How A Tattoo Artist Is Making It Work During Lockdown

A collage photo with tattoo artist Chanelle Brewins and a text reading: 'How I'm making it work.'
Bustle UK

Bustle UK has switched up its regular money series How I Made It Work, to better reflect the uncertain financial times caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of women who've achieved financial stability discussing the lessons they've learnt, each piece focuses on a woman who has had her financial situation transformed by the outbreak in the UK. They'll share what their new working life looks like and how (if at all) they're making it work.

This time, HIMIW hears from Chanelle Brewins — a 27-year-old tattoo artist who runs The Northern Cardinal Tattoo Company. After losing most of her business during the coronavirus outbreak, Brewins is trying to sign up for Universal Credit and selling prints of her designs to help make extra money.

Age: 27

Location: Wakefield

Occupation: Tattoo artist and shop owner

What was your working life like before the coronavirus outbreak?

Before the outbreak work life was busy, I had new clients enquiring everyday, my regular clients booking in every few months, and I was at the peak for interaction on my social platforms. My diary was fully booked months in advance and I had a waiting list of people for the months later on in the year. My client base has tripled in the last year which highlights the growth of my business.

How has the coronavirus outbreak changed your working life?

My work life has come to a sudden halt. Over the last few weeks, with not being able to work, bookings have changed from a healthy amount a week to one or none at all. People are now wary and want to wait until this is all over to start life normal, and I presume tattoos are going to be at the bottom of the list when normality starts again.

How has the coronavirus outbreak changed your financial situation?

If I don’t work I don’t get paid, so all my sources of income have diminished, which is very scary when I have the costs associated with running a business alongside personal bills and rent.

Has the government made financial support available to people in your industry or situation?

So far I can only apply for Universal Credit as the support scheme for the self employed hasn’t been put into place yet. Everything will be back-dated and there is nothing to help us now, only in a few months' time, which isn’t helpful when bills still need to be paid.

Do you feel government measures have been sufficient for people in your industry or situation?

Not at all, no. However, all this happened in a short time so I can understand they are going to have to make something out of nothing very quick. But it leaves us all very vulnerable and some people penniless. When I was trying to get Universal Credit, it took me nearly two weeks to even get through to someone. One day I called over 100 times. When I finally got through I was on hold for two hours and got issued a phone appointment in two weeks' time so it’s delayed just to get a phone call.

I will be a month with no income before I even get to talk to someone regarding money and I can only get up to £94 a week which doesn’t cover my bills at the shop never mind my home. The self-employed scheme is based on three years' financial tax years, I only have two, and [during] my first year I was an apprentice, so I earned very little. They are going to base the money I will receive on a three year average so that will be very little and will not cover my bills, leaving me in a very vulnerable position.

How are you managing the change in financial circumstances?

I have applied for Universal Credit, I [am eligible] for the self employment scheme to help with all the bills and rent. I have continued drawing, getting available designs for people to book in with and luckily I made two sets of prints before we went into lockdown so I have sold some from the first set and I have another run of 50 prints to sell. I will be doing animal portrait commissions digitally to try make some money, but a lot of people are in the same situation with very little or no money for items like these so sales are minimal right now.

What would help you feel more secure financially during the coronavirus outbreak?

Not having to wait until June for the government to help the self-employed, I think it would just be knowing when we can go back to work so I can book people in and my clients feel safe to get tattooed again. I know it’s impossible to know when that time will come, but that’s when I will be financially secure again and no one will be left in limbo not knowing what the next step is.

How do you feel the coronavirus outbreak will affect your working life more long term?

Luckily, I have a large client base and I will be rebooking everyone from mid-March onwards when we are working again. I know I will be the busiest I’ve ever been and will be working solidly [when that happens]. I’ve spent years building my client base up and I have so many ongoing pieces I’m working on, so I know as soon as we get the go-ahead to work again I won’t be getting a break after this one. However, if there there is another outbreak and we had to deal with this again, I think this would affect my business. If more people are left struggling financially, their priorities will change and they may be more reluctant to book tattoos which could be considered a luxury.

Do you think your experiences during the coronavirus outbreak will change your approach to your business or working life?

It’s made me appreciate my decision to save money for a rainy day. Although it was not intended to be used on bills and rent, it’s enabling me to keep everything going until we return [to work] and not leaving me in debt, which I’m grateful for. I will definitely appreciate every one of my clients and the hours I spend at home after work either doing bookings or drawing for my clients. It will be a much nicer experience. I got to the point where I felt like I was on my phone too much speaking to clients for hours in the evening sorting out bookings, but now I can’t wait for that to happen again.

Do you think your experiences during the coronavirus outbreak will have an impact on your relationship with money?

I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am and to have savings behind me. I know there are people who aren’t in this position. With that being said, a few months down the line, it will be a different story as money doesn’t last forever. When we are able to go back to work I will be saving more and working even harder to ensure my future is secure if this happens again.