With most artists I interview for the mag, becoming a tattooist was the Holy Grail. They’ve been immersed within the industry from an early age, at first getting tattooed themselves before seeking out an apprenticeship so they can work at the other end of the needle. Not so much for Kat Wilson of Hello Sailor in Blackpool. For Kat, tattooing was Plan B after she’d indulged her first passion.

‘I landed my dream job right out of college,’ she tells me. ‘I heard there was a vacancy for a sculptor at the local waxworks and thought I’d chance it, never thinking in a million years I’d actually get it.’ Formal qualifications weren’t important. The application, so to speak, was to take a bag of clay, go make a head and the best one wins. But like a lot of great artists before her, Kat didn’t play by the rules. ‘The head was supposed to be Johnny Wilkinson, that’s what we’d all been asked to do, but mine accidentally started looking like Gollum so I just went with that,’ she laughs. Unknown to Kat, her soon-tobe boss, Mike Conroy, was a bit of Tolkien nerd and that might have played a sizeable part in her getting the job. ‘They never actually told me what had impressed them, but, looking back, the head I made must have been cringeworthily basic.’

As part of her new job, Kat ended up working on some models for Louis Tussauds. Awesome though that all sounds, this new career of Kat’s wasn’t without its challenges. ‘The tricky thing is, sculpting isn’t really the sort of job you can do Monday to Friday 9-5 so it became quite di’cult to keep up enthusiasm. Also they were pretty tight with budget and the time you were allowed to spend on each model, which really took the shine off the whole thing. But I learned so much there from the head sculptor, Mike. I’ll always be thankful to him for that.’

A lifelong horror fan, Kat’s first dalliances into model making were born out of a desire to recreate the special eects she was seeing in movies. ‘Liquid latex and those crappy little Halloween make-up pallets were probably the starting point,’ she laughs. ‘Then I discovered the world of garage kit models and was instantly hooked. From there I had a go at making my own models out of Super Sculpey.’ Back then, there was a world of influences to draw upon. SFX was enjoying its heyday with several artists becoming household names. But Kat dug deeper to find her inspiration. ‘I think when you love certain horror films you want to find out who’s behind all that awesome gore. So you scroll through the credits to find the names of the SFX crew and it goes from there.’ Tom Savini is one of the most prolific from that time, of course, but there are others such as Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston who Kat also connected with. One of her absolute favourites is Dick Smith who worked on horror classic, The Exorcist. Kat describes his work as revolutionary and she took a course to learn more about his techniques. ‘Then I came across Mike Hill’s work at the waxworks,’ she says. ‘Some of his pieces are still there and they are brilliant. He lives in LA now and his work is just phenomenal.’

Of course, the industry has changed, CGI replacing many of the practical eects that artists such as Savini and Smith would have worked so hard to create. It’s a particular bugbear of mine, CGI and the dreaded blue screen fostering a lazy and, dare I say, less credible approach to SFX. ‘It’s definitely way over used,’ Kat agrees. ‘And I always feel sorry for the actors who have to deal with the lack of visual input. That must be really hard and something that’s rarely remembered when you’re watching the finished article.’ But she isn’t just as scathing of CGI as I am, pointing out that while it may not have been created by physical hands, it doesn’t mean it’s not art-or indeed credible. ‘How they do it is actually mind blowing,’ she says, highlighting how it could just be a generational thing. ‘I think kids would struggle to watch something without CGI. They’ve been kind of spoilt. We have trained our son to appreciate the old classics too, though.’ While her sculpting background certainly had a part in Kat taking up tattooing, the two art forms remain quite distinct in her eyes. Portraiture was a natural fit for her as she’s so used to working with faces but for Kat that’s where the two paths diverge. ‘They’re really quite different. With sculpting, you work quite slowly over the course of weeks, maybe even months. If something’s not working, you just shave it o and build it up again.’ Not so with tattooing, of course, when you’re charging by the hour and nobody’s too keen on having any appendages filed down. ‘Yeah,’ Kat laughs, ‘it was a bit of an adjustment suddenly having one shot to get it right.’ Despite my earlier rant about CGI, Kat assures me that practical effects work is not dead in the water just yet and opportunities still exist. ‘I’ve just started season 2 of Ash versus the Evil dead. If good old traditional SFX was ever more celebrated, it’s that.’ Kat herself hasn’t left the SFX world completely. In fact, she’s recently taken up a new gig courtesy of her friend, Kurt, who now works at the Horror Crypt, one of Blackpool’s Golden Mile attractions. ‘I’ve been asked to sculpt some monsters and help with a revamp. It’s exciting stu and I can’t wait to get my teeth back into it. I think he wants me to start with Frankenstein!’ She’s also embarked on something of a pet project, a labour of love, if you like, with her husband, Rat, reworking the entire set of original Aurora monsters. ‘They were a bit shoddily made. I think the company realised how much money they could make and literally threw them together as fast as they could. The sculpture and detail are amazing but they are terrible casts. So he’s building them and I’m fixing the seams. It’s more fun that I’m making it sound.’

For those budding artists interested in following Kat’s footsteps, she has plenty of advice to oer. ‘Do your research and don’t be afraid to directly ask someone for a job. Mail a few examples of your best work and you’ll be kept in mind for future projects. Lots of times, they have very tight deadlines or a large project requires many hands on board. When the job ends, if you did it well you’re likely to be asked back.’

Oh and if you’re planning on working in horror, a strong stomach might also be advisable...