Iris Lys Takes Cat Tattoos to a Whole New Level

Iris Lys via Instagram

Iris Lys doesn’t just like cats—she fucking loves them.

The tattoo artist, who works at The Foundry in the U.K. city of Leeds and doesn’t disclose her last name, proudly calls herself a cattooer and creates inventive cat tattoos that blend traditional techniques with a modern sense of humor and style.

“I have always been obsessed with cats—since my childhood,” says Iris. “I grew up with cats, so it was just destiny I guess.”

Endless Cat Tattoo Ideas

She started working on cat-inspired designs while she was an apprentice, but didn’t develop her signature style until years later in her career, when she really honed in on traditional tattooing. “It really became something in 2013,” says Iris. “I started drawing and painting more of them. When I tattooed a couple, people seemed to like them. I thought—why not making this my thing?”

Iris Lys painting

Nowadays, clients seek Iris out specifically for her cat tattoos. She’s tattooed a cat version of Rosie the Riveter, plenty of cats in ramen bowls, and stunning, full feline back pieces. Her work is instantly recognizable for its deep saturation, clean lines, and playful, illustrative style.

“I get my inspiration easily. I have a very creative mind,” says Iris. “Sometimes, I just have an idea during the day that I write down, or I’ve done pieces inspired by paintings or old, traditional flash from Bert Grimm and Sailor Jerry.”

A lot of Iris’ clients want to incorporate their own cats into the tattoos. Clients send her photos and she studies them and tries to pick up on the cat’s personality in order to design a one-of-a-kind cat tattoo. “I draw looking at the pictures they have sent to see the expression the cats have—the type of fur and the breed.”

While it’s difficult to pick a favorite cat tattoo, Iris says she had a ton of fun completing her first backpiece. The design was a cat peacock design that incorporated a moon, birdcage, and large roses.

Iris often posts available flash designs on her Instagram account and is making a push to take on more large-scale tattoos including full back and front-piece designs.

Pulling Inspiration From Her Own Felines

When Iris isn’t at The Foundry tattooing, you can find her hanging out at home with her own three cat companions.

She shares her space with 4-year-old “muse” Alma, a rescue cat that Iris adopted while she lived in Montreal; 2-year-old Roope, a Selkirk Rex, who she lovingly refers to as her “little, ginger demon;” and 1-year-old Hank, a Cornish Rex who cuddles up next to Iris every night.

Iris Lys and her cats

“I love them all like they are my kids,” she says. “They are always behind the door when i come back from somewhere and they need so much attention.”

Clawing Her Way to Success

Before focusing in on cat tattoos and mastering her craft, Iris says that she struggled during her apprenticeships and early on in her career.

“My apprenticeship was long and hard, full of ups and downs,” she says. “I had a very old school apprenticeship—making needles, sterilisation, lots of cleaning, opening and closing the shop. None of the people who taught me were into traditional, so I had to learn all by myself.”

But Iris learned different styles and tattooed all kinds of walk-in clients as she moved around between Canada, Belgium, and England. She never let negativity stop her from finding her way.

“I have been crushed by some people being nasty to me, to kind of try to make me quit tattooing,” says Iris. “I have been pushed away from big shops when I was looking for a job. They thought nothing of me—my work was shit to them. It took me years to figure out how to draw and tattoo stuff but I never gave up.”

Iris says that she’s encouraged to see more women being successful in the tattoo industry, but she still finds that some female tattoo artists compete with each other and tear each other down. “I find it to be very competitive between women. Some get very envious,” she says. “We are not meant to love or like everyone we meet, but as women tattooers we should be together, not hating each other.”

Instead of getting sucked into the drama, Iris simply focuses on tattooing bomb ass cat tattoos that make her clients and feline fans everywhere happy. “I love being a cattooer,” she says. “It was just meant to be.”

All photos are courtesy of Iris Lys. Visit her Instagram account to see more of her work.

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