Published: 21 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 189, August, 2010

He took art in school and then went to college, studied art and took it from there. Demon started getting tattooed when he was eighteen, and after getting his first tattoo, fell in love with it. It started when a friend of his suggested it as a career when he was around twenty years old, saying “what you gonna do for a job? well you like tattoos...”. He took it from there and started hanging around studios...


Are you from Sunderland?

Well yeah, Washington, right next to Sunderland.


There are quite a few studios there I believe.

There are a lot of studios there! (laughs)


So you were in another studio before you were at Triple Six?

Yeah, I used to work for a guy called Rob. I also used to work alongside Paul. 


Did you get yourself a traditional apprenticeship?

Yeah, I did a lot of cleaning, answering phones, reception work basically. And then I started doing one tattoo a month, so for like the first six months I was just doing one a month, and then more and more after that. And then after that I was just doing street work, like the walk in customers. 


Can you tell us how you got  your foot in the door, did you take your portfolio around the studios?

Well originally when I went in, and they weren’t looking for an apprentice, I  just started hanging around the place, working on my portfolio more and more, and just building that up and showing them stuff out of there. And I guess I just sort of wore them down! (laughs) That’s pretty much what I did with Bez as well!


Bez and Rob knew each other anyway?

Yeah, Rob had got a few tattoos off him, and that’s how I knew Bez as well. Then he started tattooing my leg and I just knew him from that.


So you say you were doing art at school, and you say you went to college. How did you find that? Because a lot of people that I speak to find that is really stifling, although it shouldn’t be.

Yeah, it depends on the lecturers. If a lecturer has one style of art in mind, and you don’t do that style of art, then they’re not gonna give you a good enough grade. There’s not as much freedom in college I don’t think. There are so many weird things too, like drawing with a stick with a piece of charcoal on the end! (laughs) And I’d be like “It looks terrible” and they’d say; “No, no, it looks really good!” scribbling on a piece of paper isn’t art to me.


I guess art is subjective. The more interestingly people describe what they’ve done, the more they can turn it into art I suppose?

Oh definitely! A lot of the lecturers couldn’t draw too well! And they’d pretend to do so by doing all those wishy washy paintings.


So you’re obviously interested in art, are you from an artistic background?

Not from an art background as such, but my Mum used to draw when I was younger and I remember finding a folder with loads of drawings of horses, things like that. So that kind of spurred me on to have a go as well. 


Were your family tattooed?

I tattooed my Mum! It was her first tattoo a couple of years back.


How did you feel about that?

She was like “you’re doing it wrong!” And I was like, “how do you know? You haven’t even got any tattoos, I’m doing your first one!” (laughs) She’s had another one since then, it’s the same with my step-dad. They were both anti-tattoos and then I got the job and started tattooing. When I first got my hand done she was like, “What are you gonna do for a job?” And I said, “I’ve got a job! It doesn’t matter!”


So they were a bit reserved to start with then?

Yeah, I think now they know that I’m serious about it though. I’ve been doing it for almost three years now. So I think they’ve taken the hint that it’s a job now, not just a hobby!


So what were your earliest memories of tattoos, where did you first start seeing tattoos, or consciously being aware of them?

I’ve got a terrible memory! Hmm, the earliest I can remember is in school. One lad got a tattoo and he was fifteen, and he came in with a big Sunderland badge his leg. Then I started pestering my Mum and she was like “NO! You’ve got to be eighteen!” So she made me wait ‘til I was eighteen. Then that’s when I got fully into it. Apart from that, no one in my family actually had any tattoos until fairly recently. My sister is two years older, so she got her first tattoo two years before me. And as soon as she got that one I wanted one like straight away. So I started drawing things, little designs and stuff. They’re all crap when I look back on them now! 


So how did you find the actual process of tattooing itself? Obviously it’s not like a pencil, it’s some big weird shaped thing!

Yeah it was really scary at first. The first tattoo I ever did was just a touch up on the side of Paul’s hand. He’s got this piece and it keeps on dropping out, so he said “you can do that, cos it’s gonna drop out!” He’s got this Cheryl Cole thing (laughs), tribal! He said it didn’t matter what happened on it, but I was so nervous and shaking. I think I picked it up quite quickly, I got over the nerves pretty fast. But still every now and again you get a real sweat on if you get too nervous. If you think too much about it, it’ll just get the better of you.


There’s so many things to think about at the same time, stretch, depth, this that and the other...

Yeah there’s a lot to take in on your first time. “You’ve got to press harder, you’re going too deep, you need to put more ink in the tube…” All that sort of thing. There’s a lot going through your head at once. It’s really daunting because you’ve got two people standing around you, like Rob and Paul both just keeping an eye on things. 


How did you feel after the first one?

Really fired up, I just wanted to do more and more.


You said Sunderland’s got a lot of studios. Were most of your influences from these studos or elsewhere?

Online is where I get my influences. I think all the shops bar ours in Sunderland are all just street shops, flash on the walls, things like that. Magazines and online are where I get most of my influences from. 


So who would you cite as your main influence?

I’ve always looked up to Bez really, so when I got the job I was just over the moon. I’d spent a couple of years just sort of looking at his work when I first found out about him. I wanted to do that sort of thing, and we worked on a style that was going to work best for me. There’s no point in doing the same thing as each other because everyone’s always going to choose him. I used to love Sean Herman’s work, but not so much lately. It’s not as it used to be, it’s a lot different now. It’s kind of gone backwards a little I think.


You’ve been with Triple Six for how long now?

I started early January last year. The year has flown by. For the first six months he just put us back to doing drawings, rather than tattooing. 


Did you find that to be a good move?

Yes definitely, I’ve perfected my drawing skills. Rather than trying it out on skin I’ve tried it on paper first. 


Do you think that’s the way to go then?

Yeah I do. I think too many people see a design and think “Ooh I’ve got to try something like that”, but they can just try it out on paper first. If you mess up on the skin it’s there forever. And people are always going to see it as well, and say “oh yeah nice work, but what about that time when you did that?” So it’s always best to do it on paper! 


So you’re obviously enjoying your time at Triple Six then?

Oh definitely yeah, I love it. It’s always a good laugh as well, a good atmosphere. And customers are appointment only, we don’t have many people just walking in so we get a lot of time if we’ve got free time to draw things up, it’s definitely about the art in this studio. 


We’re chatting at the north Lakes tattoo show, Is this your first working convention? How have you found it?

Yeah it is, I loved it once the first hour was on the way with. I was sort of nervous to start off with, but I just put my head down and I tried to blank everyone out. 


So you weren’t fazed by the amount of people walking past? 

I think it’s because I’ve spent the last two or three years going to conventions, I’m used to the crowds and working behind the booth with Bez, even though he’ll say otherwise, that I’m terrible at working behind the booth for him! (laughs) 


It must be good to work with such talented artists, to take those influences and work with them?

Yeah if I have a bit of trouble with the drawing or whatever, Bez will help me out and show me how to do it, and give me a few hints or tips. Every time I finish a tattoo I’m like, “do you wanna come and have a look?” It’s good to have that, rather than that just be like, “yeah there’s your tattoo, get out the shop” sort of thing.  You get more time to get it right.


So was your introduction to Bez via the work that you had?

Initially it was through Paul, I think he got his hand done or booked in to get it done. And then I called in and got this rose on my hand done, that was the first one. And then he started talking about how he wanted new projects, and I was like “I’ve got a leg free”, so we started planning out different things and took it from there.


Do you find getting tattooed by another tattooist is quite beneficial to your career?

Definitely yes. You can learn a lot. For the first two or three sessions I think we just sat down and talked about a lot of stuff, like tattoos and looking through different designs. And he was showing me tips on drawing and things like that. And even if he was running over on a customer he’d be like “just do some painting or something to keep yourself entertained ‘til I’m finished.” So I’d just sit there and paint away! More time talking than actual tattooing, but it was all good experience!


It’s good that talking imparts that knowledge onto you...

Yeah and not many people do that either in the tattoo industry, it’s too close knit. They don’t wanna’ share secrets. It’s like, why not? We’re all interested in the same things!  But too many people just don’t want to share in case you steal their ideas. You can take their ideas and make them your own, there’s nothing wrong with giving a few hints or tips, or talking about anything really. It’s too close knit, but it’s getting better though. There are people that are a lot more open now. It’s nothing like America though! When we went to Paradise Gathering everyone was just so open about everything, it was cool. We could just talk for hours about anything! It was purely art based. It was a strange show to me at first because it’s more about the art than the tattooing, but there should definitely be something like that in this country.


What would you say makes a good show in this country? You don’t have to say Tattoo Jam! (laughs)

Just a nice friendly atmosphere I think is the main thing. I think it’s cool when you’ve got a convention that’s sort of outside of town, because then you get more people who will travel. That’s what was good about Paradise, it’s not just people calling in cos they’ve got nothing better to do. 


So who else has tattooed you then?

Erm… I got one off Thomas Kynst, Paul who I used to work with, my old boss Rob and Ryan from Indigo Tattoo… I think that’s about it.


And obviously yourself! How do you find tattooing yourself?

It’s strange because at first it doesn’t hurt as much as you think it’s going to hurt. And when it does start to hurt you think “I can’t stop, I’ve only got half a tattoo, I’ve got to keep going!” (laughs) You get a bit dizzy too because you kind of forget you’re tattooing yourself and stand up too quick!


So obviously you work in Triple Six, I believe there are other people there now too?

Yeah we’ve just got a new guy, Pixie, who’s just started. He’s got a very girly name! I’m trying to get him to change it but he won’t! He’s nothing like the one off LA Ink! (laughs)


And obviously in the studio you get quite a few guest artists, do you think that helps?

Yeah definitely, it’s awesome when we have guest artists. I mean, I just get to sit and watch them or get bits of advice off them if I’m waiting for a client. And then share advice on what sort of setup we use, things like that. obviously when you’re at a convention you don’t get to do that. Everyone’s too busy. So it’s nice when they come to the studio to have that time, and talk about things that you wouldn’t get the chance to normally. 


How do you find the industry in the UK then, too many studios and too many shows?

There’s definitely far too many studios. People are getting grants now because of the recession, grants to open up a studio, when they don’t really have a clue about where to start. The council are like, “here’s some money to open up.” Even the Job Centre has been ringing us up. Initially we thought they meant work experience, and they were like “no it’s a job placement”, basically where they pay their wage and they come and work for us. But we’ve got no need for that sort of thing! If people are that interested they’ll bring a portfolio in rather than being like “got any jobs going spare?” “Oh yeah course, as it happens…”  (laughs) You can’t make a second first impression, so you’ve got to be prepared. You can’t just call in with no portfolio and be like “ah I might come back later if I can be bothered.”


Where do you see yourself going in the next few years then?

I don’t know really, I want to get settled at Triple Six. I would never open my own studio because I can see the hassle Bez goes through! Phone calls, rent, things going wrong, that sort of thing. I could never be bothered with all that! I’d like to travel maybe in the next couple of years, even if just for a month or a nice little tour of Europe. That would be cool.


Do you enjoy going abroad to the other shows then?

Yeah I love going to shows, especially the ones abroad. Because for a start you go over there just to visit the show but generally you take a few days either side so you can visit other things. That’s what would be cool about doing guest spots and travelling Europe because you’d see all these places that you want to go, but you’re working at the same time and you’ve always got stuff to do. Tattooing gives you a lot of opportunities.


So have you got anybody that you want to thank for helping you out so far?

Obviously Rob Barrow, for giving me my first chance of tattooing and getting me into the industry. Also Paul Heatly, he taught me a lot, the basics, things like that. And also he helped to put a word in with Bez to carry on my apprenticeship with him. So obviously Bez as well. And my Mum! For putting me up rent-free when I first started off and putting up with me. People just want to go straight in and make money, but I spent at least a year unpaid, worked a pub job at night, it was tiring. And I had college so was only doing a few days at the shop, then college finished and I went full time, still unpaid. People don’t realise that, and then you’ll go home and be drawing, it’s kind of like a 24 hour job! That was the big thing too, ‘cos before when I was doing street work and flash I’d get home and just relax. But now, doing custom work, I get home and it’s straight out with the sketch-pad and draw everything up for the next day. 


Do you prefer custom stuff then?

It’s a lot harder but you get to do what you want to do, put your take on it. Even if you don’t necessarily like the idea you can put your take on it, and make it yours. People always think custom is easy!


So where are you going to see yourself in five years time?

Career wise, better! Better than what I am now, I want to constantly improve. Just learn new things. I want to work on more paintings too, I did a lot of paintings when I was in college but I think I’ve just left it behind. I want to start painting again.


Do you find yourself being pretty satisfied when you’ve done a nice piece?

Yeah pretty happy. But then I’ll think “maybe if I’d done that a bit differently…”, but you can always do that with anything. Even if it’s perfect, you look back at it a week later and even in the space of a week you’ve improved so much. You look back on it and it’s so different even a week later. That’s 

a good thing though, because you’re constantly improving, it doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad tattoo, it just means you’ve moved on.


Is there anything else you want to add? Any shit you can deal on Bez? (laughs!) He told everyone about how much you were puking over the boat on the Tattoo Boat in Sweden!

On the boat yeah! I could tell you a story! Coming back from Boston, he really needed the toilet, and he ended up going to pee. And he was sort of desperate to go! (laughs) He ran to the toilet, sat down, got up when he’d finished to wipe himself and he looked back, and he’d sort of like shat on the seat. He hadn’t quite made the toilet when he sat down so he sat in it! It was all up his back! And in the toilets there was only like really thin toilet paper, so he thought “there’s no one else in”, so he came out of the cubicle, went round to the sinks, got some hand wash towels, wet them, (laughing through talking), looked in the mirror as he went to wipe, looked right and saw the entire Boston airport. Straight through, there’s no doors or anything! It was so funny! Because it was me, Ali and Billy, and we were making jokes like “what’s he doing, has he had a massive dump or something? Has he soiled himself?” We were just joking and then he came out and said “you’re not gonna believe what’s just happened!” And it was true! We were laughing about it so hard we almost missed our flight. That’s why I’ll never go to a public toilet again! (laughs)


Triple Six Studios Sunderland 
0191 5679126


Skin Deep 189 24 August 2010 189