In the Chair with Terrie Karam

JULY 1, 2022

We sat down with French-born Terrie Karam from Urban Retreat to hear about a day in her life as a tattoo artist specialising in vegan ink and fine-line design.

Name? Terrie Karam Location? London, UK. What studio are you at? Urban Retreat offering body art and tattooing. Instagram? @terrie_titouutattoo Random fact about you? In high school I studied fashion design. How would you describe your tattoo style? I specialise in minimalist fine-line tattoos, dotwork and handwriting.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Terrie. I was born in Paris, France. I’ve loved art since I was a kid and I always wanted to be an artist, but never knew I was going to be a tattoo artist. In high school I studied fashion design. How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a tattoo artist? After I was in Lebanon and I got my first tattoo in my 20s. My cousin was tattooing me and she said that I should be a tattoo artist because I’ve been drawing for people—more than myself—since I was young. I decided I wanted to do it on my way back to Paris. It just felt right. I come from a very traditional family and I was studying interior design at the time, so I needed to be very patient with the process. I spent two years going to school and finishing my courses. When I had time, I learned how to tattoo at a shop in Paris. Then in London for two years, I worked in a nightclub to pay the bills and learn English. For me, my tattoo artist journey felt like a slower process.

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How would you describe your tattoo in more detail? I specialise in minimalist fine-line tattoos, dotwork and handwriting. I also love sketch tattoos and I’m adding that style to my designs lately. I work closely with my clients to create the design they want. I even draw next to them so that they can guide me. I see it as a collaborative process, and that creates powerful memories.

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What types of tattoos do you enjoy working on the most lately? I enjoy tattooing handwriting from letters, cards and personal mementos. I started doing it in 2019 with Sophie Milner when the style wasn’t very common yet. I think it’s the most personal type of tattoo you can have. It’s also a healing process for many of my clients. Sometimes we cry together once a tattoo is done. It’s beautiful. The experience is very unique.

What inspires you artistically? What inspires me is the story of my clients and the reason behind their tattoo. I love hearing about their life experiences and being able to draw a design next to them using the inspiration they bring me. A session with me is like tattoo therapy, with a touch of fun. How does working with vegan ink differ from non-vegan versions? It comes down to the ingredients and pigmentation of the ink. Tattooing with vegetable ink is much better for the body, as the ink can stay in your blood three to six months.

You have built up a little black book of celebrity clients, was this something you were aiming for or has it just happened organically? With celebrities, it just happened organically; I didn’t contact them hoping they would come to me. I feel very lucky and grateful that they messaged me after hearing about me and my work.

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You are soon to be in treatment with us for a removal. Do you think artists and removal studios will work more closely in the future as people’s style and preferences change? I can’t wait to start my treatment with NAAMA. I’ve been following the studio for about a year. Lucy Watson told me about you when I was tattooing her, and I love NAAMA’s approach to removal. It’s a great idea that a tattoo artist and a removal studio work together, because for a cover up we sometimes need our client to get a laser removal session first. The tattoo industry has also changed so much over the last 10-15 years. Many people want a new style and want to remove an old one. Or they regret a tattoo from the past.

What made you decide to have some of your tattoos removed? I’ll be honest with you: I’m having my tattoos removed because I tattooed myself during lockdown. I love every single one of them, but I rushed it because I was feeling bored and depressed. It was fun at the time at the time, but now I miss how my arm was before the tattoos. I don’t regret them and I was ready to keep them, until I saw NAAMA’s results. Now, I can’t wait to start my removal journey.