Gordon & Shonagh - Mr & Mrs Tattoo

Published: 24 April, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 126, October, 2005

You have probably seen them at conventions or if not you will have heard of them. So we at Skin Deep thought that it was about time that you got to know the real Mr and Mrs Tattoo! You could almost dedicate a whole issue of the magazine to them, they are covered with award winning artwork from the likes of Theresa Gordon-Wade, Stix, John Treharne and Mantas to name but a few.


It was over 20 years ago that Gordon got his first tattoo, a parrot on his forearm done by local Aberdeen artist called BJ; he remembers it hurt like hell and Shonagh was not impressed! Shonagh told me ‘It wasn’t that the tattoo was bad, it was just not what I would have chosen!’ Back then Shonagh never entertained the thought of getting tattooed, ‘Well women just did not seem to get tattooed 20 years ago, it was more of a boys thing!’  Then about 8 years ago some of Gordon’s workmates started bringing in tattoo magazines to his work. ‘Well it was in the likes of Skin Deep and Tattoo that I saw tattoos by the likes of Darren Stares, Ian of Reading and George Bone, and I could not believe how tattooing had changed and what was now possible.’ But it was Shonagh who took the plunge on her 38th birthday with the encouragement of her children to get her first tattoo. They made a family trip down to Richards Tattoo Studio in Aberdeen and that was where it all began…


Shonagh told me that at that time she just wanted something simple but with lots of colour, the artist showed her loads of designs and eventually she picked a Celtic knot which you can still see on the top of her arm. ‘I just loved the whole experience, I found getting tattooed really nice because it was my time – I was not a mum or a wife I was just Shonagh. But I certainly did not plan on anymore.’ Gordon booked in for the following week and got his 1st tattoo in twenty years, a black and grey Indian portrait.


A few months later the bug had bitten and Shonagh decided she fancied another one. Gordon was getting restless too and wanted more! They had heard of a new studio in Aberdeen and decided to pay it a visit. It turns out that this would be the studio responsible for 80% of their work to date. Gordon and Shonagh first met Stix 8 years ago, Shonagh remembers ‘I just clicked straight away with the guy, I remember he was so nice to me, he took ages showing me loads of designs then he drew me a rose, and I just loved it, I had it done the next day and to this day it holds a very special significance, it really marks a turning point in our lives. Our lives have become so much more since we started getting tattooed, the amount of friends we have made and the places we have travelled to is quite unbelievable.’ The rose on her arm is so realistic that in the summer Shonagh says she has to cover it up to stop the bees and wasps going for it!


So that was the start of their life of tattoos, but they both told me that it was never a conscious decision to get as many as they have, it has just happened. ‘It seemed that every time we went into see Stix he had some new flash or book and there was always something that we wanted’ Gordon told me that at one point they were getting tattooed every week!


The Motherwell tattoo show was their 1st convention, and they travelled down on a bus that Stix had organised. ‘It was so exciting, and a definite eye opener, there were so many heavily tattooed people there, and such a variety of work.’ They could not wait to go to the next convention, as they could not get over just how friendly the tattoo community was. So after looking in the magazines and speaking to Stix they arranged to travel to a convention in Newcastle. ‘This was the first time that I had seen women with back pieces and I knew there and then that I wanted a backpiece but I did not know what. It was when we got home that I mentioned it to Gordon and he jumped off the sofa with excitement! Little did I know it was really because he wanted one too – so I could hardly say no. The following weekend they both took a trip down to see Stix, and spent hours trawling through his art books. Shonagh narrowed it down to a choice of two – a Boris Vallejo piece in colour or a Lois Royo piece. Shonagh told me that Stix helped her to make up her mind ‘He kept smiling every time I looked at the Royo! But Gordon remained quiet; it was only a few years ago that I found out why, he wanted it for himself!” Not to be left out Gordon took a look through the books and found a Royo for himself, so they both booked in. They told me that when they had seen Stix’s black and grey work and there was no doubt in their minds that their back pieces had to be in the style. Shonagh told me that it was the little gremlin on the warrior woman’s shoulder that sold it for her, ‘It is just so sweet looking, and just adds a bit extra interest to the piece.’ The rest is history, Shonagh’s back has won numerous awards, and Gordon’s is a work in progress, Stix is working on drawings to extend his backpiece – so keep an eye on it!  


I wanted to find out how it felt getting such a huge piece of work, but when I asked Shonagh she just laughed and told me ‘Well the piece took 26 hours in total but I was asleep for 25 of those! I don’t know if it is the noise of the tattoo machine or the sensation but I just can’t keep my eyes open. But seriously it was quite nerve racking to start with but when I saw the carbon on my back all the nerves disappeared and I was just excited!’ They both agreed that it was the back pieces that changed them the most, ‘It gave us so much self confidence, knowing that we had these amazing pieces of art on our bodies! We just wanted to show everyone, well not quite everyone I never told my mum that I was getting tattoos!’ Shonagh went on to say ‘But that was all blown when we went to the Motherwell show and my backpiece took 1st place, a few days later a huge picture of my back appeared in the local paper! My mum instantly knew that it was me, I was terrified that she would be angry with me but to my total shock she just wondered why I had not shown her before, and she thinks that it is beautiful!’ 


I was curious to find out why they travel to so many conventions? ‘The atmosphere at a tattoo show is like nothing else, everyone is there for the same reason – to appreciate tattoos, nobody judges you at a show, and they are all just such a friendly bunch.’ Gordon went on to say ‘One of the best shows we went to was Dunstable, it was amazing it really opened our eyes to the world of tattooing there was some of my favourites working their like Paul Booth! If I have enough free skin left it would be my dream to one day have some work from him. I think that his demonic style is some of the best in the business!’ It was at the Dunstable show that Gordon met Mantas and got an amazing demon on his lower leg, Gordon told me that he had seen Mantas tattooing a guy and was just stunned by the fact that this guy just tattooed straight on, no drawings or carbons so he knew he just had to have some of it! ‘His work is amazing he just started tattooing on my leg and the next thing I knew there was this amazing demon on my leg!’ Gordon went on to get another piece from Mantas, the incredible Cerberus design that covers one side of his chest. Not to be left out Shonagh seemed to develop a ‘travelling leg’ she went on to tell me ‘Well it seemed that every show that we went to there was someone there that I wanted work from, so my left leg is covered in butterflies and flowers by the likes of Tom Ptolomy, John Treharne and Stix to name but a few. The worst thing is that I am now running out of space on my travelling leg but I am not nearly finished travelling and I still have so much work I want done.’  


So what is left for the couple who were crowned Mr & Mrs Tattoo 2004? 

‘Well we have been to shows all over the world now, Daytona was amazing and Berlin is still one of the best, but we would love to go to The Madhatters, I just think that would be amazing!’ As for tattoos, neither of them wants to get work on their hands or faces, Gordon told me ‘It is not that we have anything against that type of work, it is just not for us’, but as they are both fast running out of space time will tell! At the moment Stix is working on completing Shonagh’s tribal leg and her most recent work by Stix are some beautiful flowers on her foot. Gordon has just had another stunning Royo piece by Stix on his side and is now planning to finish his back. 


They really are two of the friendliest people I have ever had the privilege to interview; they get tattooed because they love it not for any strange need to be different. They are not trophy hunters, Shonagh told me ‘We don’t go to the shows for the awards, we go for the people that we meet, we have made more good friends in the short time that we have been going to conventions than we have in years.’ Gordon went on to say ‘If we get an award it is a bonus, but it is not the most important thing, we know our tattoos are amazing and that is the most important thing.’ I think if there were more people in the world like Gordon and Shonagh the world would be a much brighter place, Shonagh has the most infectious laugh you will ever hear and Gordon seems to be eternally happy! I am glad to say though that it seems that the next generation of tattoo devotees is already in the making. Their two children Barry and Leona are already tattooed, Barry had three tattoos from Stix and Leona also has a couple. Shonagh told me ‘Our kids are just so proud of us, and they just love our tattoos, so I was not shocked that when they turned 18 they wanted work done, the only thing that I told them was to go to Stix!’


So as seasoned tattooees I wondered if they had any advice to give to those just starting out. ‘Well take your time! Research first and find a good artist, do what we did and buy loads of magazines and ask around, a personal recommendation is much better than anything!’


They have so many wonderful stories to tell about their travels and adventures in the tattoo world that I could write a book and maybe one day I will! But for the moment I would just like to thank Gordon and Shonagh for taking the time to talk to me and for showing me their amazing tattoos. If you seen them at a convention soon go up and say hello, because if you don’t you will have missed out on making friends with two of the most genuinely nice people I have met!


Text & photos: Shelby Adams


Skin Deep 126 1 October 2005 126