You can always tell a person who adores their tattoos. Just about everyone who gets a tattoo loves the work. It’s a significant body alteration, a permanent choice to reveal our inner selves to others. A tattoo is something deeply personal because it involves a conscious choice to transform oneself. People who honor this experience don’t do so lightly. Rather, many people who make a dedicated choice to express themselves by permanently altering their appearance do so with a great deal of forethought.
And those are the people who absolutely adore their tattoos – in large part because they absolutely adore their artist.
Pat Fish is one of those artists. Pat specializes in a style that most tattooists don’t, Celtic Art. Crafting the geometrics of Celtic Art requires mathematical precision, which becomes even more difficult on a 3-dimensional object. But the human body is not evenly symmetric. One arm may be larger than the other. One shoulder may rest higher than the other. One leg may be longer, etc. Crafting a Celtic knot that bends with the body takes years, if not decades, to perfect – which is perhaps why Pat is one of the premiere artists in this style.
So as a Celtic artist myself, I wanted to chat with Pat and discover her story.
I found out about Pat Fish not long ago when showing my own work at the So. Renaissance Pleasure Faire. A customer came to my booth with the most amazing Celtic tattoo sleeve. I complimented him on it and added, “You have an amazing artist.” The fellow pulled one of Pat’s business cards from his pouch and told me she was absolutely the best around. I knew she must be, not only by looking at her work, but because only the most satisfied customers distribute a tattoo artist’s business card.
Pat Fish is the owner of LuckyFish, Inc. in Santa Barbara, California. The slogan on the header of her website is “Bringing the Art of Ancient Illuminated Manuscripts and Carved Stones to Life in Skin”. And she certainly does.
Normally, when I interview artists for Celtic Nations Magazine, I have a list of questions for a basic Q&A, but Pat is a 100% solid ‘people person’, and so the interview took on an organic quality from the moment the call connected – so we just chatted. I could tell that Pat was the type of person who could make anyone feel comfortable in their own skin, and she confirmed this in several ways.
Pat put herself through college going door-to-door conducting surveys. This was long before the days of telemarketing and computer-dialed phone calls. Pat was a tall lady back then, 6 feet she said, and she had a way of standing on a lower porch step so as not to tower over folks when she spoke to them. I found that small detail really touching because if someone is willing to be mindful of how their physical presence affects others, and is willing to moderate that presence to accommodate others, then that person is a special individual indeed.
Pat could always make people at ease, whether she was conducting dog food surveys, interviewing Santa Barbara personalities for the local weekly newspaper, or inking people in her tattoo studio. And this is crucial, because when a person is comfortable with an artist it builds trust.
On the ‘Meet Pat Fish’ section of her website LuckyFish.com you will find Pat’s bio. Pat was orphaned at a young age and placed with a Russian family. She longed for a sense of identity, as most orphans do, and prayed on her young knees, “God, when I find out who I am, please let me be Irish”. Later in life, Pat hired a private detective to investigate her genealogy (no Ancestry.com back then), and discovered that she was Scottish. She’s an Argyll Campbell on both sides of the family, and how fitting that a woman of Scottish/Pictish heritage should become a tattoo artist.
Pat also told me something very interesting in our chat. Over five decades ago, long before cell phones and social media, Pat made the conscious choice to foreswear television. She saw TV as a “sales medium, not entertainment” that captured the mind and soul. She made a personal pact with the gods – a geas – that she would never watch television if she could always be self-employed. And apparently the gods made good on their end of the deal. Pat credits her personal freedom to not ‘buying in’ to the corporate messaging structure, and it has allowed her to travel roads she might not have recognized were available.
Pat decided to become a tattoo artist in the 80’s. She had had enough of polling and interviewing, and though she also taught Adult Art classes at the city college, she wanted a career where she could both create art and interact with people. You’d think any artist works in this fashion, but most artists work in their studios and depend on a gallery to serve wine and cheese while taking a serious percentage of the sale marketing their work. Pat decided that tattooing would be the best vocation, and was quickly told that she had to get a tattoo in order to have credibility in the medium. She did, a life-size koi wrapping her shoulder, and was hooked.
Pat studied with Cliff Raven, a gentleman of Irish descent and legendary tattoo artist. Cliff’s studio was in 29 Palms, CA, and he took Pat under his wing and became her mentor. He worked her in many standard drills, creating line drawings and stencils, shading techniques, finishing the mirror image of something he had drawn half of such as completing a set of butterfly wings. Pat honed her skills, but was always drawn to the geometrics of Celtic knots.
This was before most tattoo artists would even consider Celtic knots in their portfolios. Pat wanted to specialize in Celtic art from the get go, but the standard advice was to “post a wall of basic images that the customer (often the drunk customer) could just point to”. She did, but Pat also posted a wall of Celtic art, and kept track of which designs sold.
Early Celtic tattoo work was quite tricky, again given the mathematics. Pat would take measurements, sketch on paper, transfer the entire design onto a customer’s skin using 3M carbon paper, and line up the art to make sure all joins were precise and the knot was properly woven – under/over with no under/under places where the knot would unravel. Nowadays, Pat can use Photoshop to mirror knotted quadrants, but back then she had to hand-draw everything. She still draws by hand, but switches back and forth, analog to digital, to create her custom designs.
FYI, being a Celtic artist I use the same knot art constructions techniques. First you grid out the basic shape, then you craft the design in a single line. Only when the Celtic knot is balanced and complete do you go back and change the single line to a ribbon in order to weave it under and over.
Pat explained that in the early days of Celtic tattoos, artists usually handed customers a Dover clipart book to choose an image and that’s pretty much how the final design ended up. Most folks wanted Celtic Crosses back then, and Pat notes that today the preferred shape in the Celtic Tree of Life. Incidentally, the phrase “knock on wood” or “touch wood” alludes to the sacred tree.
Pat’s current portfolio is quite extensive, though one thing she mentioned kind of broke my heart. Pat currently draws a design, scans it, archives it digitally, and then throws the original away. Ouch! I just can’t do that with my own originals, but Pat is far more prolific than I am so I’m sure she runs out of room creating all those paper renderings.
Her work can be viewed online at
Many of Pat’s customer travel to see her. That’s how awesome a reputation she has. And Pat takes her time with everyone, again making each person feel comfortable. Pat will try to get a feel for a customer’s choice of art online if she can. But when a person travels to her studio, Pat works with them closely to sketch the exact pattern they desire. She will often adapt her previous designs because each body is different. A Celtic Cross might not fit quite right on an upper arm. A Celtic sleeve might need several adjustments. Pat will always attend to customers promptly. She doesn’t let them dangle for weeks while she draws. Typically clients consult on one day, which gives her overnight to create the custom art, and the installation begins the next day. She creates the individual art, fits the art to the body, stencils the tattoo, and then invites the customer to lie back and listen to music. Pat would rather listen to classical music while she works, but – again – she’s a people person. If the customer prefers AC/DC, so be it.
Pat always has a few practical pieces of advice she’s picked up over the years. First, put the tattoo where you can see it without having to look in a mirror. Do not hide it from yourself. Also, if you’re not sure if you want color do the pattern all in black, you can always add color later but there is no eraser. Lastly, listen to the artist who knows more about the cultural style. There’s a Celtic script called Ogham – the Celtic Tree Alphabet – and it does not literally translate into English. That doesn’t stop some customers from insisting that names must be written in a certain way, and Pat will eventually do what a customer demands, but people please don’t embarrass yourself. If you don’t know Gaelic, write the words in your own language. Remember that episode of The Big Bang Theory when Penny thought her kanji tattoo said ‘strength’ when Sheldon assured her it said ‘soup’?
Overall, I just love looking at Pat’s collection. It’s hard-won, I can tell you. All good Celtic artists find their work stolen by others and reproduced online. Actually, all good artists have that trouble too, and nothing is worse than seeing something you brought to life being hijacked by someone with no talent or scruples. So when you see one of Pat’s designs online or on someone’s skin, celebrate it. Pat’s slogan is “Be ART: Get a tattoo.” She was inspired to create this by seeing Santa Barbara bumper stickers saying, “Buy art”. Indeed, we should all be art.
And Pat mentioned something toward the end of our conversation that I found quite moving. Less and less, we are creating art. We spend too much time online or at work, or doing things that sap our creative energy. As you read this article, both Pat and I would love it if you put down the magazine – or signed off from the computer – and went and created something, even if it’s a crayon drawing or a craft, or perhaps a lovely dinner.
Embrace art and hold it dear. We need so much more of it in today’s world. Pat is committed to the idea that art may be “unnecessary beauty” but it enhances our lives, and tattoos are an accessible way for everyone to “externalize their internal aesthetics.”
As for Pat and LuckyFish, you can pop on by to LuckyFish.com. If you are thinking of getting a Celtic tattoo, Pat advises to, “Do Your Research!” Celtic knots are difficult to ink, and the last thing you want is to allow an artist to ‘learn’ on you. Get to know an artist’s experience level by looking at online portfolios before you trust them with your skin. This is a big decision, after all, and you want it to be the right one. If you can’t travel to book an appointment with Pat, you can purchase designs from her image sale website, LuckyFishArt.com. Her downloads even come with FAQs for your own artist to follow. All the designs are shown online as photographs of successfully installed tattoos, and you are encouraged to take the pattern and work with your local artist to customize it and make it your own. The PDF gives you a good start, with the line art as well as shaded and colored examples.
Pat’s life commitment is to honor her Scottish/Pictish heritage by bringing the ancient patterns to life in skin, and to help others of the same heritage embrace the rich traditions of the Celtic culture. She loves to work with all types of folks, and takes great pride in her skills. She’s at the top of her game, even at age 67, and it shows.
So my blessings to Pat Fish for good fortune and wondrous adventures. She’s a master of her craft, and a truly terrific person.
Ravensdaughter is the art name for Erin Rado, editor of Celtic Nations Magazine. When in her creative space, Ravensdaughter – an homage to the warrior goddess, Morrigan, expresses Erin’s true soul.