Mark Bailey

Published: 07 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 189, August, 2010

Mark Bailey can almost be classed as “one of the old school” tattooists, having spent close to twenty years tattooing. Ask anyone one who has even a passing interest in tattoos & body art, where Golden Dragon Tattoo studio is, and I can guarantee that all will know where the studio is situated.


Mark is by now, a Chester institution and his work and reputation spreads far wider than Cheshire and the surrounding area. In the newly re-vamped studio there are numerous awards proudly displayed amongst the skater inspired decor that bare testament to his tattooing talents.

 

Mark is no stranger to having his tattoos printed in magazines from all over the world and has been a regular in Skin Deep on many occasions. Having just expanded into the premises next door and increased his tattooing team by two, we thought it was time to catch up with the “cakemeister general” for a bit of a chat.

 

So was this the first shop you had in Chester?

 Yeah, I started in this shop with Stuart, Stuart Burkes. What happened was, I came back from travelling and where are we… beginning of ’92. And I ended up in Chester because my mum had moved to Chester, and I just needed somewhere to sleep really. And we’d been hanging around tattoo shops in Bangkok and basically just titting around tattoo shops. I got back here and went for a drink with a mate, and he goes, “there’s someone about to open a shop here in Chester, you wanna go down and see who it is?” And the first week it opened I walked in and asked for a job, and brushed the floor that night.

 

Fantastic, so perfect timing then?

Yeah, and then I got two bar jobs and held them down ‘cos I got paid nothing here. These guys have it easy nowadays! I say to these guys, “it’s taken me 20 years to work out what’s the best yellow in the world!

 

It’s good though, if the rest of the team are that keen. 

Well yeah, I put in what they put in. Time, effort, all of it, I’ll match them. And they open and close, I don’t. The pair of them are here to open and close every day. So yeah, ended up here with Stuart, had a very lose apprenticeship.

 

So were you tattooing before that then?

No, no that was it. And then I got half of it five years in, then I got all of it, where are we now… must be about eight years. He died last year, which is a shame. 

 

A lot of tattooists can have a bit of a transient lifestyle, sounds like you did all your travelling beforehand and settled down when you came home?

Yeah absolutely, I had about two, three years where I was just floating around Indonesia, Thailand and all that. Just to get stoned! It got to a point where I can remember just starting here and my two friends that I went travelling with then went away for a twelve month trip, and I can remember them saying we’re “doing things like this, or are you gonna carry on?” 

 

Any regrets?

Erm… I used to miss the beach, I used to miss that kind of lifestyle. Although everyone thinks this is, what do they call it… a “lifestyle occupation”, and they think… alright compared to digging holes for twelve hours a day, maybe it is easy, maybe it is. But trust me, you know as well as I do in this game! I put my nose out early. I’ve always tried to be on the latest thing. Every year, I look and decide on something I’m ‘gonna push on. I like all rounder’s, I do, and I know it’s becoming less and less like that, with more folk specialising. It doesn’t mean I don’t like specialists; I’ve looked at specialists to improve each of them and work towards it. I did get a lot of stick, that I was doing Tony’s (Ciavarro) stuff. And they’ve gotta remember, I was trying to do New School stuff, well, before some of these tattooists were even born, when it was New School stuff. And I’ve noticed there’s a few people like, Leah (Moule), Matt Lapping kind of getting attention for getting that saturated look. It’s not easy. And they don’t get the credit that maybe Bez gets, you know?

 

People think that it looks easy...

Yeah, and you try and saturate a piece of skin with ink and get that gloss. And we’re all chasing Tony, no one saturates better than Tony. But that density, that every single millimetre of skin is drenched in ink. It’s not easily done, and I don’t think they get credit as to how hard it is to pull that look off well. You get a few of them copying but its got a flash look to it. There’s nothing more copying than realism. I’m doing realism now. I had a guy hit me on the website that said my bio-mech looked like a piece of Dan Marshall’s and that I’d obviously been inspired by him and I should have credited the photo, that I’d used reference. I go on his website, and there’s a Yoda portrait. So what you ‘gonna do, credit George Lucas? He copied a photo! 

 

You have not long increased the staffing levels here to three artists, can you tell us why that was after spending many years working by yourself?

Well yeah, and I wanted somebody else to do some new stuff with me. We work on stuff together now, and that’s been the best part about having more people here. But it’s got to be the right people. They all need to bring something to the mix. I had someone say to me at Tattoo Jam last year, I was having a beer and I won’t say who it was, but they came and sat with us and goes, and we were in the middle of this, “I hear you’re opening a tattoo hypermarket”. And this idiot, who doesn’t really know me, doesn’t know what I’m about and we all got up and kind of walked away. And I came away thinking; “is that what people think I’m doing?” ‘Cos our first thing here, we put all our savings into this. Emma and myself, we have just had a young boy and do we really need this hassle? And the first thing we said all along, Emma said to me “If you don’t maintain quality, you’re going the same with it.” But that’s the tricky bit. Multi artist studios not only maintain but improve standards. And these two guys (Rose Price and Jarret Livingston) add to the mix. There’s not a running in period; that was the difference between having an apprentice here and guys that were already tattooing. I wash my hands of apprentices. I think Louis wrote it up best in saying “as long as I’ve got a hole in my arse I’ll never have another one!” It’s just disappointing. I put a lot of time in with these guys, and you put a year in with somebody then they take the till from you or they you know, whatever. And we all have our own agendas, but they’re out in the open. We all know what we want to achieve, how hard we want to work, how much we want to work, what type of work we want to do. But it’s not kept to ourselves, we all help each other and get what we want out of the shop. And we’ve pulled it off, but it’s not easy. 

 

I can imagine, and you’ve got to have the right mix of people I suppose. 

Yeah, and I spend more time running a shop than I’ve ever done. And tattooing less than I’ve ever done, which is good.

 

Really?

Oh yeah, I halved my workload and I think my quality has doubled. That and having some space, these doors are shut and I get left alone. Jarret’s like my wingman, and the rest of the shop carries on. I get told what I need to get told. But we regroup morning and night, before we start in the morning and when we finish. Just with peace, your work just…I’ve seen it in other artists. And maturity, I think it’s an age thing too. I think when you get to a certain age your priorities change. But I’ve seen other artists and thought; “Yeah, you’re in a good place you are. I can tell from your work, there’s a difference to it.” It’s not forced.

 

A lot of people seem to be taking a more relaxed route...

Well Nikole (Lowe) was next to us at Manchester, and I’d never met before. I tell you what, she’s ten times the tattooist I thought she was, and attitude? One of the nicest attitudes I’ve met in tattooing in a long time. Don’t care how anyone else gets on with her, don’t really give a toss, I don’t care about the telly, blah, blah, blah. She was, and I saw her with her customers as well, a quality thing.

 

The trouble is, if you get involved in that telly thing it’s great publicity for you, but if you become that popular and everyone wants to talk to you; sometimes people can think you’re being a bit stand offish when you haven’t got time to talk to all.

True. You speak to five people and two of them will tell you you’re arsey. When in fact you were just too busy. You try tattooing at a convention when there’s 300 pissed idiots going “wheeeey”, I feel for the guys from the TV programmes. 

 

You work loads of shows don’t you; you seem to be a regular on the scene?

I’ve been at it for a long time. I only do four shows, but I pick them.  I tell you what, some of the bigger shows are just gonna follow London as far as I’m concerned. First two London’s in the old venue, were fantastic. It was like, “oh we’ve got a Dunstable again!” And before you know it, I’m walking down rows and rows of tatty artists, just driving me fucking insane. And it is just someone sat with a floor plan going “oh, I don’t know anything about tattooing by the way guys, but if we have a 8 ft square they’ll give us £500…” As a businessman, and I do run a business, so I do understand that and how you could get drawn to it, I could have a load of shops and fill them with idiots. That’s why we need someone like you, someone who knows how tattooists think and how they feel. 

 

It must be hard to find that balance of artists to work conventions...

This is what I thought about Tattoo Freeze, and I mean the way it’s pitched to us it’s quite nice to be invited but I’m not stupid either, you know what I mean? I quite liked seeing Kev (Shercliffe), Louis (Molloy), Steve (Potton), you know. Guys that I think get a little bit lost. Neither of these guys in the studio could really tell you who Kev is, but Jarret could tell you who’s who in every city in America (laughs). And I thought it was quite nice at ‘Freeze, but I took the piss out of him and said it was like the geriatrics line. And Louis was in the lift, and I have a little match with Louis every now and again. He doesn’t like me but he doesn’t like anyone does he! We ran for the lift and it was just closing and somebody opened it, and it  was Louis, stood in the lift in the morning of the first day. He did that thing where he pretends he doesn’t know who you are and he’d never use your name. And he goes “I didn’t know you were working this show”, and we go “you’re not really interested in anyone else though are you Louis?” and he goes “not really!” and got out the lift and walked off (laughs). 

 

He’s like a big cartoon. And people go to me, “You don’t know that fool Louis off that TV show do you?” and I say, “He’s not a fool”; I just know that I love brutal honesty and that is Louis. The thing I say to everyone here, is that his talent matches his ego. They’re not out of sync. He wears Gucci blazers and does whatever nonsense he does. But I think there should be more guys like Louis in tattooing, Vive la difference!

 

What do you think of other UK conventions?

We aren’t fans of southern conventions. We don’t even visit many of them anymore. I just like a smile when I get to shows! We’re really open. I used to go to a show and say “morning” to every single person and half of them don’t even lift their heads. You know I’ve said it, how hard is it to say hello? You know, we’re in the same industry for God’s sake, even just on a polite level. Just nod! But I think the northern scene, Is a bit more open.

 

Do you have any problems with the other artists in Chester?

I have nothing to do with them, never have, never will. Watched it happen in too many cities, artists move from one shop to the next. I watch all the staff move around between the shops. They drift in here, you know when you get checked up on. But we’re gobby enough about our stuff, we’re all online, which shows we’ve got nothing to hide. I think we’ve worked really hard to stay on top.

 

Do you get the chance to talk and swap other ideas with your fellow artists?

I tell you who put me onto my latest machines; it was Rob Doubtfire. Rob and I have always kind of… I think we’re of similar backgrounds, done similar kind of things, both like a drop of colour in our tattooing and we were talking at Tattoo Jam in the car park and he’s like “have you tried one of these machines?” and I go, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, never even heard of them.” And he goes “Go home tomorrow and order one because I know your work. You’re gonna love them.” And then I saw him at Manchester this year and he walked past and I was using it and he was like “ooh, told you so!” I do network but there are key people whose opinions I really value. Paul’s the other one as well. I think Paul Naylor’s (Indigo Tattoo) has been very good for the tattoo scene. The openness and the way about him is great, I get on with Paul really well. We could do with more Paul’s in the tattoo world; he’s very open. I think there has been an openness of information in the last 5, 6, 7, 8 years that just never used to exist. I tattooed before the Internet, and obviously things were going to be insular. They were going to be looking in all the time. We waited for our copy of, no disrespect; Tattoo Magazine to drop through the letterbox once a month, and it was the only tattoo magazine. And that was the only connection we had. Then the Internet came, and wow! You’ve got no excuse. 

 

I think some key artists as well, Joshua Carlton, Mike DeVries, who at the end of the day if quality is shared, it makes the tattoo world as a whole, better. And they must have that attitude. Does Joshua Carlton need to sell books? No, I don’t think so, really. Mike DeVries Stencil Stuff, thank god! Thank fucking god for that stuff! We were having issues, and I was looking at these people’s work and thinking; “how the fucking hell do you keep that transfer on?” I’ve been tattooing a long time; I hadn’t worked it out. I had a back up of the pieces I wanted to do, and I just didn’t feel like I had all the pieces in place. And one of the key pieces was stencil stuff. All of sudden you’ve got this freedom like when you’re painting, that allows you to go anywhere. And instead of sticking to that line shading formula, you can dance around. I always try and work with warm and cold colours. I’m not too big on the colour wheel thing; I just look at the temperature in colours. If you’re building some blues up somewhere, you can go and play with some oranges. As long as you keep your area clean… it’s exciting, I love it. Stencil stuff, thank god! 

 

So what sort of style are you into at the moment then? I noticed you’ve sort of moved onto colour realism. 

Have you noticed? We go to a show, and I make a point that I don’t take any photos of anything else. And I spent last winter working really hard on realism, and just wanted to drop it because I was being pigeonholed I think. Everyone was asking me to do monkeys and blah, blah, blah, and I still like doing the monkey, you know. And I guess I also grew up a bit as well, certain key artists were just impressing the hell out of me. I’ve watched it go on and wanted to get into realism. I’ve always understood realism; it was application I had a few issues with. I had to go back to day one with my tattooing. Needles changed, machines changed, inks changed. The time spent making a transfer for a portrait, I could spend 10, 12 hours. And it’s understanding form as opposed to line and shade. That’s the difference really. And you have to map them. You’ve seen them, it’s not like a normal stencil; it’s more like mapping out contours. It takes a lot of to educate yourself after 20 years of tattooing, to go in a different direction. And it’s unnerving, I make a perfectly good living, I have hopefully a little bit of respect for what I do, why expose yourself to getting it wrong? I’m really pleased, it’s worked out. 

 

I like the moody stuff, but I like the more fun stuff too. I’m not really into doing the scary stuff with too much gore. But then I don’t watch horror films, at all. But I like doing the Batman’s and all that kind of thing. And everyone knows what it is. It’s getting that drama into the piece. Hopefully my realism still has a little look of my tattoos. I’ve recently done an Iron Man 2 tattoo at Liverpool, but I’ve redrawn it with a full bio-mech background. It’s very easy for someone to say “oh can I have a Joker done”. Well, for me, Bez did the Joker. It’s done, he nailed it. I’ve watched a lot of people go to the same reference, not copying his tattoo, but his reference. That picture is available online, you know, where he took it from. What we’re trying to do is stop movies, so we get a different pose, or a different look. Just try and do something slightly different with it. If it’s the background or the colouring, instead of just saying “that’s the best one we’ve ever seen, we’ll do that one.” No, let’s try and work on it. Me and Jarrett work on all our stuff together, and we really get off on that. Where can we find an odd look, and hopefully our Iron Man one… yeah it’s Iron Man, but hopefully there’s something a little bit funny and little bit clever. There’s a steam train of realism isn’t there! For me, colour work is back in. 

 

Yeah, for years black and grey was the thing.

Yeah I feel like it’s been a long time. We had New School years, lots of us carried on doing it. But then the world became obsessed with black and grey work. And I just think colour work was getting ignored. And some people were worried about how long it would last, colours fading and all the rest of it. We were all doing it thinking “this is harder than that black and grey shit, I can put this same design on in black and grey in a fraction of the time of what it takes to do properly in colour.” But now thanks to some ace tattooists, colour work is right out there and in people’s faces.

 

 

GOLDEN DRAGON TATTOO STUDIO

135 Brook Street

Chester CH1 3DU

United Kingdom

01244 310 481

www.tattoocakehappy.co.uk

 

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