Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of previously ‘unknown’ tattoo artists coming to the fore. They aren’t necessarily new tattooists but many of these artists have been working away quietly, producing some superb tattoos, but not getting the attention that they deserve for their work. I’m not sure if it has been the rise in the Internet or the increase in many of these tattooists using tattoo forums on the ‘net’ to showcase their work but there has definitely been a wave of top-notch artists finally getting their work into the public’s eye. Riding high on the crest of this tattooing wave and picking up quite a few awards for his efforts is one Paul Naylor from Indigo Tattoo. Residing in the small market town of Northwich in Cheshire, Paul’s own unique style of work is at last getting the recognition he deserves. I’ll let Paul explain the rest…
So where and when did you get started in this game?
"I used to paint leather jackets for a shop in Manchester, not airbrushed but all done by hand. I’m not really an airbrush sort of person. I’ve had a go but it’s just not really me if you know what I mean. I then started to sell a few of these jackets through a tattoo studio in Bolton. I used to hang out there a bit and I got the chance to buy a kit off of a guy I used to work with. He’d bought the kit to have a go and didn’t really like it. It was a full kit as well as a steriliser and it sort of went on from there really. I was getting work off of Dave T at the time so tried to see what he as doing and picked it up as I went along.
I never thought that I would end up doing this as a living as I had loads of other stuff on the go at the time like painting leather jackets which was really good for me at the time. I didn’t do a formal apprenticeship or anything and in fact I knocked it on the head for a while and didn’t really do any tattooing for over eighteen months.
I started at a studio down the road just over five years ago. I met up with these blokes on a UK body art forum and they harangued me into coming and working with them. I wasn’t too keen to start with as I was window dressing at the time and that was like two and a half days a week and easy money. But eventually I needed a new challenge and got my shit together and bought myself some new kit and went from there."
Did it work out from the start?
"It was all right I suppose. I had gone from doing bits and pieces every now and then to doing different styles every day full-time. It was a dramatic learning curve. I fond it quite difficult to start off with but yeah, there’s not been a time when I’ve been dead with nothing to do. I’ve always had someone in. On my first day I had someone come in wanting a freehand Geiger piece and it was a bite the bullet moment. Do I do it? Or don’t I? So I gave it a go as I felt it was the only way to learn. I feel I had a very good foundation with painting the leather jackets because every one was different. One day it would be a portrait the next it would be a Skid Row painting or something."
Did you have any sort of formal art training?
"Not really, I did up to A level in school. But my parents were always pushing me in an artistic way. I mean, even my first job was as a trainee dental technician and that taught me a lot about shape and form and so on. It ‘s not just about making teeth, you had to reproduce bridges and crowns by eye."
I’ve seen from your photos that you do a lot of humanoid type work. Do you prefer this style?
"I’ve always been good at portrait drawing, which is my favourite type of work. I love doing pin-ups or faces. I like to do this sort of thing with adding just a little twist to the work too. I enjoy tattooing dark stuff but I don’t want to be labelled as just doing that one style. I just like tattooing women onto people! I love doing their faces because you’ve got to keep things delicate. It makes it harder to do but I find it more of a challenge.
If say I’m tattooing a female vampire and a male vampire, I have to work harder on the female one because it’s easier to keep over working it and before you know it, she’s got stubble!"
Do you prefer black and grey or colour?
"Erm, I started off with b&g because of the nature of the portraiture work I was doing at the time with the pencil drawings, but I am really getting into colour at the moment. Especially as you get more into the tattoo community and you get your hands on better quality colours, a whole new world opens up in front of you. The inks that you can get these days compared to say five years ago are superb and are so opaque. But then again, using the colours that were available five years ago really helped me learn how to get good colour saturation."
So how long have you been at this present address?
"Indigo has been here for four years now. We were in another building that got sold from under us and I moved up here with the piercers and after six months or so they left due to financial difficulties. So I took it all over. It was horrible and I went from being the tattooist to tattoo shop owner in the space of about three weeks. I had no phone for about six weeks as I was paying for my half of the bill and the piercers weren’t! I had a lot of help from some great mates and I really couldn’t have done it without them. And they still help me out now, as there is only me doing the piercing and the tattooing. I couldn’t keep the place running without them."
So whom do you look up to for your influences?
"It was when was still doing leathers a guy wanted a full back piece of a Filip Leu winged skull if I remember correctly. And I started looking in tattoo magazines and was blown away by the work on the pages. I remember seeing early Paul Booth work and this kindled my interest in having tattoos. Kore Flatmo is probably my favourite artist. I can look at his website for hours, his work is just awesome. I also like artists that work in contrasting styles. You can’t not admire artists like Bob Tyrrell and Tom Renshaw. Meeting people Like Phil Kyle has helped me no end and having folk like Eze Nunez working on me, I have learnt so much from these guys and feel that my work has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years. So watching these people work then trying to emulate them only to see next time they are doing something completely different, pushes me onwards to further myself. I think winning best portrait at Manchester Skin Tech the other year really gave me a boost of confidence because you are up there on stage with something that says you are good at what you do. That helps enormously. It’s nice to get comments from artists like Gary Wiedenhof as I feel he has a very unique style in the UK. Gary will be gusting here at some point in the future and we will definitely be doing some collaborative pieces together."
Have you worked any conventions?
"I was lucky enough to be able to work at Cardiff last year and this for me was the first step on the ladder if you like."
It can take some time to get onto the convention scene.
"Yes, I feel that I have managed this through the merit of my work. Working Cardiff and pushing my work forward on websites and putting it on forums has definitely helped me to promote what I do. I think putting my work on some of the forums does help you improve because some of the other artists on there can be really harsh and they don’t stand for any shit work. They will quite happily tell you if your work’s good or what you need to do to improve on your last piece which is fantastic but you have to be a little thick skinned at times! If you get good comments and compliments that’s a good mental boost. I feel that you have to put yourself forward because there are people that can talk good tattoos and you’ve got to be able to back it up with some proof. Stop talking and start showing what you do, you get a lot more respect that way. Speaking to people like Alan Moon who has thirty eight years of tattooing experience, getting a compliment off someone like that means a lot personally because the respect goes both ways then."
Have you got plans to have any other guest artists working here with you?
"Gary will be the first and I’m hoping to have Joshua Carlton form All or Nothing studios in Atlanta come over for a while. I guess it’s me pushing myself forward at the shows and stuff, as I am not the most confident of people. I’m trying to work quite a few shows at the moment to get my face out there. I worked quite a few conventions last year and it seems to have paid off as I am pretty busy but I’m also on he convention ‘scene’ if you like. It is comforting the thing that I have done this through the quality of my work too. The Internet is a very good way to get your work seen. There are various forums where the artists on there don’t pull their punches so you will get criticisms but you also get some great advice and tips to improve your work."
So whom would you prefer to tattoo?
"Erm, I don’t mind, I’ll do anyone! I don’t mind doing the walk in work but it is also very nice and refreshing to do the custom work. Sometimes if I get a bulldog in I enjoy doing that. Because if you do a really shit hot bulldog, you’ll get the recognition for doing good work. So I put as much effort into something small as I would in a full-blown custom piece. At the end of the day the customer is paying for your work so you should go all out to do your best work. We’re in an unenviable position, we get to do what we like and there are an awful lot of folk out there who are doing jobs they hate, so I’m very happy with my lot. At the same time you have to keep pushing yourself forward and I wouldn’t want to get static. I find it very good to compete with myself when I’m tattooing."
Do you get negative comments about your facial tattoo?
"Never, I’ve not had one bad comment about it. Having said that, they may not be saying to my face! I anything it helps me get served at the bar because people clock you before anyone else! I find it quite a positive thing really because people will make the effort to come up and talk to me about it, which is quite refreshing in a way."
Do you think the current proliferation of tattoo needles and machines that are readily available on eBay are allowing more people and problems into the tattoo industry?
"I think it has and to be honest they were there anyway. But I think it has brought a lot of tattooists who perhaps were at loggerheads with each other closer together because they are now all fighting a common cause. There are folk out there who unfortunately shouldn’t be working but that’s always been the case, it’s just that bit easier to do it now. The best way to get into tattooing is to have good portfolio and not be afraid to show it and be prepared to put up with the criticisms. You need to be able to show your work and have the confidence to say right, here’s why I’m good enough to be the next generation of tattooist. It’s not an age thing, there are going to be some eighteen year-olds out there who are going to be fantastic tattooists just like there are some fifty year-olds who will never produce a good tattoo in their life.
I also think that if you are to become a good tattooist, a bit of humility is a good thing to start out with."
Do you think there are too many tattooists working in the UK at the moment?
"I think there a lot of people that have got the wrong impression of what tattooing is about. I’m sure many think that you can make a lot of money out of the business without putting in the effort, where as you’ve got to graft. It’s a twenty-four hour job, well that’s what I find anyway. I’m often still up at three in the morning drawing for the following day or week. It’s constantly on your mind as you are thinking about the next tattoo and how to improve on your last one. It is a way of life, not just a job.
The amount of studios that are springing up will have a negative affect as some will be putting out substandard work and substandard hygiene, which can’t be a good thing for the art of tattooing. I think we now need to have better guidelines in the UK as a whole as to what is acceptable and what’s not hygiene-wise."
But on a good note there are some tattooists that aren’t “names” yet are putting on some superb work too.
"Also there are going to be lots of people who will never become tattooists so they have to accept this. It can be just as rewarding to go to convention as someone with great tattoos as it is to work the shows. So just get involved in the tattoo community, it’s a great place to be either side of the tattoo machine."
Who would you like to thank for helping you over the years?
"Lisa, Daz, Hannah, my girlfriend – obviously, Yvonne (check name and spelling!) – one of my best friends. There’s a massive list of guys who help me all the time and my parents for helping me with my art. My Mum is my best critic. Even when I was a kid and I thought I’d done a good piece she’d be there to say yes, but try this or add this and would always bring me further on in my work."
What do they think of you being a tattooist?
"They’ve been really good about it. It was a bit of a shock for them when I came home with my first tattoo, but now they have accepted that it is my chosen way of life and both parents and all my family have been nothing but supportive. Even when I’ve had my head tattooed. There have been some stern looks but nothing but support for me making a career out of my natural ability for art.
My friends have been great, be it helping out in the shop or at a convention or just taking me out for a pint after a long day."