Tattoo artist puts Gibsons in Bolivian spotlight

Gibsons gained some fame in Bolivia recently when local tattoo artist Michelle Havig won an award for her work at the Art Tattoo Bolivia Convention and drew the lens of local media.

"I was on television on four separate occasions and I was interviewed by the local paper. They did a full page spread on me," Havig said.

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The owner of Black Swan Tattoo travelled to Bolivia to take part in the convention that saw nearly 100 artists from around the world come together.

Artists spent the day tattooing and each night a panel of client judges would pick the best design.

Havig won second place for her full colour tattoo of a jellyfish, but it was her gender and the unique details about one of her tattoos that made her a local celebrity.

"The fact that I'm female was a really big deal. Really, in all of South America, from what I had heard, there were maybe one or two female artists," Havig said.

"But the thing that blew them away the most was when they started asking me what my favourite tattoo was and I said, 'oh, I've got this little J on my ankle and one of my sisters passed away from cancer and I got a hold of some of her ashes and when I taught my younger sister how to tattoo, we mixed those ashes into the pigment and actually tattooed Julie into my leg.' So they were really into that. I think most of the piece was on that. It's all in Spanish though, and I'm not very good at reading it."

She said the media attention gave her the opportunity to talk up the Sunshine Coast.

"They were interested in the cultural differences and they really loved hearing about Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast. In fact there's a few Bolivian people who are going to be coming up this spring to visit," Havig said. "I think they're just going to have a great time exploring the Sunshine Coast and seeing how we do it up here."

Havig enjoyed learning how they do it in Bolivia and said she will forever cherish some of the cultural differences she discovered.

"The most memorable thing was the walk of the skulls where they toured everybody down - all the other artists from Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain, the States, Canada - and they put everybody on a bus and took us down to the graveyard to show us how they celebrate death. I think that was absolutely the most memorable part of it," she said, noting the celebration was "beautiful."

She hopes the attention she gained while in Bolivia will help encourage more female tattoo artists to take up the craft in South America.

"There was one female apprentice over there and I just tried to give her lots of encouragement because it's going to be a rough ride I think for the female tattoo artists for a little while," she noted.

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