5 June 2023

From Catholic schoolgirl to tattooist, Little e bucks family trend and follows her passion for ink

| Katrina Condie
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After gaining her licence at just 18, Little e has already started tattooing on her family and friends. Photo: Little e.

She grew up in a Catholic family, went to church every Sunday and attended an all-girls Catholic school in Wollongong, so when Eryn Testa announced she wanted to become a tattoo artist at the age of 14, it didn’t go down too well.

Four years later, at 18, Eryn is one of the country’s youngest tattooists, having recently obtained her tattoo licence. Her artist name is ‘Little e’ and she’s secured an apprenticeship at Tattoo Saloon in Oak Flats.

“A lot of people start their apprenticeship later on in life, after they’ve had other careers, so it’s crazy to think that I’m starting this so young. But it’s awesome,” she said.

Calling herself the “black sheep of the family”, Little e said she was awestruck after going into a tattoo studio with her father at the age of five.

“I still remember walking into the shop and falling in love with the atmosphere and all the artwork and colours. I’ve always loved art,” she said.

“I knew then that was what I wanted to do.”

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While her dad Frank was not keen on the idea at first, she said he was very supportive now, and her mum Carol was her first “guinea pig”.

“I tattooed three little birds on Mum’s arm, above her wrist, which represents her three children. It was her first tattoo and my first on human skin, so it’s very special and very sentimental,” Little e said.

“She was pretty nervous at the start, but she sat through it really well.”

Carol said she was proud of her daughter who had bucked the family trend and refused to toe the line.

“My other two children have both got double degrees from University of Wollongong, and she wanted to break my back and become a tattoo artist,” she said.

“She chases dreams, defied the odds and yep, she’s made it.”

Growing up in Shellharbour, Little e said she spent her spare time drawing and watching tattoo shows on television.

“All through primary school I’d watch tattoo shows instead of cartoons. I just loved learning about tattoo art from around the world, the history and how they do it. It’s very interesting,” she said.

“When I was about 14 I really started looking into it and researching how to become a tattooist. I built a portfolio of my drawings and started going around to studios showing my work.

“Getting an apprenticeship can be very hard, so I’m very fortunate to have found a job so close to home with the best mentors and bosses that you could ask for.”

Lance Daly and Rebecca Caruana took Little e under their wing and she commenced her five-year apprenticeship on 6 November 2022, just before graduating from St Mary Star of the Sea College.

Every morning she goes into the studio early to clean and set up for the senior artists, before spending most of the afternoon drawing or practising her technique on fake skin.

“I pretty much jumped straight in. It’s been really hands-on,” she said.

“Every day you have to clean and mop and really show that you have lots of respect for the artists and the industry. You have to earn everything in this industry and show dedication. Nothing is spoon fed to you.”

Little e has had the honour of tattooing one of her mentors, Rebecca, and has also been inspired by Erin Mae. She said senior artist Jack Steingold took time out of his days to teach her the tricks of the trade.

“He’s a very big role model in my life at the moment and is teaching me lots of stuff,” she explained.

“I pretty much spend the majority of my day learning new skills and practising drawing the anatomy of skulls and roses as well as animal anatomy. It’s very important to get the proportions right.

“Jack does four hours of tattooing and, instead of having a break, he’ll come and help me with my drawing. He’s a very lovey soul and very kind.”

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Little e believes she gained her artistic ability from her grandmother who passed away a few years ago.

“I grew up spending a lot of time with my mum’s mum who was really into art, so I sort of inherited her skill,” she said.

“Her artwork inspired me when I was little as well, but unfortunately she died of cancer a couple of years ago, so I never got the chance to sit with her so she could teach me how to draw or paint.

“Now that I’m older, it’s really nice to look at her art and think about what her thought process was.”

While Little e is currently enjoying neo-traditional tattooing – which she describes as a new age version of traditional old school style with more detail – she would like to progress into realism.

“At the moment I’m sticking to the basics and making sure all my stuff is clean,” she said.

“I’ve been doing little line work pieces, practising a bit of shading, packing colour and black. It’s important that I’m getting my lines straight and clean and tattooing to the right depth.

“I did a little mouse cursor on my brother that I’m very proud of. It was hard because it’s got very fine needle lines which can go wonky and gross, but I definitely pulled that one off. I also did three little cherry blossoms on myself.”

She encourages young people with a love of art and a big appreciation for body art to follow their passion and be determined about what they want.

“Just go for it, honestly,” she said.

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