During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people found themselves taking up new hobbies, such as baking bread or gardening. Georgina Leung was no different – except her hobby involved puncturing herself with needle and ink. “My boyfriend would come into the flat and find me sat there with my leg out, stabbing myself in front of the TV,” Leung says. “It became this ritual of what I would do, where I’m like, ‘Oh OK, it’s Sunday again, let me give myself a tattoo.’” At the time, in 2020, Leung had just been furloughed from her job at a jewellery design company. Finding herself with extra time on her hands, she instinctively bought a stick-and-poke DIY tattoo kit online and began inking herself. “A needle, ink and my skin,” she had thought. “What could go wrong?” The London-based artist had long had a natural affinity for the medium. She got her first tattoo, of a cherry blossom flower, at the age of 17 after stealing her sister’s ID and heading to a tattoo shop in Dublin, a few hours from where she grew up in Northern Ireland. And after following in her sister’s footsteps and studying biomedical sciences in Belfast for her first year of university, she knew she wanted to pivot and become a tattoo artist. “I did try [the sciences] but I hated it so much,” she says. “I said to my parents, ‘Look, I can’t do this any more.’ And I’d actually secretly lined myself up with an apprenticeship in tattooing in a local shop.” But Leung’s parents, having gone through the ups and downs of immigrating to Northern Ireland from Hong Kong and running a Chinese takeaway, prized academia and hoped their daughters would have more stable careers. Leung’s budding interest in tattooing was shot down, but as a compromise, she attended art college in Edinburgh, Scotland and pursued a career in jewellery design. She had been working in the industry for seven years when the pandemic hit. But by the time she was furloughed for three months, she had developed qualms about an industry that she says had questionable ethics and made her feel less than welcome. The pandemic allowed her to take a step back and rediscover her love for drawing, this time not for clients or a company but for herself. “I didn’t actually intend for anything to come of it, but I just knew that I needed to do that for my own sanity,” she says. “I was just like, I’m never going to get this chance again, to just do what I want to do, and not have to worry about paying rent and making money.” That time allowed her to refine her illustration style and reignite her passion for tattooing. She opened an Instagram account, called @chop_stick_n_poke, and began uploading flash sheets – series of small tattoo designs – featuring imagery inspired by her upbringing, cultural background and memories from summers she spent in Hong Kong. “It sounds very dramatic, but it was quite life-saving at the time,” she says. “It allowed me to celebrate. I had to hide so much of myself – even just anything that was culturally linked to my race or anything – I had to hide all of that in order to be taken seriously at work. So then to be able to just not have to do that was a real relief all of a sudden.” From there, she started tattooing friends and also learned how to use a tattoo machine, while continuing to work on larger illustrations and flash sheets. Now, almost three years later, Leung’s Instagram account has more than 80,000 followers, she co-owns a private tattoo studio called Yuzu Space and she has even launched a collection of tech accessories with phone case maker Casetify. Her tattoo portfolio includes everything from Studio Ghibli imagery and Sanrio stationery to Chinese landscape paintings and architecture, detailed vases, cut fruit, and plenty of cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style cafe) delights. “When I started, in London anyway, there was definitely a large enough Asian diaspora community that actually wanted tattoos but perhaps didn’t feel any affinity towards what they saw online,” she says, adding that many commonly seen tattoos can be racially or culturally inappropriate. Her work – often nostalgic and lighthearted – hit home for such people, especially at a time when hate crimes against Asians in Western countries were at an all-time high because of Covid-19. “I think people wanted a sense of comfort, where they felt like … they could celebrate themselves without judgment,” she says. Among her tattoos, the ones depicting food are some of Leung’s favourites. On her customers, she has tattooed iconic Hong Kong treats like egg custard buns, VLT lemon tea, White Rabbit candy and Hong Kong-style French toast. “It feels so personal and so evocative, but also it’s broad enough that everyone feels something towards it,” she says. “Through my tattoos, I get to hear about everyone else’s stories. Even if a tattoo is super unassuming, it represents so much more [than people may realise].” The same can be said for another recent tattoo – one that she did on her own dad, who was once so disapproving. “It was really surreal, but it was really sweet,” Leung says. While her father had casually joked before about getting a tattoo from her, Leung never took him seriously until he asked to visit her studio one day, with her mom in tow to document the visit on video. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Georgina Leung (@chop_stick_n_poke) “It was their roundabout way of saying, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ So it was very validating in that sense, because I never thought that I would get to that point,” Leung says.