Written by: Danny David
Once word got out Cleo Wattenström would be in Vancouver for the next 3 months setting up shop, it didn’t take long until the tattooed beauty would be completely booked solid. Tattoos may be surface deep, but one look at Cleo’s work and their significance goes even deeper then the individual’s self-expression. Cleo is a master tattoo artist, recognized by her industry and peers as an absolute gem. But you won’t hear that from her. She doesn’t think about those things. Cleo has her way about living her life in the moment. Having been raised by a spiritual healer, and traveling the world while growing up, Cleo has her way about life and living each moment without destructions, without noise. Enjoying her time with actor husband Joel Kinnaman, visiting new cities, seeing her family and pushing every ounce of herself in the gym, have become part of Cleo’s backbone, heart and soul.
DD: Thank you so much Cleo for this interview. So first question, you’ve been doing this really since you were 14. Now, you are one of the biggest stars in your industry. Did you ever imagine you would be where you are? What’s the next leap you’d like to take in your career?
CW: I’m pretty convinced I’m not one of the “biggest stars” in my industry to be honest. Tattooing has developed in such a rapid speed the last few years, combined with social media and all the information available, its a lot easier to learn how to tattoo than a few years ago. If not easier to learn, at least easier to access the tools you would need to do so. Because of this, there are so many incredible talented new “stars” (now that we are calling ourselves that hehe) in our industry today. I never had a dream or goal of becoming a tattoo artist specifically. It was a “vehicle” for me, to get my independence and express my creativity. Honestly, it might as well have been many other creative careers I could’ve stumbled into. But in my situation as a fairly recent immigrated 14 year old in Sweden who couldn’t relate or fit in with her peers, I needed something that would be able to get me out of school. Not only that, but something where how hard I chose to work would be the determining factor of how fast I could get my independence. By that I mean be successful, make my own money, have something sustainable so I wouldn’t regret not finishing my education. Tattooing was that for me. I always knew I would do other things as well, in present I am tattooing less and less, eventually planning to step away completely. Because I never had a dream of becoming a tattoo per-say, so of my identity tied to it. So once my passion for tattooing started to fade, I was accepting of it, now I’m moving on to other things that feel purposeful to me and excite me today.
DD: I read in an interview you did not too long ago; your style has build a solid reputation for quality and detail, and you spoke about always looking to improve your style. Do you find yourself constantly finding new inspiration?
CW: Even though as mentioned previously I’m stepping away from tattooing, its still something I still do for fun from time to time. Or simply when I feel like it. And when I do, I still of course always want to be better than last. I honestly rarely feel like I have a lack of inspiration. My life is rarely the same day to day, and I spend many months of the year traveling. By doing that I think your brain picks up on all the different things you experience, and everything sort of becomes a part of you. One thing that helps me though is just trusting my intuition, and really try to be introspective when looking at your work. I pick it apart to the point where honestly maybe 99% the time I’m not satisfied, the trick is understand that it is a strength because you can use your eye for imperfection and try to do better next time, as apposed to just beating yourself up about what you think could’ve been better too much.
DD: Have you seen this industry bridge itself more into mainstream culture in the last ten years and how?
CW: Definetly! Tv, social media, so many things have spread tattooing and made it less of a taboo. I think some of the very first t.v. shows, made it possible for people around the globe who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to the idea that “regular” people could have tattoos for any reason really. The skill level today has made a difference as well, not everyone can see themselves wearing bold lined, traditional sailor jerry looking tattoos. The skill level has allowed for so many more styles to be able to emerge, which I think changes the fixed idea so many used to have of how tattoos typically look.
DD: We live in a rule based society, values are home-grown, and there’s a fine line between the two in the “professional” business world (examples lawyers, investment bankers, etc.) and what this world deems acceptable (not having any visible tattoos/self-expression). Usually, it’s one or the other. Is this even considered to be a universal issue anymore, if ever, or is it simply just “it is what it is”?
CW: I hope and believe that as time passes these issues will naturally loosen up. I’m seeing that so many things that once were taboos appearance wise have become more acceptable and common with time. I have a hard time considering this to be a universal issue. There is so much craziness happening in the world today that tops my list of things to try and fix when it comes to universal issues. Of course I would love a world where everyone could look however they want, and also have whatever job they want. I also don’t consider not tattooing very visible areas (everything that would be visible wearing “office attire” for example”) a huge sacrifice for someone who really wants to pursue that career. Getting fully tattooed takes a lot of time and dedication, if you aren’t patient enough to hold off getting that huge neck tattoo until you get the job you want for example, then maybe you aren’t patient enough to peruse your dream job either.
DD: You have quite a massive following on social media, and your work speaks for itself, that’s without a question. However, you are beautiful and a model, and you are aware how the “perceived” beautiful women get’s more attention. How much do you think that plays into the close-to-a quarter million followers you have on Instagram and the 100 thousand on Facebook?
CW: Yes absolutely! Weather it be internet or real life, its always been a fascination for people to look at other peoples appearances. But I definitely believe that we are more fixated and obsessed with appearance today more than ever before, which at times is troubling in many aspects. I think in my social media following it plays a big part. I don’t consider myself a model at all anymore, I don’t do any shoots/model jobs anymore. Like this magazine, I occasionally say yes to these kind of things if I have a specific liking for that photographer/magazine/brand. Even though I wish it was different, I can’t control what people have an interest for. No that no matter how proud I could be of a work photo I post for example, an image even of half my face/ any kind of personal photo will always get far more attention.
DD: What are a few habits that you’ve implement on a daily that you attribute to your success?
CW: I love habits! I let them do a lot of the work for me. Frequently traveling, I know how useful it is to create new ones especially in a new environment. It gives you a “window” in a way, to easier create habits because your brain has no associations with that new environment. Some things I generally always to every day/most days no matter where I am to keep me sane is meditation, train, & read.
DD: I’m sure you’ve had quite a few “aha, I can’t believe I’m here” moments. Are there any that really stand out for you?
CW: I have many moments like that. They are all when I’m around people that mean a lot to me, when I feel loved and give love. I then sometimes get overwhelmed by how lucky I am to have so many supportive, loving people by my side. I do not take that for granted and know how rare it is.
DD: You keep your body in absolute incredible shape. Tell us a little about your training style and is there any other secrets for keeping fit?
CW: I love pushing myself. It gives me a sense of struggle in a way even though its self induced pain and I think all humans need a little bit of that feeling in their life. Everyone gets it through different things. I also love how it makes me feel, I can’t begin to explain the very many benefits of everything from energy levels to piece of mind you get from pushing your body. I mainly do weight training. Martial arts is also a big passion I have. The only secret is as you’ve heard before there is no secret. So I suggest more that just making yourself do it, make it your thing. Try different sports/training styles until you find something that you enjoy and find challenging. Consistency is defiantly key and if you find your passion, consistency1 wont be a problem.
DD: What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done, or the last one you remember?
CW: I would like to consider myself a spontaneous person but honestly I’m not sure anymore… I do a lot of planning now a days. The most spontaneous thing I remember would most likely be taking off as a teenager on a one way ticket to South America with a friend without planning anything whatsoever.
DD: You travel a lot with your husband. How do you prepare for a new city?
CW: I’m a big foodie so generally I always do a little research and make list of where we have to go dine/drink. My friends and family always jokingly refer to me as “the food department” when we are traveling. Apart from that, I don’t do anything unusual.
DD: Last question. Has Joel gotten sick yet of people constantly going up to him and asking “hey, aren’t you Cleo Wattenström’s husband”?
CW: Nice one! No, that only happens never! Which I like because finally I’m with someone who gets all the attention. I’d rather not be the center of attention so it suits me perfectly, I spend a lot of time taking photos for fans with Joel on the street ha ha!
Photographer: Liz Rosa
Stylist: Leila Bani
Makeup: Emily Cheng
Hair: Melissa Leach
Model: Cleo Wattenstrom