James 'Woody' Woodford

Published: 04 July, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 181, January, 2010

In the last few years, Brighton has seen many tattoo studios spring up like proverbial mushrooms. Maybe it is something to do with the laid back atmosphere that the town has or the large artist community that nestles amongst its cobbled ‘laines’. Whatever it is, Brighton plays host to many studios and one of those is Into You Tattoo.


Into you is owned by Alex Binnie, he of the famous London tattoo studio of the same name. The Brighton Studio has more than established itself as one of the ‘players’ on the South coast tattoo scene.


The studio has a plethora of great artists working from the small but comfortably formed studio and one of these artists is James ‘Woody’ Woodford. James has a penchant for the New school style of tattooing but manages to add a little something ‘special’ to his work that makes it stand out and catch your eye with a rarely seen radiance that seems to be missing from many tattoos these days.


So to find out a little more about this tattooist we sent roving reported Ihsan ‘Darn Sarf’ to have a chat with Woody...


What was it that took you on your first steps to becoming a tattooist, and what experiences got you interested in the industry?

My earliest memory of a tattoo is on one of my mums’ friends.  He had a Popeye tattoo on his forearm. I must have been about 4? It was indeed captivating. Getting tattooed inspired me to start tattooing as the process fascinated me. I was soon getting tattooed on a regular basis when I started tattooing my friends and myself. I was nineteen. At the time it was fun, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to do that again, he he. It was a small room.


My interest in tattooing comes from just the basic foundation of how the process works... I mean, you drag a needle or collection of needles through the skin and it leaves a mark FOREVER!  That’s mental! Seeing that never gets boring... I love it.


Did tattooing come easily to you from the off or was it a bit of hit and miss?

Not easily at the start no, but it was a lot of trial and error being on my own and not having any mentors to guide me. Once I had taken my machines apart a few times and got them working right, and got needle making down to a fine art, it was pretty straight forward and away I went.


Did you get an apprenticeship or were you self-taught?

I was/am Self taught...


Do you think an apprenticeship is the best way to learn the business?

It’s hard to say as I have not really learned the “business” just yet.


What’s the atmosphere and ambience like in the studio?

Into you, Brighton is awesome, it’s the first place I’ve ever worked where there really is no agenda and everyone gets on really well. We really are allowed to be ourselves instead of people trying to mould you into their idea of what makes a good tattooist or how they think you should operate your business. I love the freedom and having the ‘space’ for self-expression.


Have you worked any conventions and how did people at the shows perceive your work? 

Yep... I do try to work them fairly regularly, although I am swaying to British ones less and less these days. It’s hard to say about the perception, as I’m usually too busy to notice. I always get asked a lot about starting work, and people seem interested in what I’m doing. At least I hope they are...


Do you pick up any additional tips and tricks from the artists working at these conventions? 

Erm, yeah but I’m not sure they are clean enough for this interview, he he...


During your trips abroad, have you noticed any particular areas that are more welcoming to tattoos and tattooists than others? 

Yeah, I have noticed this in Sweden. They really look after you, tea and sandwiches every hour... Brilliant!


Do you think that formal art training is beneficial to a tattooist?

I think it helps.  Lets face it. People that can really draw, and know how to use their tools generally stand out a mile in this industry. 


Who are your main influences, including both tattooists and the more traditional artists?

I love Mike Mignola, James Jean, Mucha, Garbage Pail Kids and everyone I call friend.


Do you have a favourite style of tattooing? Can you describe your own style?

I wish I could decide what I love doing.  I like realism, western traditional; I guess. They are the things I get asked for the most. I think it’s down to people that like what I do to give it its title.


What is it about your chosen area of expertise that you enjoy so much? Why were you drawn to it?

I’m drawn to tattooing because I love it. Anything like specialist fields don’t even come into eyeshot. 


How do you go about designing a tattoo? What processes do you go through to get from the initial idea to the finalised design?

Depends on the tattoo really. Generally I put a lot of time in whether it is looking in books or the Internet for reference; or putting actual time in drawing.  It does take time. I think people overlook that when they get work done; for every hour of tattooing there will be a heavy amount of work at home.  


Do your clients tend to have set ideas of how the tattoo should look, or do they give you a concept to work from and let you control the outcome?

I’m pretty lucky, most of my clients already know my work when they come in, so are pretty happy to let me roll with it.  


What would be the ultimate tattoo for you to create? What subject matter/Placement/techniques would you use?

Anything starwars, or tank related!  Really! He he.  I love old skateboard graphics too.  


Where do you draw the line on what you will and won’t tattoo?

I won’t do flags, unless they have Eddie from Iron Maiden attached.


I’m not a fan of racists or homophobes either, not much liking football badges although I have done them. To be honest, I’m pretty bored of seeing hand and neck tattoos as peoples’ first tattoos.


How do you relax and spend time away from tattooing?

Relax?  I never relax; I’m like a coiled viper!


Who has tattooed you?

Myself, Piotrek, Gerry Carnelly, Xam, Nigel Palmer, Adam Sage, Alex Binnie, Duncan X, Jim Mcairt, Ade, Stacey, Li-on-el, Pier Higginsman, Stuart Francis, Caleb, Scrow, Robert Hernandez, Rudi Fritch, Norm, Leah (my wife) and many drunken friends.


Are there any other artists that you’re planning to get work from?

Jason Mosseri, Difa, and many more to fill the little gaps.


Do you work in any other mediums, e.g. sculpture OR painting? Do these pursuits influence your tattooing work at all?

I paint fairly regularly, mainly ink and watercolour...Bit of gold leaf here and there.


What’s your favourite part of being an artist?

Finishing things that I made, that I like.  It feels pretty special.


Do you have any ambitions in either the tattooing industry or otherwise?

Sailing around the world and going to the moon...not at the same time of course...

I would quite fancy time travel too.


Have you seen any changes in the tattoo industry that worry or concern you? 

Yep, plenty. I watched money and idiots control the punk scene and the skateboard scene that I loved. Strip its soul and make people hungry for fame and cash. The only thing that stops me from going underground completely is the fact that the money and the fame dried up eventually. Luckily there are good people out there that are keeping it real...


Is there anybody you would like to thank for helping you over the years?

My mum, Leah (my wife), Gerry Carnelly, all my friends and much loved ones that put up with me. The crew at work for constantly putting up with the bad jokes and supporting me on all levels. Most importantly my clients that carry on keeping me inspired..


Is there any other information that you would like to add?

More of a question really... erm....  why are chickpeas so fucking good?


Interview and Photography: Ihsan Kemal


Skin Deep 181 1 January 2010 181