Nine is a friendly custom studio forging an atmosphere of creative spirit in the heart of Brighton. Whilst some studios focus on reputation, Nine is more interested in providing high quality work that is unique, engaging, and flawlessly executed. The resident artists specialise in custom pieces and bring their distinctive talents to the process, and in collaboration with the client they ensure that a uniquely personal piece suited to their individual tastes and sensibilities is created.
The studio is proud to host artists who between them possess a wide range of styles and identities. Alongside the resident artists, Nine also plays host to a revolving door of immensely talented guests, including the likes of Guildford’s Jon Nott, France’s Lea Nahon and New York’s Johnny Truant. Through guest artists, the studio is able to constantly offer new and interesting alternatives to its clients and allow them to further explore their interest in creative tattooing.
Understanding that for many a tattoo studio can be a very intimidating place, especially for those who have not visited one previously, the vibe at Nine is welcoming and laidback. Surgically clean, and with the resident artists’ works showcased in portfolios and comfortable areas for clients and potential clients to informally discuss their ideas with the artists, Nine strives to ensure that every experience with the studio is a positive one.
The dedicated client base and remarkable body of work that the studio has built up serve as testament to their combination of artistic excellence and their client-friendly approach, making Nine the most important, original and exciting studio in England.
"Nine is a studio that offers a creative environment for the tattooists that work within it, and without whom, would not have existed. The studio acts as an agent and does not dictate the work the tattooists under take, as I believe this would stifle their creative and expressive abilities; they are their own taskmasters and when the studio they previously worked for closed, I started this business to allow them to continue their high quality and original tattooing. Basically, I believed in them so much, I decided to found a business based on this belief and you will see that their work speaks for itself. I’m honoured to know these tattooists on a personal and work basis and sincerely hope you enjoy reading more about them in this article."
Kirsty – Nine - Brighton
How did you initially get into tattooing?
Basically after I had completed my Fine Art Painting degree, I had a show, sold a couple of paintings and decided to spend that money on getting tattooed. Having been a student for so long, I hadn’t been tattooed for quite a while, so I came to Temple and got Nigel to do some work for me. One thing led to another, I was talking to Lester one day and he asked me why I wasn’t tattooing, to which I replied that I didn’t really know. After that conversation, I thought tattooing might be a good thing to try and might offer me a way to make some money. Things just progressed from there really. Initially, I used to come in, make a nuisance of myself and help out on the desk. I was also given some needles and ink to take home and try some hand poking. Later on I bought some second hand equipment (luckily I had access to the autoclave here) and started tattooing friends. I was quite fortunate, as I had never actually set out with the intention of becoming a tattooist, it just seemed like something interesting to do and I found the work to be engaging. Tattooing is technically demanding, it’s something at which you can always progress, there’s so much you can get out of it, plus the fact that there are a wealth of ideas out there, so it works on many levels.
So did you do an official apprenticeship?
I got help from the guys here. I met Jon Nott about a year after I started and he offered me a job in Guildford, which I took, and Jon has been a big help over the years. I’m not even sure if I’d still be tattooing had it not been for him. Working with someone whose work was so much more advanced that mine was a huge benefit to me. I owe him so much.
Did you have a lot of tattoos yourself at that time?
Not really. I had a few bits of horrible tribal tattoos, that’s best forgotten. I had started to become aware of the Japanese tattooing that was becoming popular and that was what I started drawing. I showed some of that to Nigel and almost bullied him into doing some for me, things escalated and that’s when I started to become heavily tattooed.
You mentioned that you came from a Fine Art background…
When I left school, I initially went into the building trade working for my dad, who had his own business. When I was about twenty one I decided that building was not the career for me, it was hard physically and I wasn’t inspired, so I decided to go back to college. I did an access course, then a foundation, eventually ending up in Brighton for three years doing Fine Art painting. The work that I did there was generally figurative stuff, though I did do some abstract work in the second year. Painting in the figurative genre has always appealed to me, I’m not a great fan of producing abstract painting, it all seems a bit lacking in soul for me.
How much has that background influenced or inspired your work as a tattooist?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Because I do a lot of Japanese, I tattoo a lot of carp and a lot of dragons, which is great, but I am now trying to get more narrative into the work. By that I don’t mean it’s about telling this story or that story, it’s more about sitting down and talking with someone, suggesting a few ideas, trying to find out just what it is they are wanting to get across in the tattoo. Sometimes it could be, “Oh I just want a fish”, and I could come up with a few options. Sometimes people will come in and explain that they’ve seen a previous tattoo I’ve done and want something similar, without wanting to know too much about it. For me, narrative is important in my work whether that’s on paper, canvas or skin.
Working on skin obviously requires more people skills than is necessary with the other mediums in which you work.
Definitely. It can be challenging to say the least. But if I didn’t enjoy people, I wouldn’t be a tattooist. When working, I talk to my customers quite a bit, depending on what I’m doing, and I like that. Whilst I try and maintain a work relationship with them, there may be occasions when we might go for a drink together as some of my customers are interesting characters, and obviously when you are working on someone over a period of many hours, some kind of relationship does develop. Customers are a necessary hindrance sometimes, but I’m quite happy to let them have their input into the work as long as I’m not treated like a robot. On the other hand, I know I have lost customers because I have not agreed to compromise my work to the extent required by what they want. I’m happy to compromise on colours for example, as it’s important to have a balance between their needs and my own as an artist
How has your style developed over the years?
I was always desperate to do as much Japanese stuff as possible from day one. Since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture. From an early age it was more to do with Manga, but as I got older I started looking at other stuff. Japanese culture was not always a direct influence but was often more about construction, it’s something I’ve always been interested in and I can’t actually explain why it inspires me so much.
Why do your clients come to you as opposed to other tattooists working in a similar style?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I try my hardest to make the tattoo look authentic. I’m not interested in becoming a clone of a Japanese tattooist, though I do have contact with a tattooist in Japan, Horimasa, who sends me emails, gives advice, helps me out, which is nice. However, I think it’s important not to copy things directly as, if you do, you aren’t really adding anything of yourself. In some ways I suppose I’m a good faker, if that makes sense. I’m not going to claim I know everything, I’m not going to claim that I’m doing great Japanese tattoos. What I do try is to execute tattoos that look like somebody who is Japanese could have done them, but not actually turn round and say, “That looks like a Horiyoshi dragon”, for example.
As westerners, or as outsiders, it’s very easy to look at something on the surface and think that’s the way it’s done, copy it and not try and understand it. I think that knowing the story helps, trying to get inside the psychology is probably the hardest thing to do. The psychology of the Japanese is really different.
I would like to get to the point that Alex Reinke has reached. When you look at his work, you wouldn’t think that it was done by a German, I’m not in the same league. His work doesn’t look like a copy of his master’s work, it’s got its own personality and that’s the standard I’d like to achieve. When I started, I was trying to be a bit more individual, a bit more western. I realised that there is nothing wrong with going back to the beginning, which at one point I did, initially just copying dragons and carp, weaning myself off those crutches until I got to the point where I feel my work has a certain kind of quirk and represents me in some way. In reality though, I don’t know whether I’m the best judge of that, it’s for other people to judge. Artists are renowned for getting so caught up in their own vanity, their own insecurity, that it’s better to be critiqued by others. You then have to decide whether or not to be upset by that critique or to bask in its glory.
As far as I’m aware, outside of London, there aren’t that many tattooists doing Japanese work, so people tend to surf the Internet and that’s where a lot of my clients first become aware of my work. They then usually email me, phone or come into the shop, we discuss their ideas and take if from there. I get a variety of clients from kids in their early 20s through to older guys wanting cover-ups, so I would say my client based is quite diverse.
How do you feel about the Rock Star status ascribed to by some tattooists?
I could rant about that for ages. I tattoo because I love it, it’s why I get up every morning - even on my day off I’m doing research or drawing, so most of my time is taken up with work related issues. What concerns me is that it’s becoming increasingly common for tattooists who have the attitude of, “Look at me, I’m great, I’m a tattooist!” Obviously there is gratification to be gained from the job but it’s more about your ability to do it well and about your relationship with your customers, rather than the fact that you get recognised all over the place when you are out and about.
One of the reasons why I offered Jack an apprenticeship was because he has the right attitude, completely the opposite to that of some of the people wanting apprenticeships for all of the wrong reasons.
Tell us about Jack.
Jack is a really cool guy, he’s quiet, he listens and, as you know, he makes good tea, (laughs). I had been thinking about taking on an apprentice and at the time was tattooing Jack. Sergi also knew him and when Jack used to hang around he was always willing to help any of us, so we thought he would work out well. Regardless of whose apprentice he is, having someone else in the shop affects everyone, so we all sat down and talked about it. Obviously Jack could draw and paint, most of what he had done was oil painting and that was what appealed to me, he seemed to come from a similar background to myself and Nigel. Jack is fitting in really well, he is hard working, he listens, and he’s very easy to be around. I think he was quite shocked when I offered him the apprenticeship but we are all glad with the way things have turned out. As I didn’t actually serve a proper apprenticeship myself, I’m learning as much about the process as he is and it’s making me rethink my work. I don’t want him to fall into the many pitfalls that I encountered. When he’s here in Brighton, Jack stays with me and Kirsty, it’s not that I set out to have that traditional Japanese style apprenticeship where the apprentice stays with the master, but I am fairly moral and have certain ideals, and, though it might sound a bit glib, having Jack live with us does make it more of a family thing, it goes beyond just having someone hanging out in the shop. I offered him the apprenticeship, he took it up and I have a responsibility to make sure that he gets the absolute best out of it that he can.
Where do you see your career in ten years time?
I’m not too sure, by then I’ll be forty-five. What I would like is a bit more balance. I’m pretty much tattooing five days a week and I don’t intend to give that up, but I do want to do more painting and in ten years time I’d like to see myself in a totally private studio, working by word of mouth, working on larger scale pieces, full bodysuits, that would be something I aspire to. There is a reason why I tattoo, I’m not incredibly bright but I know that there are other jobs, albeit more mundane, by which I could earn more money, but tattooing gives me a certain amount of self-gratification. Recently the call to paint has become stronger, in a fine art context, avoiding tattooing related imagery as much as possible, leaving me free to explore other avenues.
What else would you like to say?
Outside of work I’m a pretty private person. Anyone who knows me is aware that all I want to do is to produce good work. Sometimes you get caught up in politics of the business and I think it’s important that we all take responsibility for things like healthcare and the way the industry is progressing, as it’s now almost like a beast that is out of control. When I started tattooing there weren’t that many tattoo shops around, a lot of those that were up and running were producing crap, some still are. It shouldn’t all be about what tattooing can do for you but more about what we, as a collective, can do for tattooing to push it forward. Everyone is far too concerned about their own standing within the industry, and I can also be guilty of that to some degree, but I think that attitude needs to be tempered with more control, more professionalism.
“I have never been particularly interested in promoting myself and, as time passes, seem to be less inclined to publish or update portfolios of my work. My main concern is producing the work, not documenting it after the fact. The aim is to avoid using pre-existing tattoos as a reference for new ones. It is difficult for me to edit my thoughts about tattooing, as they are too numerous and often confusing or contrary. To that end, a friend has graciously offered to write something on my behalf.
I think it explains me better than I could myself…Cheers, Nige.”
Nigel Palmer excels in abstraction, approaching every tattoo as if he’s never seen one before. Bringing the same sensibilities to his tattooing as to the artwork he creates away from the studio, his style is influenced more by the idea than the image, focusing on a specific aesthetic which is always intricately crafted, imaginative, and, quite often, unpredictable.
Whilst some artists might strive for almost photocopier-esque reproduction, Nigel, whilst wielding the skills for such precision, chooses instead to focus on creating a finished product, which has resonance both as an image and in the mind of the client. In this, he is always keen to discuss ideas at length to create an informed and original design through a collaborative process. If there is an obvious route to take towards completing the work, Nigel will find an alternative, and in so doing always creates stunning, unconventional, and original works that subvert expectations and capture the imagination of the client. Examples can be found in the accompanying pictures. Focusing on an overall theme of simultaneous precision and chaos, on the right arm, grid work, text, and sketchy imagery was combined in an innovative way. In approaching the text-based work, rather than simply reproducing it straight from the page in a conventional manner, the page was torn into sections and applied in a random process, arranged on the day of the tattooing and informed by an overall aesthetic rather than textual coherence. The sketched cogs were from a basic transfer, with the scribbles improvised onto the skin, and the two sets of grids were overlaid to suggest a depth and to unify the arm in accordance with the stated overall theme.
On the left arm, a more abstract direction was chosen. Alongside a reproduction of a raw, pen sketch image of an angel by graphic artist Derek Hess, the work was primarily inspired by flawed geometric shapes. This work was recreated in a deliberately chaotic and unruly fashion, which, whilst adhering to the images that inspired the piece, allowed for a certain amount of improvisation within the scope of the piece itself. In taking this approach, what could have been rendered as simply messy, Nigel created a flowing, interconnected work that eschews from having a central focal point and does not allow your eyes to rest in one place when regarding the limb, at the same time furthering the idea of simultaneous chaos and precision.
It is his unconventional approach to tattooing and his eye for being able to construct something unique in a well thought out and interesting fashion that makes his work so compelling.
(And his taste in music doesn’t suck either...)
Where are you from?
From Catalonia, which is near the French border with Spain.
What was your background?
Basically, I’ve been working in tattoo shops for more than eleven years; for the first year or two I worked as the receptionist and did the cleaning and other mundane jobs but it was all good experience.
So how did things progress from there?
About five years ago I decided to open my own shop along with a couple of friends and that’s when I really started to progress.
Did you ever do a formal apprenticeship?
Not really, I learnt from the tattooists who were working with me, so I’m basically self-taught. I was actually offered a formal apprenticeship a couple of times during the early years working in tattoo shops but at the time was happy being the receptionist and just being around…it was more of a social thing. I never made a conscious decision to become a tattooist, I just started by doing a bit of work on friends for fun and things just progressed as my interest grew.
What is your preferred style of work?
I’m still doing the kind of work I did at the start, neo-traditional stuff, bold lines, bold colours, that’s the style that suits me best. It’s the same with music; I like simple music, strong music. I’m really into western culture and I see what I do as proper western tattooing. The neo-traditional style offers many options in terms of design; you can do anything from an elephant to a record or whatever. I am currently trying to mix realistic elements with the traditional in order to make something a bit more elaborate. It’s taking some time, but that’s really the direction in which I want to go, I need to find a way to fuse naturalistic or realistic with the traditional and that’s not always easy.
What styles are more popular in Spain?
Black and Grey is very popular there but Spain is catching up with the UK in terms of its interest in tattoos and tattooing. There are more shops there now, even in the small town where I come from there is a shop, and that’s the case in most Spanish towns nowadays, it’s really similar to the situation in the UK. Religious themes are popular as there are a lot of people in Spain who originated in South American countries.
On a cultural level, how do attitudes towards tattoos differ in the two countries?
People are probably more used to seeing tattoos in the UK as you have a longer tattoo history but in the bigger towns in Spain, it’s not too much of a problem for tattooed people. In smaller towns things may be slightly more difficult, but that’s just a cultural thing.
Why did you relocate to the UK?
I had my shop in Barcelona for about three years, at which time I chose to sell my share, and about a year and a half ago my girlfriend and I decided to move to London. On arriving, I worked in Camden, as that was the easiest place to find a shop to take me on. After that I moved on to another couple of shops, nowhere special or interesting until the last three months in London. I went to work at Leslie Chan’s shop, Shangri La. That was really cool, I met her when I arrived in London and I was so pleased when she offered to let me work in the shop. Leslie is an amazing person, I like her philosophy and the shop has a wonderful atmosphere - it combines the best aspects of the old-style shops with that of the new. After spending last summer at Leslie’s shop, I was offered a place at Nine, which I was happy to accept as I have a baby (she’s now fourteen months old) and I felt that Brighton would be a much better environment for family life. I was aware that Nine had a good reputation and Ade and myself had been emailing each other for some time prior to my coming here. A couple of weeks after I initially came down to meet him, I ended up working here.
When you started to tattoo, what were your inspirations?
I have a big interest in art and was drawing and painting, but that actually came about once I was tattooing, before that I was only interested in tattoos themselves. I was in art school for about a year but didn’t do much except party, I then went to fashion school for a couple of years, and that actually helped me a lot in addressing the way tattoos could work on the body.
I actually stopped painting when I came to England as I didn’t have the space but now we’ve moved to a really big house where I have a studio just for painting, so I’m starting over again. The watercolours that I do are mainly tattoo-related, as the way I work with watercolours is similar to the way I tattoo, but with the oils I’m trying to do more classical work but with a modern twist. I’m currently working on a still life project, which will be entitled, Glam Rock. This work in oil will contain symbolic elements, for example a Jack Daniel’s bottle, some lipstick and other makeup, a mirror with some lines of cocaine, and everything will be laid out on a velvet background.
I’m also inspired by talking to people, record covers, anything really. It’s funny but sometimes the best of ideas come from talking to people about the most stupid things.
When did you actually start getting tattooed yourself?
When I was fourteen, but lots of that work has now been covered as it was done when I was impulsive and obviously young. In those days I just got tattoos for the sake of having tattoos. When I first got tattooed, biomechanical themes were popular in Spain, but the stuff they were doing was pretty rough. As I had worked in tattoo shops since the age if sixteen, I got free tattoos, but it was always with guys who just did flash or pretty basic stuff. Later on I had designs by some amazing artists like Bernie Luther, which was an amazing experience, he did the Ganesh on my arm, and Rudy Fritsch and Chad Koeplinger. In all I’ve been tattooed by thirty or forty artists.
What are your plans for the future?
I will tattoo a little bit less, maybe four days a week, that would give me more time to spend painting. I have such a passion for both mediums and it’s just a case of finding a balance. If you are an artist you will never be happy if you are not producing. Now I have a family I have a quieter life, I’ve put some weight on, (laughs), I don’t go to so many parties, I’m pretty happy with my life as it is. Before I go, I’d like to thank all of the guys here at Nine for taking me on, and also to Leslie Chan and the guys at Shangri La.
What were you doing before starting at Nine as the apprentice?
Before Ade asked me to come here, I had begun a course in Fine Art Painting at university, but after three months I decided that it was the wrong course for me, so I left. I used to hang around here at Nine and at Leslie Chan’s London shop, Shangri La.
When did you decide that tattooing was the career for you?
I’m twenty now but have been interested in tattoos since I was little, though at that stage I never thought I would be allowed to get one, so the interest has always been there. It was probably when I was doing my foundation at college that I saw the connection between tattoos and other artforms and I then decided to put forward some of my ideas as tattoo designs.
How did your apprenticeship come about?
I had met Sergi in London and it was him who got the ball rolling. I liked what he was doing and he invited me to hang out at Shangri La. I was also coming to Brighton quite a lot as Ade was tattooing me and we used to talk a lot about painting as there are certain similarities between our work. One day he just told me that he was thinking about taking on an apprentice and offered me the position. I didn’t want to ask for an apprenticeship myself as I’m sure they get that all the time. I had always thought that if my work proved to be good enough then they might ask me and luckily for me, that happened.
How does the challenge of working on skin differ from that of working on paper or canvas?
When I did my first tattoo, I realised just how hard it could be; keeping the skin taut was hard, it seemed to want to go wherever it liked. The second piece I did on my leg was more drawing-based, and that allowed me to adapt the skills I had learnt whilst drawing.
Painting can be quite an insular occupation, whereas tattooing requires a multitude of interpersonal skills to be brought into play. Is that an aspect of the job that you enjoy?
Definitely and that was undoubtedly one factor in causing me to choose tattooing over painting. Just hanging out in tattoo shops, I met some really interesting people and I thought that if I could do that every day, it couldn’t be bad. If you can then make art that reflects the person that you are putting it on, that’s the ultimate achievement.
So, are you pleased with the way your apprenticeship is going?
Yes. When Ade asked me to be his apprentice, I was over the moon. I had been putting the hours in concentrating on my drawing and one night we were in the pub, Ade, Nigel and myself and they were explaining how they believed that with the right support and guidance, I could incorporate what ideas I had for painting into the medium of tattoos, which after all, is only another artform. That was really a turning point for me and I became incredibly excited at the thought of producing painterly kind of designs as tattoos.
In terms of your painting are you ever possessive about the pieces that you produce and if so, would that ever impact on your work as a tattooist? To clarify the question, would you feel any kind of loss as the piece you had just created on a customer’s body, walks out of the door?
I’d like to think that they could go off and enjoy the work I had created on them. It’s the same with my painting. Most of them I have given away, some I have sold. I get so much enjoyment out of giving them to someone who really shows an interest and that’s a much better feeling than leaving them to pile up at home, which means nothing. Once I’ve finished a painting, that’s it for me. So I hope the same feeling will extend to the tattoos that I ultimately create.
Tell us about the tattoos you have yourself.
The first ones I got were from Miles Chapman; at that time I was really unsure about what I was into, so I took some drawings up to him when he was at Frith Street and things went from there. I also have work by Sergi, one piece, the skull on my inner arm was done the day I met him. I had seen his stuff on the Temple MySpace and I had read some of the comments about his work and was impressed, so I went along to chat to him and after about ten minutes he grabbed my sketch book off me and invited me to come and draw and paint with him. I love the tattoo and every time I look at it, I remember the first time I met him. I’ve got a couple on my legs, one from Nico and one from Andrew May at Shangri La and those guys helped me out, so the tattoos mean a lot. I’ve got work by Ade that was started when I was at Uni, before my apprenticeship. I really like images depicting Japanese ghosts and I asked him if they could be incorporated into a sleeve, and before I knew it he had drawn up ideas. I’m really pleased with how that tattoo is going.
When do you think you will be ready to start tattooing on others?
I’m going the finish the lily on my leg and in a few weeks I am going to tattoo Ade, as he wants me to work on him before I work on anyone else except for myself. He’s just going to surprise me one day and say that the machine is downstairs waiting and he wants this tattoo. It’s going to be very nerve-wracking but it will be a milestone in my training.
How has being tattooed enhanced you self-esteem?
Having visible tattoos, done by people I admire has definitely enhanced my sense of self-esteem and when I have a full bodysuit I will definitely be more comfortable sitting around naked. So tattoos have definitely improved my confidence, which has impacted on my ability to interact with others, so its all good.
What else would you like to tell us?
Ade and Kirsty have been amazing. Not only have I got this apprenticeship, but they put me up during the week when I’m in Brighton. It was a big commitment for Ade to offer to teach me but an even bigger commitment for them to let me stay with them. I’m happy, and that just reflects my surroundings.
To conclude, I’d just like to thank everyone here at Nine for all of their help, support and encouragement and I’d also like to thank all of the guys at Shangri La.