists a chance and give them your money!

A few I highly recommend are:

U Belong = @ubelongglasgow

ACSS African Caribbean Society Scotland = @acss.scot 

Shades Tattoo Initiative = @shades_tattoo_initiative

Thank you so much Abz for speaking to us today – make sure you check out their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/abzmillsart/ and support your local queer artists!

Abz is also running a queer art therapy with Pink Saltire! She’ll be running the first session on Saturday the 30th of April at 7-8pm, from then on it will be the last Friday of every month and, although there’s no commitment to come every month, there are limited spaces available so reserve your space at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/queer-art-with-abz-tickets-150871295105

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