Terry Fuller - Full On Ink

Published: 01 July, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 162, July, 2008

I first met Terry some four years ago when I paid a visit to Alan Hale’s studio, Alzone in Gloucester. He was just hanging out and taking it easy and I thought he was one of Al’s customers. Little did I know at the time that Terry was slowly building up his tattoo confidence and gleaning some valuable advice from Al.

Not long after my visit to Alzone, Terry started to send me some photos of his tattoos into Skin Deep. Even from his early days, I could see that Terry had a certain ‘something’ with his tattooing. His first tattoos were clean, crisp and well positioned and he has progressed ever since and has honed his style into the multi-award winning artist you see before you. Firstly, a few words from the man himself...

“I would like to start this interview with something I feel is very important and that is to thank a large number of people who have been there for me along the way and stood by me to make this dream of mine possible. So a big thank you to my girlfriend Tiggs who has stuck with me and supported me through a lot, my daughter Morgan-Leigh who is a major reason why I work so hard as I do for her future. My mum and Dad and sister Lisa, thanks for everything. My best friend Wayne, without whom I would probably never have started tattooing if it wasn’t for his skin (ha, ha!) and his hard work setting up the shop with me. Nick for his dedication to Full on Ink and all his hard work and helping me make the business what it is today – thanks bro. Gazza, Alan Hale, Mike Swindon, Mike & Craig from Bristol, Milosch, Jason Butcher and Myth for their friendship and inspirational advice.

To finish off basically everyone who is a friend or family member or who have helped me in anyway possible as well as my customers old and new. Without you guys this wouldn’t even be possible so your skin is more appreciated than you think. I have some of the best customers a tattooist could wish for and many of these are also now very good friends they know who they are so thank you everyone.”

Terry

What inspired you to start tattooing?
Quite a few things really. I suppose since I was about ten years old there were always tattoo magazines around the house and my dad’s quite heavily tattooed and my granddad was as well. I’ve got tattoo magazines dating back to about 1990 probably, so even at a young age I was flicking through them and it was always in my head.

And it was always in the family?
Yeah, my granddad man, he was like seventy-odd before he died, and he’d be out with his top off in the summer, covered in tattoos and with his nipples pierced! He was a Navy boy and was really covered, and I always used to look at them and think ‘Wow man, they’re really cool’. My dad said that I asked for a tattoo when I was around ten, then I had my first one done when I was fifteen and then had one every year until I was about nineteen. I probably had a couple of years off where I didn’t get tattooed and my best friend Wayne was getting tattooed quite a bit, and I realised, ‘Fucking hell man, I really like it’, so I started getting tattooed again and just went from there.
I tried loads to get an apprenticeship and it was impossible, so I started tattooing the wrong way of doing it, as a hobby. I suppose the difference in the way I did it to what a lot of people do is that I went out and spent something like five grand on shit, bought an autoclave, and studied hygiene way before I touched a tattoo machine. Then I started tattooing pigskins and grapefruits and stuff, and then Wayne came around my house and said, “Do you want to tattoo me?” I was like, “Alright!” I started tattooing Wayne and I just went on from there, and within a couple of weeks I had people coming up to me who’d had stuff done in shops and they were telling me that what I’d done on Wayne was really cool. I tattooed my dad and a couple of other friends.

Is your dad happy with it all?
Yeah my dad loves it man, he’s really cool with it all and even now he wants to get loads of stuff done. But yeah, I had people coming up to me who’d had stuff done in professional shops saying, “Can you sort this out for me?” My dad, my granddad, magazines and my mate were the main reasons for me starting tattooing.

Did you find it easy to start out with?
No I didn’t, and I wracked my brain for a while! A lot of things stuck in my head from getting tattooed by other people, just picking up on the way their machines were running or what they were using – common sense I suppose. I’d ask a lot of questions whilst getting tattooed. One of my mate’s dads was a tattooist from Tinmouth and he started tattooing with his dad training him, and I was round his house quite a bit so I knew bits from him as well. Even then I was trying to get his dad to train me up as well!

You know Al from Alzone in Glou cester don’t you? When did you meet him?
I was already tattooing when I met Al; I met him and started chatting to him at a show and got on really well with him. Then I went and got tattooed by Al and I loved what he was doing, and we became really good friends. We pass stuff to and from each other, and he was really impressed with what I was doing at the time as I’d only been tattooing about three months. I think he must have seen that I was doing something right so he gave me the time of day, and I had Mike and Dave in Bristol who would do the same, just pass information on, and they were doing the same and asking me things. Mike helped me with making needles, showed me how to solder, and it was really good.

Do you think that the feeding of information between tattooists has gotten better?
Definitely. I know from years ago when I looked into trying to get an apprenticeship, people just didn’t want to know. It’s a hard industry to get in to, but nowadays I’m lucky because I have a lot of friends in the industry, and when I get people who have been in the business for over twenty years phoning me up and asking advice, that’s just such a privilege. When they consider that my work is good enough to even ask my opinion or advice on something…that means a lot for sure.

Do you get to know a lot of these people from working tattoo conventions?
I’ve met a lot of people from working shows and that, but also through other artists and obviously the Skin Deep forum, you meet a lot of people on there, and MySpace.

It’s a hell of a tool that isn’t it, MySpace?
Without a shadow of a doubt. I think since I set up my MySpace profile I’ve definitely had a lot more work with people emailing, messaging me and seeing my work, and it’s probably easier for me to advertise on there than it is on my website. My dad does all my website work and you look at MySpace wondering whether it’s worth all the hassle, but you can have people commenting on your pictures, add you if they want to, and it’s been good – I’ve had a lot of work from it.

So you progressed from working at home to starting up here?
I looked at and really wanted to get an apprenticeship, and that was my dream really, but because of my situation with my kid and a mortgage in Bristol… I mean, I got offered a job in Cyprus, a place in Portsmouth, a place in Manchester, so I did get offered stuff but I couldn’t take them because of family commitments. So I finally stuck with what I was doing and I was a telecoms engineer for several years on fucking good money. I loved what I was doing tattoo-wise and I decided to just go for it. I thought, “Fuck it; I’m not going to get an apprenticeship, I can’t get a job, nobody wants to take me on…go for it!” Other artists were telling me to go for it too, like Al, Mike from Skin Graffiti, and Mike from Bristol, and they were saying I should get my own place and just do it. That was an influence, so I started saving and working my arse off non-stop for a year to get money in to set up the shop, needing something like twenty grand to put into it. I’d been tattooing a year then and looked around everywhere for a place that had average tattooists or no tattooists, an area that maybe I could go into and not have twenty studios or whatever. I didn’t want to start in Bristol because I didn’t want to step on friends’ toes, so I looked around a bit, came up here and really loved the place. I saw this shop and went, “Bang, this place’s perfect”.

How long have you been here?
Just over three years now, it was three years at the end of February. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life for sure. It’s been hard and there have been lots of ups and downs with splitting up with my girlfriend in Bristol and leaving my kid behind - I still travel down there every weekend to see my kid. It’s worth it though; I could have stuck with being a telecoms engineer and stayed on better money and perhaps had a better future, but it was just a job and was never something that made me get up in the morning and go, “Wow, I’m going to work today!” Now when I get up, I can’t wait to get into the shop and start tattooing, every single day, and even when I’m not doing it I’m still thinking about it.

It’s all consuming isn’t it? Did you do a lot of drawing in school?
Yeah, in school I did. I suppose the area I grew up in was pretty shit and a bad area. I was fighting all the time and pinching cars and motorbikes and just generally being a little shit really, but in school I’d always loved art and painting was my main thing really. I used to knock off other lessons to go to more art lessons! They’d be asking me “Are you supposed to be over here?” and I’d be like, “Yeah, I don’t have to do RE; I don’t believe in God so I’m going to draw!” It was a crazy school, but it was good in that sense. My dad’s a painter too and he paints a lot with oils, and when I was younger he was doing a lot of the Warhammer figures, so I used to sit there and paint those a lot with him. For years I didn’t draw anything, but when I started tattooing I began drawing again and I put a lot of effort into it now. I enjoy drawing Jap stuff and little bits and bobs like that, but I just don’t get enough time to draw the things that need drawing.

So who’s here, apart from yourself and Nick?
Well, we did have a Saturday girl but that didn’t work out, and then we had another one who split up with her boyfriend, so it’s just Nick and me at the moment. I think in the future the plan is probably to get a female on board to take on the piercing and running the front of the shop and then bring her slowly into tattooing. Obviously it would be someone with a good art background and totally dedicated, not just some waster, but someone who realises what an opportunity they’ve got.

It seems like there are so many people who want to do the job and have the lifestyle, but don’t have the commitment or can’t be arsed.
Blatantly, and it happens all the time with people on the phone or coming into the shop. Some of the shit they come out with…a kid came in the other day and said, “I’ve got my machines off eBay” but he didn’t even call them machines, he called them ‘guns’. I didn’t hear him ‘cause I was tattooing, but Nick was out the front and this kid was telling him that he’d bought these ‘guns’ off eBay and that he was going to ‘have a go’ at tattooing. He asked if we did apprenticeships, and he’d been in a bit getting pierced (he wasn’t even old enough to get tattooed!) and he’s obviously watched it on telly and bought himself some ‘guns’. It was lucky I was tattooing and not out front because I’d have gone mental. Buying shit off eBay ain’t the way forward! I bought all my stuff from a good tattoo supplier and even then (that was just over four years ago), even then they were quite funny with me, not wanting to sell me stuff. I had to spend ages explaining that it wasn’t an overnight thing and that I wasn’t one of those people who wasn’t going to put everything into it. I thought that was pretty good of them in the end because they wouldn’t sell to just anybody there and then; they questioned me on it quite a lot and now they’ve seen me at a few conventions, perhaps they know that it was the right choice to sell it to me!

Some artists say that you shouldn’t sell machines and equipment to people who aren’t tattooists, but then at the same time you’re denying access to people like yourself. If Bob Tyrrell hadn’t been sold some stuff, how would he have got started? It’s difficult…
Yeah, in a sense. From my point of view, I think yeah, everybody should do an apprenticeship and that is the right way to go about it, but not everybody gets that opportunity – I know I didn’t. Nobody wanted to know me at first, and I sent probably about 40 letters out and emails to shitloads of people. I had a few replies, but when I went to see a few people they wanted me to pay them ten grand or whatever for a six-week training course. I’m not a mug like, d’you know what I mean? I know the difference!

It’s bloody difficult for people like yourself who could take someone on as an apprentice for six months and then have them disappear off elsewhere or start up on their own.
That’s the thing isn’t it? With Nick I knew straight away that he was the kind of guy that I could take on. He used to come in and help on a Thursday night and a Saturday to start with, and before I actually made the decision to take him on properly he’d actually sit down and watch me, and knew the hygiene side of things. I’d had to do it the hard way and go to conventions to watch people and learn shit myself, and when you’ve got an apprenticeship you’ve that advantage of being able to sit there and watch and learn from someone else. Even if they don’t ever tell you a single thing, you can still pick shit up if you’ve got half a clue and see how they’re doing stuff. Obviously Nick’s done that a lot and we talk about a lot of stuff, and in time Nick will probably be able to tell me stuff. I think for those benefits an apprenticeship works massively, especially with the hygiene side of it as well. Most people who start from home don’t think about hygiene and they’re all about the money basically.

I’ve seen you working at quite a lot of conventions now – do you enjoy doing that?
Yeah definitely. The conventions for me are just pure enjoyment; I never make any money at conventions and I run at a loss at every convention because stupidly enough, I still charge shop prices! Some artists say that I should charge more but I do conventions to put my name about and promote myself, and I enjoy it. It gives me a bit of a break from the shop and I get to meet a lot of other cool people as well. I’ve had a lot of work from conventions and some of my best customers I’ve earned from working conventions.

You don’t find it intimidating then, with a lot of people watching?
No, and oddly enough the first convention I ever did was Swansea about three years ago with Al. I was tattooing one of my mates anyway, and I was working away quite relaxed, then I looked up and saw loads of people there and thought “Oh shit”. So I put my head down and got on with it, and the nerves didn’t really acknowledge it and carried on with what I was doing. I’m quite a confident person I suppose, so it’s a buzz when you’ve got a lot of people around watching you and recognising what you’re doing. I’ve been working some of the conventions more lately and my work has progressed, so when people flick through the portfolio and watch you work and then the same people keep coming back and are like “Yeah man, that’s really cool what you’re doing” and that’s a buzz for me and it pushes me to work harder and be better. Even if I’m not working a convention and I go to watch other people work, I always come back wanting it more and to be better again because I’ve seen someone else doing some really cool shit and feel like I need to push myself harder. I’m a bit of a stickler for success I suppose; I want to be the best and my missus says, “Fuckin’ hell, you want it all yesterday!” and I do man. I don’t want to be good in ten year’s time, I want to be good as I can possibly be now and give my customers the best tattoo possible.

I know you’ve worked in Green Bay in the States, are there any other shows abroad that you’ve worked?
No, I was going to work the Prague show in the Czech Republic with Milosch, but because of the language thing I didn’t bother – it was going to be a bit awkward – but Nick and I went over anyway and really enjoyed it. I judged at the show as well, that was my first ever bit of judging with Jorge Perez and Steve Crane. I really enjoyed that and it opened my eyes to other work from other areas, I was blown away by some of it. I came back from Prague thinking ‘I’ve got to try some of that’. I was really refreshed and enjoyed the whole experience. It was hard work, and I know what you guys go through when you’re sat up there (judging), but it was cool man, a good experience, and thanks to Jorge for giving me that opportunity. I wouldn’t mind doing a few more European shows.

So whom or what would you class as your main influences?
There’s just so many - a massive, endless list of people! I love Japanese art, so obviously a lot of Japanese artists…Shige, Henning (Jorgensen) does some amazing stuff, obviously Filip Leu. There’s a lot of people as well from looking through magazines and there’s so much cool shit in there. Black and grey stuff like Bob Tyrrell, Milosch, and Jason Butcher are big influences too, but there’s a lot of bright colour work too like Guy Aitchison’s. I love his work and I’ve never really got to anything of that sort of style, but I really like his stuff and that. There’s so many people and the list just goes on.

I understand that you have been doing some pastel art recently; how is that going?
Yeah, Milosch and myself did a collaborative piece together and that was good fun because it was the first piece I’d ever done. I had a good few compliments on it because we did half and half on it.

It was a hanya mask wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was half red and half cream, and a couple of people thought Milosch did the red half and I did the cream half, but it was the other way around! That was cool because it was the first ever pastel piece I’d done and they looked at it and really liked it. It takes a bit of getting used to and a bit of time, but I’m enjoying it and I’ve done one on the back wall in here just before the Brighton show. It took me about six hours doing a couple of hours a night. It’s just something a bit different, and if you fuck it up, it doesn’t matter because it’s on paper. You can play about with new stuff and that’s what I’ve been doing. Trying to do a koi with pastels and trying to get the scales in is a bit awkward.

If someone came to you and said you could do anything, what would you do?
A lot of people do give me free reign, like a guy came in and told me to do a full sleeve of whatever I wanted and I’ve had a couple of other customers that are the same. I’d say it would be Japanese; I’ve got a bit on me and I want my back done, but I love all styles and I love tattooing black and grey stuff, but I’ll be honest and say I’m not amazing at drawing black and grey pieces. I’ve got a lot of Milosch flash sets and a lot of people ask for that style – Milosch is a million times better than me at drawing, so I’d be stupid to try and draw stuff like that. I’ve done quite a lot and I’ve done some custom black and grey that’s come out really well and been cool. I’d like to maybe get into doing more portraits and I’d like to be a bit more of an all-rounder rather than being known for one thing. Some weeks I might have loads of Japanese stuff in and it’s really cool, but I do like it when, say, someone comes in and has a really scary, horrible face just to break it up a bit.

Do you still do a lot of walk-ins?
Nick tends to do them now because I’m usually booked up, but if I’ve got a gap when people come in, I’ll do Chinese symbols or tribal and we still get a lot of people for big tribal pieces. I’ve got a bit of a name around here for doing big, freehand pieces so that includes tribal, and I get asked for full sleeves of tribal. I thought it was going to die off! I’ve been trying to do different things like shaded tribal rather than solid black stuff.

There are loads of studios in this country now – are there too many?
Yeah I think so. I think it’s going to get to the point where there are so many studios that only the strong survive. Mediocre tattooists and people blasting it for the money will dwindle away because with shows like Miami/London/LA Ink, more people will start to see good work. It’s the same with the conventions and they’ll start to see the difference between good and bad work, whereas you still get people who think a tattoo is a tattoo and no matter whom they go to, they’ll still get a good tattoo. It’s not the case and we all know that, so I think in time all the bad artists will stop getting work, and people will wake up and go, “I’m going to get a good tattoo. It might cost me a little bit more and it might take a little bit longer to do and get booked in for, and I might have to travel a little bit.” In time I think, or I hope anyway, that only good artists will tattoo people.

The times I get people coming up to me saying “I only got Skin Deep after getting my first tattoo” and you think ‘Oh no, you should have bought it first!’ If you’ve got the magazine beforehand, you can see what’s out there.
Without a shadow of a doubt. A lot of people travel to me, and obviously because I’m from Bristol I’ve got a lot of friends and family there that know my work, and I get a lot of people from Cardiff, London, Birmingham travelling to me. It’s an honour for me that people come from anywhere really. A lot of people will go somewhere because of the cost being cheaper rather than getting a good tattoo. They’d rather go up the road and get it a fiver or a tenner cheaper and it’s like, ‘Well fuck off then!’ I’d rather not tattoo people with that sort of attitude.

So what do you do when you’re not tattooing?
Go to the gym pretty much every night after work, and then spend time with my girlfriend, phone my kid every night because she lives in Bristol. Weekends are based around my kid, so because I have Sunday and Monday off, I see my kid on the Sunday if I’m not working at a convention and then a Monday I have the morning to do the paperwork and books. I try and spend a bit of time with my girlfriend if we can and then it’s off to Bristol in the afternoon to pick my kid up from school and have her for a few hours and then drive back up. So my life consists of tattooing, my kid and my girlfriend. And the gym! I enjoy it man, tattooing’s my hobby and day-to-day I’m doing something that I enjoy anyway.

What would you like to be doing in the next five years or so?
I’d like to advance the shop, get a lot busier and get more people in like other artists and that. I’d really like for me to go and do a few guest spots as well. Then maybe, in time, have another day off in the week just to have a bit more of a life as well, because I do work a lot. My girlfriend owns two businesses as well so she’s busy and she puts a lot of work in, so we both get home and we’re fucked! It would be nice to maybe spend an extra day and do something for us. I love tattooing anyway and she supports me with that, sticks by me through it all and comes to the shows and is also willing to put a lot into it.

You have Milosch coming here for guest spots from time to time as well?
Milosch comes over once or twice a year and guests at the shop. He’s a good friend and we have a good laugh. I’d like to maybe get a few other people in, like Jason Butcher’s done a guest spot here and that was really cool – he tattooed my neck while he was here and that was good fun. Jason said he’d come down and do another spot, and it would be good to get a few more in too, do some swaps so they come to me and then I go to them or whatever, see how it goes.

That’s good. Have there been any changes in the industry since you’ve been in it?
I haven’t been tattooing that long, so I suppose it’s hard to tell compared to the old timers, but it’s definitely advanced. The artwork’s gone up, everyone seems to be pushing their limits higher, and everything seems to get better and progressing. There are so many people out there who put a lot into the industry, which is cool because a lot of people take a lot out of the industry but don’t put something back. I think the TV shows have definitely given it a big boost and maybe there are too many conventions at times.

I think if a tattooist is good, they will survive and if they’re not, they’ll drop by the wayside. I’ve noticed over the past couple of years there are a lot of non-tattooed people coming to the shows, which is a good thing because they can see what’s out there.
Every now and again we get somebody coming in who’s got nothing. We had a guy in from Birmingham the other day for his first one and he came in for a tribal piece with quite a glassy, mirrored look, so I drew that up for him and then after he came down again he was loving it and talking about getting his other arm done, extending this one, backpiece, neck! He was in his forties but he wanted to go for the full body. It’s good that he wanted to come back, and the studio is nice, we all have a laugh and it’s not like a typical old school studio. We just try and enjoy it, talk to people and it’s friendly, and I think that goes a long way.

A lot of other tattooists that I’ve met are quite passionate about collecting machines. Are you like that?
In the four years that I’ve been tattooing, I reckon I’ve had well over a hundred machines, easily. I’ve still got probably sixty! When I open my drawer, people are like “What the hell have you got that in there for?” but I probably still use twenty of the machines regularly. I have got a bit of a bug for collecting them!

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us.
My pleasure!

Nick

How long ago did you start here?
It was a good two years ago now - the shop’s been open three years. I’m from Evesham, and I’d been away to university and decided halfway through the course that it wasn’t right for me. I’ve got a degree in biology, which is a little different! It was too late to do anything different by then, and I’d only gone because my friends had gone. I decided there and then that I should be doing something that I always wanted to do in the first place, rather than just doing something for the money. I started to draw a lot more and I’d always been into tattooing through the bands I listened to. As soon as my parents knew I’d made my decision, they supported me quite well – as long as I’m happy, they’re happy. It was really the music I was into that brought me to it. I remember tracing out the Guns ‘n Roses logo hundreds of times on school books and things like that. I was on the Skin Deep forum before the new version of it came about, which I tend to sit back with really. I’m not an active forum member but it’s a brilliant resource for getting into the industry the right way. Everywhere you go there are people telling you the right way and the wrong way, and it’s common sense really. I was on quite a few forums, buying magazines and actually getting tattooed by artists I really liked such as Bugs and Woody – I’ve got a lot of work from Woody. I didn’t tell them I was looking to get into the industry, because they might have been hostile toward me as they hear that every day. I just watched everything I could.

So you got work and tried to absorb everything about the techniques?
Yeah, and it was just a stroke of luck really, because it was through the Skin Deep forum that Terry and I met. He noticed I was from Evesham and he was setting up a studio here, so he asked a few questions about the local area and told me to come in for a cup of tea. That’s where it all started really, and I was working Thursday nights and Saturdays for free, just helping out. I was actively searching for apprenticeships elsewhere and sending out my portfolio, but the receptions were pretty frosty! If you get a reply at all, it’s never usually a great one.

The industry is so popular and almost over-subscribed!
You have to know someone quite well or have something outstanding or different about yourself to get in anywhere. I just wore Terry down really, that’s how I got in! When his piercer left, that’s how I got my foot in the door. I hate the fact that it comes down to money, but it does. You need to live, and all these people that do an apprenticeship for no money is fantastic in an ideal world. After uni my mate got me a job up the road engraving headstones, and it was quite artistic, and they were really good to me and said that I could still work there part-time. So I’d get up at half five, work there from six ‘til nine thirty, and then come in here from ten until six, so I’d be working a sixty or seventy hour week, every week for two years. It’s only since last November that I’ve been able to give up the granite and do more regular small stuff in the studio. It’s come down to money again, so now I’m making enough money to be able to do this full-time.

So you’re full-time at last?
Well I’ve been full-time since I’ve been here, I’ve just had an extra part-time job as well, which wasn’t fun man!

But it’s proven to Terry that you were serious about doing this.
Exactly yeah. I do a lot of the drawing for the studio, and it works quite well that way.

There’s just the two of you at the moment isn’t there?
Just the two of us. Saturdays can be a bit hectic, and we’ve gone through a couple of Saturday girls that have been pretty useless. It’s finding a serious person to do it, and Saturday is obviously a busy day – you’ve got family, etc. You’re going to make a lot of money doing it, but we want someone who’s really interested in it and hopefully they can go into the piercing and I can disassociate myself with it. If we get someone in that really wants to pierce, that would be great because they could do the other body modifications too.

And that’s obviously a good way to get that foot in the door.
It is yeah, but I know a lot of artists who think that if you’re doing it that way, you’re not totally devoting yourself to tattooing and you can’t be doing as good a job. I know a lot of people frown upon piercing as a way into tattooing, but whatever, horses for courses. I’ve had to work bloody hard and it’s not been easy, and Terry and I have come into it in different ways. It’s a lot of dedication and I only get one day off per week, there’s crazy hours…when you’ve done a seventy-hour week and you’ve got a Sunday to do all the stuff you need to. Nowhere’s open on a Sunday!

Of course, you’ve got to live!
I like to draw in my spare time anyway and it’s quite relaxing, so it’s not a problem for me to fit that in and it becomes a part of your life. Tattooing is my life and I’ve got other things that I do, but pretty much everything revolves around tattooing and I think that’s awesome; I love it.

So who are your main influences?
I think that a tattoo done well is a good tattoo, regardless of style. I like really traditional stuff, and Steve Byrne is a big influence, but I really like stuff by Bugs, which is the polar opposite. The traditional Japanese stuff is amazing as well. Milosch and Myth’s (Paul Naylor) black and grey are amazing – I’ve been tattooed by Myth a couple of times and he’s a really cool guy, nice to get along with. If a tattoo is done well, I’m a fan of it; I like tribal, and if it flows with the body, it’s good. A Chinese symbol might be frowned upon, but if somebody wants it and it’s tattooed well, that’s all that matters. I’d like to do more of the traditional western stuff but I’m quite happy doing anything else in between.

So the traditional is more the kind of thing you want to do?
Yeah, I’d like to do more of it. I only have a limited repertoire of what I’ve done so far, but I’d like to more of it. I’ve been into it for a long time.

So who have you been tattooed by?
Bugs, Woody, Phil Kyle…Terry’s done a few for me, he tattooed my toes! Myth and Milosch as well, so there’s a few good names.

Do you pick a lot up when these guys tattoo you?
I’d be a lot happier asking a question when someone’s tattooing me, asking what needle they are using there, and by getting tattooed by somebody you know shows respect and they might be a little bit happier to impart a bit of knowledge more freely. The more you get into it, the more the bigger scale stuff appeals to you. I’ve got limited space now for a leg sleeve or a backpiece and then there’s not a lot of space left. It’s picking and choosing which artists I want.

The more you delve into the industry, the more good work you see and the more people you want to get tattooed by. Then you realise you don’t have enough skin!
That’s right, and there’s some amazing stuff out there.

Have you worked any shows yet?
No, I haven’t made any plans and I just want to knuckle down technically. Certain tattooists whose work isn’t artistically amazing but their technical skills are superb can put a line on that’s a perfect line, and you can apply that to any tattoo. I’d rather just be really good technically and then concentrate on other things. I’ve no plans to work any shows yet.

Do you find yourself to be quite self-critical?
Incredibly. I haven’t done a single tattoo that I’m happy with – every single one I’d like to do again. I’d just change minor things, and I’m not saying that any of the tattoos that I’ve done are bad, I just see things that I could have done a different way. Obviously you don’t get a second chance and when you start, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s all good fun though and I enjoy every second of it.

Obviously you’re relatively new to the industry, but is there any advice you’d give to people?
If you want to become a tattooist, show some respect and ask questions at appropriate times to appropriate people. Just draw, get your art to an acceptable level and then further than that, prove that you’ve got something worth somebody imparting a bit of knowledge to you. Rather than just going in with good art or a good attitude, present a whole package. It’s not an easy thing to do; I had to work so hard, and I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Just because people see it on the telly, they think that it’s easy and it’s just like tracing. It’s not; it’s ridiculously hard work. Do some research and do a lot of work. It’s not like I’ve sat down and I’ve arrived, the drawing never stops and customers are always pushing you to new things, which is cool. You never want to repeat any tattoo, and whilst a star is a star, there are a million different things you can do with a star.

People’s minds are a bit more open these days because of what’s on the telly.
The stuff on the telly helps equally as much as it hinders. It probably helps more because it’s such a mass-market now. It’s going to take years, but people still think that you can only get a swallow on your hands and there are a lot of myths surrounding tattooing that the telly isn’t helping with. Some come in with unreasonable expectations like backpieces being finished in a day or sleeves drawn up in two minutes, and it obviously isn’t the case.
We do keep things light-hearted in here and we try to have a laugh with people.

It puts people at ease doesn’t it?
Exactly, and it’s a big part of it, because a lot of people are really nervous when they come in to be tattooed, and yes it hurts! When people ask you that, you can’t tell them it doesn’t because you’re blatantly lying, but you can put people as ease by phrasing it differently. That’s a large part of it really.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
My family’s always been there and they know I appreciate them. Myth was really good and he was one of the first people I met off the forum before he exploded – I knew him before he was famous! He offered really sound advice when I met him at Mantra. I wouldn’t have got to where I am now without Terry, really big thanks to him.
Things are only getting better. We look at what we were doing last year and now we have more customers, more varied work…it’s really cool.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just to reiterate the point about respect from people trying to get into the industry. We have people coming in saying they’ve just bought tattoo ‘guns’ off eBay, and that’s just so wrong. They’ve seen it on telly and people just aren’t getting into it the right way. There is a process before you pick up a ‘gun’, or a machine; if you want to give it its proper name. I always ask them what sort of bullets they’re going to load their gun with - is it fully automatic? I don’t think I’ve got enough weight or reputation to say anything that would mean much, but the only thing I can comment on firmly is the way that people are getting into the industry.

Credits

Text: Neil - Photography: Terry & Neil

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Skin Deep 162 1 July 2008 162
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