Why Hollywood Celebs Are Getting Tattooed In Canada

Photo: Via @curtmontgomerytattoos/Instagram.
Growing up in a small suburban town two hours outside Toronto, Curt Montgomery never imagined he'd eventually become the go-to tattoo artist for Halsey, Sophie Turner, and Joe Jonas. Still, you won't hear the discreet artist name-drop his famous clients unless you're a beauty editor pressing him for details. Instead, he prefers to talk about his eye for elevated minimalism and how his rise to Instagram fame has been one of utter disbelief.
So how did a full-time illustrator and part-time farmhand gain hundreds of thousands of followers almost overnight (without tattooing a Jenner)? Don't credit the algorithm. It's his simple line drawings (hands, roses, and the female form are big themes in his work) and Canadian charm that make him the artist to watch in 2018.
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Ahead, Montgomery talks inspiration, trending tattoos, and working with celebs.
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What were you doing before you became a tattoo artist?

"I was illustrating part-time. Well, the money was part-time, but the work was full-time. But it was never about money; it was just about being able to survive doing art, and I'm still the same way. At the time, I was doing more High Realism illustrations and getting jobs that lasted six months, but then I'd sit extremely idle and just work on fine-art pieces. In between art jobs, I was working on farms."

What inspired you to make the transition from illustrator to tattoo artist?

"Someone said, 'You should just bite the bullet and go down to Toronto and try to find an apprenticeship [in tattooing].' I thought about it for a few months and then I put a portfolio together and went down to Toronto. I got pretty lucky, because I think the first shop I went into said yes. Still, I didn't necessarily want to get into tattooing, and I don't say that for any particular reason, I just always wanted to be an illustrator. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun this is."
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You have a very distinct aesthetic. How did you develop it?

I just really enjoyed High Realism. I thought it was a versatile style to do with any subject really. Whatever you wanted to draw, you could draw it in that way.

You create these realistic images, but then you strip them down to the bones.

"Right. I think that's exactly how I'd set up an illustration on paper, but instead of filling it in with colour, I'd leave it without. This isn't something I invented and I don't really understand how my style came to be, but it looked cool on paper and I thought I should try it in a tattoo."
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Do most clients bring in photos from your Instagram feed as references or do they want to brainstorm with you?

"When I was starting out, I didn't mind redoing some of my previous work, but now I try and alter the designs to some degree. I don't like doing the same piece of work twice. Some people will send me a bunch of my designs and ask me to come up with something based off them. But if they have a certain idea of their own, we'll have a consultation, and I'll get a better sense of what they want, then we can make any changes the day of the actual tattoo."
4 of 11
A lot of tattoo artists have signature handwriting clients come for. Tell me about your characteristic block font.

"It's really not a big secret, or maybe it is because everyone always asks me about it. I use grid paper and a roller to draw that. I used to use the actual grid paper as my spacing, but then I started to just eyeball it, space it on grid paper, and then draw it out. Then I use stencil maker templates for whatever letters have an oval to them: Os, Rs, Ps. Then I just use a gridded ruler and hope to fuck it looks alright."
5 of 11
Do you remember the first tattoo you ever did?

"Yep, it was on my leg — a vertical map on the right side that I had to do upside down."

Ah, thigh tattoos. Those seem to be trending.

"There are a couple of reasons for that. The thigh is usually the longest part of the body, obviously, so you can fit a bigger image on it. Or you can just keep it super small. It's another good area because you don't necessarily show it off all of the time."
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How do you feel about rib tattoos? They're so popular.

"I usually prefer not to tattoo on the ribs so much, but that's usually where people are mentally drawn to. I don't know if that's because of Pinterest, or Instagram, or any of these other places where people get their inspiration for tattoos and tattoo locations. I think people don't always understand what the sensation of a tattoo is like to begin with. The rib is a highly sensitive spot and it can be a very difficult area for a tattoo artist to do. There really is not a lot of margin for error. So if this person takes an unexpected breath that's halted, your lines can get really out of control. I try not to do that area too often with people that I know haven't been tattooed before or people that I haven't tattooed before."
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How would you describe the sensation of getting a tattoo?

"It's maybe like a cat scratch on a sunburn. But I always notice when I get a tattoo, it hurts when putting the lines in, but as soon as it stops, the pain goes away almost automatically. So if you can breathe through the 20 seconds that the needle is in your skin, as soon as it stops, that's the end of it."
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What are the most common requests you get?

"Roses, women, and skulls have become a bigger thing recently. It becomes a little difficult eventually to get inspiration for designs, because people see one of yours and get really into it and you don't know how many more times you can make it different. Once I feel like an idea is exhausted, I try to steer people in a different direction. People ultimately want something cool that absolutely everyone else isn't getting, too."
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What do you do when someone brings in a design from another artist for you to recreate?

"I usually try and alter it to some degree. If it's something that I am 100% confident I won't be able to change, then I won't do it. If I can't do it, they should probably go find that artist. Obviously, you want to appreciate everybody's willingness to get tattooed by you, but at the same time, it's much easier if someone gives me my own designs so I can alter their tattoo my own way with my own thought process."
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You previously mentioned Madame Buraka and the work that inspired your art. Is there anyone else you're inspired by lately?

"It's the same people I've always looked up to, but there is one I've been following recently: @Miedoalvacio in Chile. That's been my most exciting find recently."
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So, you've tattooed Halsey. And more recently, Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas...

"So lovely. Both of them are just absolutely amazing people, by the way. And same with Ashley [aka Halsey]. Just absolutely the most darling people I could have ever gotten to tattoo. It is a fucking absolute, mega honour."

What is it like having these famous clients come to you in Toronto?

"I would've never thought these people would be coming to see me, so it's pretty special. The first time I ever tattooed Ashley was on her bicep and it was a lady's portrait that said 'Everything' below it. I remember that, but you don't really understand the impact when it's happening. And it's better that way."
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