I first saw Mick sitting quietly drawing at last years Paradise Gathering show in the US. Mick had his head down, obviously engrossed in his work so I wandered past, not wanting to disturb him. Later that day, I saw the drawing that he had been working on and it was amazing.
This piqued my interest somewhat and I took it upon myself to hunt down his portfolio. Perusing Mick’s art book made my eyes widen and my jaw drop with every turn of the page. His Colour realism had something that was just that bit different to all the other artist’s work I’d seen that weekend at the ‘Gathering’ and considering the calibre of the invite only convention; that says a lot about his work.
Later that evening, we got a proper introduction by John Montgomery and from speaking to Mick, I knew straight away he was the sort of guy that eats, breathes and sleeps tattoos. The work on these pages bears testament to Mick Squire’s obvious talents and passion for tattooing.
What are your earliest memories of tattoos? What inspired you to start tattooing? When did you start and where?
Well I would have to say the earliest tattoo memory would have been with my childhood friend when growing up, around the age of 5. My friends grandfather had old war tattoos on his forearms which were so blurred you could hardly make them out. I remember he had an eagle and an anchor. So cool!
Do you think that these images of blurry tattoos sparked something in you to find out more about tattoos?
I’m not totally sure, I know my first encounter with tattooing itself came from a friend who had a clown tattooed on his leg when we were 16; he came over as soon as it was done. I was amazed but it never entered my head that I would create them some day, I remember it like it was yesterday. I actually ended up working with the artist who did that tattoo on my friend.
So how soon was it before you got your first tattoo?
I had my first tattoo done at the age of 19; I was a computer engineer at the time. I had just repaired Chris Reid’s computer and that was how I was paid for the job.
When you picked up a tattoo machine for the first time, did you find it easy to tattoo?
No not really, I was always creative when growing up. I always wanted to become a graphic designer. But I think I struggled to get a grip on using needles and ink as a medium. I really did stress when outlining, but always felt comfortable with a magnum.
How did you further your tattooing career. Did you get an apprenticeship or were you self-taught?
I did do an apprenticeship with Chris Reid in Geelong, Victoria, I annoyed Chris for about 6 months and worked at the counter in any free time I had serving customers. I was then thrown in the deep, in sink or swim… It lasted only a matter of weeks before I was tattooing anything thrown at me; some came out ok some not so. I do think I observe really well though, if I wasn’t tattooing I’d be watching my fellow tattooists and using what I had observed to see if it would work for me. I still do that to this day.
I think that going down the apprentice route is definitely the right way to go, but as long as it is with someone with good skills to explain why you would go about a particular technique in a certain way. I definitely think art school is a big step up for anyone looking at becoming and successful tattooist as well. I never went to art school but if I had, I think I would of learnt a lot quicker and my drawing skills would be better if I had done that. One of my best mates in the industry Chris Lennox was made to go to art school for a year before starting his apprenticeship; the difference it made to his artistic capability is amazing.
So no formal art training for you then?
Absolutely none at all, everything I know is from reading or from information passed down from other artists. It’s high on my priority list to do though; I want to know more of the technical side of why things work the way they do. I really want to know why the choices I make work the way they do.
Do you think that formal art training is beneficial to a tattooist?
I think it depends on the type of tattooist you are but I think every artist could take information away from formal training and apply it to their craft. From what I’ve seen first hand it has made average artists into exceptional ones. Most of the more painterly styled artists tattoo the way they do due to their background.
What’s the atmosphere and ambience like in the studio?
Korpus is the most amazing place to work; we cover most styles of tattooing between us. I work with Steve Cross who is an amazing artist; I have so much to learn from him, Steve’s more illustrative in his artwork. Brian Graydon who works in most styles and is so versatile and clean, Miles Monaghan who specialises in large scale Japanese and Jaclyn Rehe who specialises in American Traditional and who I want to be tattooed by next. All of us get along so well and hang out outside of the studio, best of mates really. Most guest artists don’t want to leave at the end of their stay!
What about conventions, do you get to work at many?
I’ve done quite a few now, last year my highlights were “tattoo of the day” at the “Sydney Tattoo Expo” and best of show at the Australian National Convention. I was also privileged to work along side John Montgomery and Joshua Carlton at “Hell City” in Phoenix in the US and fortunate enough to be asked by Gabe to work at the “Paradise Gathering” which is an invite only convention at Hancock in Massachusetts and work alongside Mike DeVries, Josh Duffy and Jeff Johnson. This year I’ve been at the “Singapore Convention”, “Surf n Ink convention” in Surfers Paradise in Queensland, where I was runner up to Nikko Hurtado in the best portrait category. “SINZ” in Christchurch New Zealand working alongside my buddies Byron, Chris and Dave Undead, “The Sydney Tattoo Expo” where I took artist of the show and the Logan Convention in Queensland where I took out tattoo of the show. Coming up I have “Hell City” in Ohio, thanks to Gaston from FK Irons who I’m sharing a booth with, “Ink n Iron” in Long beach, California and now “Tattoo Jam” in Doncaster, UK thanks to you Neil!
Blimey! That’s a cracking pedigree of awards. How do you think people at the shows perceive your work?
The response seems to be really good. I think I’m doing well and have a pretty good understanding on how things should be constructed. I’m lucky in a way in Australia there aren’t many artists doing colour realism so I seem to attract a lot of attention here and a lot of clients willing to fly in from all over Australia and New Zealand to get work. What I like doing a lot of is mixing traditional style of tattooing with realism which makes most types of artists happy to see that.
Did you find that you manage to steal some of the other artist’s ‘Mojo’ working at the conventions?
Totally, I have learnt so much from just watching so many amazing artists doing their thing. Nikko Hurtado in particular has been a big influence in watching what he does with his different blending and colours and so on.
You have travelled pretty extensively; do you enjoy that part of your life?
Yeah it’s the best working abroad! I’ve worked in Singapore where I found it’s more oriental based, which I love, most of my tattoos I have are oriental. The composition is one thing I have so much to learn from. America, which seems to have everything, much like here in Australia but on a larger scale and with so many talented artists located everywhere and in such remote places. New Zealand is much like Australia but on a smaller scale, its very multi cultural but it also has that deep history within in Maori tattooing which is so amazing!
During your trips abroad, have you noticed any particular areas that are more welcoming to tattoos and tattooists than others?
For sure New Zealand, the customs officers as you walk into the country ask where they can have you tattoo them ha ha! I think with the heritage behind it in their country, its just so accepted. I love that place!
Who are your main influences, including both tattooists and the more traditional artists?
My main artists that have influenced me would be Jeff Gogue who I get to paint with very soon, with my very good friend and UK born artist Claire Reid, Nikko Hurtado from California, Mike Devries who I was lucky enough to share a booth with last year at the Paradise Gathering, Joshua Carlton who is a good friend of mine, Stefano who I stayed with in NY, Nick Chaboya a top guy, Bob Tyrrell who always sucks me into staying out to all hours of the morning at conventions, ha ha! John Montgomery who is very versatile and who I stay with in California, Australia’s own Byron Drechsler who has taught me a lot of my techniques that I use within realism based tattooing, Paul Braniff who is one of the greats of Black and Grey realism in Australia, Owen Williams from Melbourne one of my good mates and so good at what he does, Trevor McStay who is Australia’s most well known tattooist and many, many more. Paul Acker, Uncle Alan, Boris, Filip Leu, Derek Noble, Shige, Rachi Brains, Robert Hernandez, Paul Booth, and Dave Undead it just keeps going...
Do you have a favourite style of tattooing? Can you describe your own style?
My style is realism; colour realism is what I usually get asked to do. Although I love black and grey tattooing. I really enjoy heavily contrasted pieces that just punch. But if I’m asked by my client do what I want to do, it usually involves mixing illustrated imagery with realism, its so much fun to create something from scratch right out of your head or from a reference of a photo and convert it into a traditional tattoo with hard lines and solid, bold colour and then mix it in with hyper detailed, no lines realism.
How do you go about designing a tattoo? What processes do you go through to get from the initial idea to the finalised design?
I usually get the client to email me ideas; I try not to do in person consultations now. I always leave the finer details out and forget key points. With digital records, I sort my emails out into a database and then I can always go back and reference the words used by my client. I then see if the images they have sent me are usable, if not, I research more appropriate images and email them back and make they are fine with what I have found. I then Photoshop any areas needed. For example boosting contrast, burning areas darker, maybe flaring a certain part of the image to greater the depth of perception and so on. I then print the image out on 100gsm matte photo paper and work over the image with Prismacolor pencils to get the image colour to where I’m happy. For me preparation is key in realism, making stuff up on the fly doesn’t always work out as well all the time unless it’s someone like Jeff Gogue ha ha!
What does Mr Squires do when he is not tattooing?
I live about an hour and a half drive from where I work in Melbourne. I live about 10 minutes from where the Great Ocean Road starts (12 apostles) I love the beach; I usually hit the surf. I love to paint, usually in oils. It allows me to loosen up and try things instead of guessing on skin.
Whose work to you wear and who would you like to get tattoos from?
Rachi Brains and Rose Hardy tattooed the girls on my neck. Owen Williams did my right sleeve, which is an oriental based Phoenix. Chris Reid has done my left sleeve; Claire Reid did my chest piece. I have a rose done by Derek Noble, Miles Monaghan did my traditional American “mum” tattoo for me, Steve Cross did my crown on the back of my neck and My legs have bit and pieces done by myself.
I was meant to trade tattoos with Joshua Carlton last time I was in the States but with time circumstances, things didn’t work out, hopefully next time I’m over there. I want a leg of different Salvador Dali portraits but done by a lot of different artists such as Bob Tyrrell with their own little twist on them.
What’s your favourite part of being an artist?
The art, my clients and my friends. Watching their reaction of when they get to see in full what I’ve done on them in the mirror. My fellow tattooists that I’m such good friends with that I have only met through tattooing and being able to do what I love everyday around the globe. I’m so fortunate to be doing what I do.
Is there anybody you would like to thank for helping you over the years?
Yeah, that would be great, I’d like to thank a few people. I would like to thank Chris Reid, the man who took me on and gave me the opportunity to create what I have now, Chris Cashmore and Byron from InkJecta with hooking me up with Pneumatic tattoo machines that have allowed me to construct my style in colour realism, Steve Cross and Brian Graydon for giving me a home at Korpus, Marty Roesler for guiding me in my younger days, Claire Reid for helping me understand more of the artistic side of tattooing, John Montgomery for giving me my break in the States, Dave Undead for being a top mate and a great artist to bounce off, yourself Neil, for giving me the honour of being in your magazine and inviting me across for Tattoo Jam in August, I’m very excited to come to the country where some of my routes lay and Brett, Nicky P, Zac and Patty Wheels for being top mates!
Is there any other information that you would like to add?
My ‘mumma always said; ‘stay in school, do your homework and eat your greens’ ha ha...