Ryan Davies - Indigo Tattoo

Published: 15 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 190, September, 2010

It’s always great to focus on homegrown talent and this month we headed out to Northwich to hunt down Ryan Davies for the conversation of lifetime. Once you start the big man off, there’s no stopping him...

When did you first get into tattooing?

"I was 17 when I first started, at a studio called ‘Devil Bitch’ in Rotherham. Simon, the guy who taught me, now works in Versus Steel. I was there for a few years and learnt a lot before I left. I’ve been at Indigo for three years now."

Was it an apprenticeship then?

"In a fashion it was. They’re alright guys and I just fitted in. An apprenticeship is definitely the way you should get into tattooing. There are too any people just grabbing a machine these days. At least I had some guidance when I first started out. There was a guy from Barnsley called Chris Marsden who helped me a lot and I did alright in the end."

So you got started by going to studios and badgering the shit out of them?

"Pretty much. The first time I was getting tattooed, I asked whether they would teach me but they just said ‘no’. I was at college doing art at the time, so during the lunch hour I’d go down to the studio, get the guy a coffee and do some general running around. In the end I won him over and he said ‘yes’."

Did you finish college?

"Yeah, I got a diploma in art and design. I enjoyed it; it was cool and has certainly helped me out in this job."

How did you find working as a tattoo artist in the early days? Was it easy to start with?

"No. It is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s just so different. There are so many ways to do artwork but tattooing is easily the hardest, simply because there’s no magic involved. You’ve got one shot and one shot only. Add to that the pressure of having to deliver in front of someone and it gets really tough. Half the battle is acting like you know what you’re doing. You’ve always got someone watching you and it’s got to be perfect. I nearly quit a couple of times, well I came close anyway."

What were the reasons?

"I just didn’t think I could do it. I was full of self-doubt, thought it was far too hard and also made a couple of really bad mistakes. I thought, ‘I can’t do this’. If it weren’t for a couple of really good mates, who told me that I was bound to make mistakes and that’s what makes you better, I probably would have packed it in."

Once you got your skills up, you came over to Indigo then?

"Well, I left Simon’s place and was bumming around for a while, not knowing what to do. I knew I wanted to tattoo, but couldn’t find premises to do it. Then I saw an ad in Skin Deep and called and we hit it off. It was a bit scary at 21, never having lived away from home, but I’m glad I did it and it has definitely helped my career.

I moved from Rotherham to take the job. At first I’d just come and do a few days, but then I got more and more work and eventually did full time. Now I’ve got and family here and everything."

Speaking of your family, when your little boy is older, do you think tattooing would be a good industry for him to be in?

"Providing he wants to – I’d never force him into it. Of course I’d love him to but the industry has such a mixed bag of personalities and it’s not for everyone. Some people just aren’t cut out for it. But if he is, then by all means. Of course there are pitfalls but generally it’s a good industry to be in."

What would you class your style as? Colour work?

"I like colour. Probably something to do with my graffiti background...it’s a lot more natural and makes a lot more sense to me. Obviously, working here has brought my black and grey work on a lot, but I would say my passion is colour. I do a lot of Japanese, which is cool, but quite limited at the minute, because people aren’t that prepared to push the boat out and try things a little bit more exotic...they’ll only try a dragon or a geisha. There’s only so many times you can do them without getting a little bored of it!

I’m getting into bio-mechanical, I really enjoy that. I also enjoy the fact you can do absolutely anything with tattoos, coming up with designs straight off the top of your head. That appeals to me, the freedom of it. You can do whatever you want. It’s not just the designing of the tattoos though, it’s the placement, body structure and everything being taken into account."

Who are your influences at the moment?

"There’s a lot of good stuff out there and so many good artists coming through. You look around and it’s like, ‘wow’! I’m pretty bad at following other artists though, I do bury my head in the sand a bit. I should probably look more into up and coming artists and trends.

That said, I like a lot of ‘Agerson’, ‘Roman’, more towards the organic ‘R n Cain’ style. Their style is more appealing to me more than the space age mechanical, though I do appreciate that as an art form as well. Marty Cowl is another good lad, he’s really good for his age and does some lovely pieces."

Do you think it’s easier to get information from other artists these days? It used to be a closed shop.

"Openness is exactly what the industry needs. Today, there are so many artists out there who are prepared to help each other. A few years ago they wouldn’t tell you what needle or ink they used for instance.

That’s another thing about Martin I mean, the guy had only known me five minutes and was showing me his techniques and saying ‘Why don’t you try this?’, or ‘I like doing this, I like doing that’, which was great for me.

Years ago, everyone was out for themselves and they didn’t want anyone in on their territory. But now, there’s so much competition that people have got to be as good as they can be."

If someone came in here and said, ‘I want a tattoo’, what would you like to create?

"Something mad; organic stuff, something that’s unusual. People often come in and say ‘I want something different’ but then they follow that with ‘I want a flaming angel’ and you end up doing a design that you’ve done before. I want someone to come in and say ‘I want something different’ and truly mean it. It is almost getting to the stage where you can’t do something completely different though: tattooing has been around so long and so much has been done. Still, I do like the bio-mechanical stuff that is coming through again."

Do you enjoy the tattoo shows and conventions?

"I’ve been to a lot and, to be honest, they’re grating on me a bit now. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve done so many in such a short space of time, or if having a young family makes it more difficult to be away from home. I think I’m going to wind down next year, concentrate on other things like the studio and my family. Some tinkering as well, maybe."

Tinkering? Would you get into the technical side of things a bit more then?

"I’d like to. I’ve always been one for getting my hands dirty. I was into bricklaying when I was at school and I’ve always liked building and tinkering with things, so I’d like to try to get into the machine side of things. Just for me really, not for the business just yet - maybe it’ll turn into that eventually. And if it takes off, so much the better."

It’s nice to be able to do something creative, other than just tattooing.

"I wouldn’t say that I don’t enjoy tattoing anymore, because I do. It’s just that as you get older, you start to look for those kicks in other things as well. Every tattooist needs a machine and it’s good knowledge to have."

Where do you see yourself in about five years time?

"Probably still tattooing as much as I can. I’d like to split things up a little bit though, to see if the machine thing takes off."

Do you see yourself in your own studio?

"I’ll be honest, I’d really like to. Paul’s a top guy, he knows the score...I’ve been here for three years and I’ve got no plans just yet. Having my own studio has always been an ambition ever since I started tattooing. I’d like to see myself doing my own thing. But who knows really how things will pan out."

Who would you like to thank for helping you over the years?

"There’s an endless list! Right back at the beginning when I started, you’ve got Simon Caves, Ashley Gibson and Chris Marsden, they’re the guys that really helped me get things off the ground and gave me a shove in the right direction. Then, everyone at Indigo, Paul and Lisa, they’ve helped a lot. The ‘Fleckies’ lads are top people to be around too. I do a guest spot now and again. ‘Fleckies’ is an awesome place to work.

Carl, ‘Cain’, and Jeff are the funniest people to work with. Often, I’m laughing that much, I just can’t tattoo. It’s nice to expand and work at different places occasionally. It can help you keep a lot of skills that are easy to lose. To be a good tattooist, you’ve got to do everything all the time and not get stuck in a rut. Basically, it’s good to get a kick up the arse sometimes!"

Ryan Davies Royal Owl currently working at:

Indigo Tattoo

163 Witton Street




07884 132119


Skin Deep 190 21 September 2010 190