Alan's Tattoos

Published: 29 September, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 172, May, 2009

Alan’s Tattoos in Moreton has been part of the local scenery for a few years now having opened its doors to the public in 2000 after Steve Crane, the owner came back from Germany after working in the British forces. Steve is a Moreton lad having been bought up only three streets away and wanted to keep his studio local.

 

Steve and his crew set to their new studio with gusto and removed thirty tones of rubbish out of the building and then, with an empty shell, rebuilt the place to their specifications. Steve and Debbie have amassed a great collection of artists at Alan’s Tattoos, each with their own unique style to offer the Wirral area a great choice of tattooists.   

The studio is a veritable tattoo museum, with the walls of the recently opened upstairs area covered in old and antiquated tattoo machines, flash and artwork from a bygone age, many of which very rare.   

As well as having a very healthy portfolio of resident artists, Alan’s boasts a veritable smorgasbord of guest artists from the likes of George Bardadim from Russia, Brett Zarro from the USA and Sid Siamese, as well as many others.
As you enter the high street studio you will be welcomed with a huge warm smile and a very friendly, relaxed feeling that makes Alan’s one of those places that I defy anyone to visit just once.

I would like to introduce you, in no particular order, to the tattooists at Alan’s Tattoos...

 

Tom 'Sugar' Kurowski

So when did you start tattooing, Tom?

It was about nine and a half years ago. It was by accident really; I was very interested in comics as was my friend. He got his first tattoo from a well-known Polish tattooist, who was a really good artist. My friend then got a tattoo machine from this guy and he asked me “Tom, would you like to try this?” And I did. I was always drawing in my spare time and I was really keen on comics, so that type of art interested me the most.

How did you first become aware of tattoos; were your family tattooed at all?

No, not at all none of my family were slightly interested in tattooing, or art for that matter.

Did you find the actual process of tattooing difficult?

I found it very hard because I had to teach myself. For the first six and a half years I just worked by myself with no contact from other tattoo artists at all. I think my proper tattooing started when I came to work here at Alan’s Tattoos in Moreton, when I got to meet many good artists like Sid Siamese and George Bardadim, Bret Zarro. All of them have helped me to improve my tattooing skills.

Did you find that you picked up tips from these guys?

Oh yes, very much so, Actually, you can learn from anybody, because you can learn bad things as well as good things!

So how long have you been working in Alan’s Tattoos?

It will be four years this May. This is my first ever studio that I have worked in, as in Poland, I worked from my room. When I started there weren’t any tattoo shops in my neighbourhood and it was hard to try and find a good shop to work in. Tattooing was not popular in Poland when I started, but now there must be over one hundred shops, and it is quite easy to get work now.   

The work coming out of Poland is quite fresh, as there, we don’t have a tattooing tradition and there is no old school work; it tends to be newer ideas and tattoos as the Polish have learned from the more modern guys in the industry.


I have seen you working many shows up and down the country. Do you enjoy the convention scene in the UK?

Yes, very much. I can meet many, many people and talk about tattoos. I think conventions are the best thing to happen for tattooing. They make me push myself more and more to better myself. I don’t mind the fact that lots of people watch me while I tattoo, as in Poland I always had lots of friends around me whilst I worked.

This year I will be working my first foreign show in Krakow, which I am really looking forward to.

We have seen a lot of your portraiture and realism work. Is this your favourite type of tattoo to work on or do you like doing all styles?

I like to tattoo everything really, but portraits are good to do. I’m not too sure if it is my strong point but I find it quite easy. I love to tattoo faces, animals, demons, that sort of thing.

Have you ever been to college or done any art courses?

No, it is just my natural talent! (Laughs) I would like to go to these places but I just don’t have the time at the moment. If I could start again, I would definitely go. Now I understand how much I have missed out on and I am certain that my skills would better if I had gone to college. I would understand composition, colour theory and balance much better.

Do you like to work mainly freehand and draw directly onto the skin or do you work from stencils?

I like to work on the skin, especially with portraits. Not everybody wants me to do this as it is quite difficult, but I find it good to do. I like to freehand around portraits but not everyone wants to do this. People seems a little scared to do this, most people do not want to improvise too much.

Are there any tattoo artists that you aspire to or that you get inspiration from?

Definitely Robert Hernandez and Bob Tyrrell, these two people are like, my favourite artists. I have also started to try oil painting and I am looking for artists so that I can learn techniques and so on. I do quite a few soft pastel drawings but I am new to painting, but I enjoy it.

What is it that you enjoy most about tattooing? Is it the art or meeting new people?

I love meeting people, and everything. It’s the best job in the world!


I believe you were a security guard before in Poland?

Oh my god, yes. It was a job; let’s leave it at that!

So what brought you to the UK?

I had spent too many years working in security and in the bank. I was so bored and I felt it was time to move on and to improve my English language skills. I was really lucky to get the job I have here and I am very happy and plan on staying and trying to improve my technique in tattooing and painting.

Do you think you work fast compare to other tattooists that you have met?

I try and work at a good pace, as I don’t think people can afford to pay for the long hour sessions. I mean, you go to the London show and you see Bob Tyrrell or Paul Booth tattoo for eight, nine hours and wow, that soon adds up to a lot of money, so I try and tattoo not quickly but not too slowly either. I find that four to five hours is long enough for me to work in one go. Also, for the customer to sit for this amount of time is quite uncomfortable.

What sort of things do you like to do when you are not here tattooing?

I like to sketch and spend time with my family, my wife and my son. I think I should also learn to speak English better too! (Laughs)

You said earlier that you like Robert Hernandez and Bob Tyrrell’s work. Can you see yourself ever getting tattooed by them and do you think you learn from being tattooed yourself?

Oh yes, very much so. Every time someone tattoos me I learn more about their styles and techniques that they use. It is a very good way to learn.


What is the best thing about being a tattooist?

I love to see people leave with a huge smile on their faces and knowing that I have contributed to that in some small way, that is nice. If you can say that this is your job, you are a lucky man. There is no stress; you are doing just what you like. I believe that if you are doing a job that you like, then you are doing the best that you can each day.

What would be a taboo tattoo for you to do?

I will not tattoo faces. I once painted my face in traditional Moko for Halloween and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I scared myself! I think
you have to be a very strong person to wear a facial tattoo.

After you have done a tattoo and the customer goes away happy; if you see that tattoo again later do you ever feel that there were things that you could have done differently?

Yes, These are good times and bad times for tattooing as the industry is progressing so much and techniques are moving on at such a fast pace. I always look at my older work and I can often see small things that now, knowing a little more each day, I would do differently. I don’t think that you can ever say that you are one hundred percent happy with a tattoo. If you do, you are holding yourself back from improving and progressing forward.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you get where you are today?

Yes! Especially to my two bosses because they have helped me very, very much over the years. I was really surprised just how much help they have given me. Also a big thank you to my customers for letting me work on them and their belief in my work, also thank you to my wife who gives me inspiration, and to every artist that I have met and worked alongside. They have all helped me in ways they may never know.

 

Sivo

Can you give us a little history behind you becoming a tattooist?

I started tattooing about thirteen years ago. The first three years were all hand-made tattoos, as I was in the Army doing my national service. I saved enough money to buy the proper equipment and that was ten years ago.

To start with, nobody showed me how to set up the machines, I just learnt by myself. It was difficult to progress quickly with out any help.

I was the first person in my family to get tattooed as I was a bit of a rebel.

I didn’t go to art school but drew constantly in school and there I studied technical drawing, so I suppose I had a little training. My mother wanted to send me to fashion design school but I chose the technical school instead. So I started to draw in school, then one day a friend wanted a reaper tattoo and I did this for him. Needless to say it wasn’t very successful!

Then a few others heard that I was doing this tattooing and I ended up tattooing them too.    

I bought my first tattoo machine at my first tattoo convention in Prague and whilst there I saw many artists working with different needle set ups and so on, so I started to see how the work was done. I then started to build up my reputation slowly from then.

So were you working in a studio in Slovakia?

Yes, I had my own studio, then because tattooing in Slovakia was not too good, I worked in Bratislava for three years then I came over the UK to work and have been here for three years also.   

I worked in Triple A in Moreton for a while but now I am based permanently at Alan’s Tattoos.

Do you get clients come from far a field to get work by you?

Yes, I have customers from Peterlee and many others come, covering long distances.

Do you have a distinct style?

My style is very bright and colourful and I like to do old school styles too.  

I like all styles really but I can’t do realistic everyday, for me it would be a bit like doing tribal! I just enjoy working in all styles; I like the variations of all of them.   

I think of myself as an all-rounder tattooist.

I love to go to tattoo conventions as I get to meet other artists. Sitting at home you learn a lot less!

My favourite artist would be Guy Aitchison– nobody can come close to him! I love his use of colours. I like a lot of artists from Eastern Europe like Zhivko from Bloody Blue Studio Tattoos in Prague, I love Uncle Allan’s work. I have several tattoos from Zhivko. Zhivko has helped me out with my tattooing a lot. He is very helpful.

What do you enjoy the most about being a tattooist?

For me it’s like, years ago in Slovakia if you had tattoos you were like a bad boy, sort of thing, and I started to tattoo and draw because I like art and it was a bit of a rebellious thing for me to do. I don’t like to be told what to do all the time.

I always like to do thing differently. Nowadays everybody wants to be a tattooist.    

I like to think that I am going my own way with my tattooing.

When people come to you for a tattoo do you find that they have a set idea in their head or do you work with them to finalise the design?

I like it when a customer comes in and knows what he or she wants. Obviously we can change things is a small way to make the tattoo work better but it is always nice if they have a strong idea and image for their tattoo.

Sometimes people come in for a cover up and they say ‘can you cover this?’ and I say ‘yes’ then they say cover it with anything but when I suggest a skull they say ‘no!’ then I suggest a Japanese piece, again they say ‘no!’ so it is nice to have people in who have a bit of an idea.   

I have many regular customers who allow me some more freedom to experiment, as they trust me with their skin, which is nice.

What do you do on your days off?

I like to go to the pub and go to concerts. I relax if I watch a good film and this lets me switch off completely from tattooing. I want to buy a motorbike soon so that could be my next hobby! I love people and my hobby is my work so that is wonderful for me. Everyday is different, not like working in a factory.

Do you have any ambitions as a tattooist? Would you like to open your own studio at some point?

Yes, I like Slovakia so one day I will go back and open a shop. I love the experiences I have had over here but my family and friends are in Slovakia so I will return eventually.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you out in your career?

I’d just like to thank everyone who has helped me with my job; all those who have helped me progress as an artist.

Is there anything that you like to add to this interview?

Yes, I hate celebrities! I hate the fact that if someone who is famous gets a tattoo, everyone else wants to get the same thing. People have lost their individuality these days and that is sad.   

I don’t understand why people want to be like say, Beckham. Be yourself!

The TV and media brainwashes too many people.  Every tattoo that I get must represent something important to me. I like tattoos to have memories, not just for fashion.

Think before you ink!

 

Lee Piercy

When did you get started with tattooing?

I’ve been tattooing for about ten years now, so I was about seventeen and I got a tattoo from a local fella called Deano down the road, and I’d just get the odd little thing done down there. I kept on bugging him and bugging him and he gave me an apprenticeship, but it was an old, traditional, shitty apprenticeship…

Scrubbing the floors every five minutes?

Yeah, and hand down the toilet with no gloves on, smacks around the back of the head…it was horrible, but it was all about loyalty and he wanted to see how loyal I was. There was no pay for two years and just basically drawing all the time and then I started off tattooing my own legs, stuff like that. It was so different then to how it is now, and I say it was rough but it was just a traditional way of learning compared to what a lot of youngsters go through now – they’ve got it easy now, I tell you! There were so many times that I wanted to walk out, but that’s where my heart was at the time.
 
Whereas you can get your hands on a kit these days and mess someone up in no time?

I think anyone who gets a kit is stupid, because they don’t know anything about what they’re doing. They should go to a proper shop and get an apprenticeship and find yourself a good teacher, or else it’s just a waste of time. You get all hyped-up thinking it’s going to be easy, and it’s fucking not!

So an apprenticeship is always the way to go?

In a proper shop, yes. I wouldn’t recommend people going on these courses and paying thousands of pounds, buying stuff off the Internet and still not having a clue what to do. There was an opportunity for me to do that, and I’m I didn’t and went and did it properly. People who buy kits often end up doing the same quality of work and never improve because they don’t have that prior knowledge an apprenticeship gives you.

Have you worked at many conventions?

I’ve been going to conventions for about five years; I’ve always worked Manchester and I worked at Liverpool. We don’t all go together; I went to Coventry, Sivo went to Peterlee, etc. We go wherever we’re asked to go – if they tell me to pack my bags next week and go to Scotland, I will. It’s all about gaining experience and showing people your work, stuff like that, and watching other people to gain techniques and learn new things. It does give you a bit more inspiration and a drive to do it.

Do you find it easy to share information with other artists?

Nowadays, yeah. When I worked for Deano, I didn’t speak to another tattooist for five years, I didn’t work at any shows, nothing. My only information was from him, which at the time was the wrong way, but I didn’t know. Now I’m working with these guys, going to conventions, everything has changed and is getting better because I’m speaking to people. I’m still quite unknown and sometimes at conventions, artists won’t be bothered about talking to you when they don’t know who you are, they won’t want to share certain things. Which is fair enough, because you don’t want to tell some stranger about certain things.

Have you had any formal art training, classes or college?

After I left school, I went to college for a year, but I realised that they couldn’t teach me what I wanted to know and they had me writing essays about pictures that were painted years ago, and I had no time for that. It’s a bit ignorant in a way, but when I was seventeen I just wanted to paint more so I ended up leaving after an argument with the teacher and working for Asda, Cadbury’s, and then shortly after I was lucky enough to get the apprenticeship. Prior to that, I just thought tattooing was the old type of stuff – I though it was tacky at first – but then as I started learning more about it I found it was more of an art form. Back when I was seventeen, I didn’t have a clue – I thought they were done with a laser or a pen!

You see a lot of tattooists coming in now with formal art backgrounds; do you think it’s beneficial to have that behind you?

Yeah definitely, because nowadays people don’t seem to want to take you on unless you have that background. It’s worth sticking at it when you’re younger because unless you’re extremely talented, you need that basic knowledge of contrasts and colour, all kinds of things, and not just on paper either – the ability to work in different mediums is a big help and I think it’s important.

So you got comfortable with things and went on – what is it about being a tattooist that you enjoy the most?

You’ve got freedom and you’re getting paid for your hobby, and you’re out there doing different things and meeting people. I can just take my time and concentrate on what I’m doing, so it’s not hectic like other jobs where you’ve just got to keep doing the same thing all the time, and that’s the beauty of this job.

You look forward to coming in to work everyday as well?

I love coming to work, and the people are so grateful too, the fact that they say “Thanks very much”. That’s the beauty of it; it’s not just their work, it’s your work, and they’re walking around promoting your work and showing it off, so you’ve got to make sure it’s perfect. That on its own makes the job, it makes you feel better about yourself and inspires you to do better work.

So how do you go about a consultation about a tattoo? Do you discuss ideas with people?

It’s ideal when someone comes in with an idea of what they want; I hate it when people come in and ask how much it is for a small tattoo, or “What can I get for fifty quid?” I don’t work like that. I’d rather sit down with someone who comes in and we can go through books (I book a consultation for free) and I talk them through it, what will work, what will go with this and that, then I can get it on the skin freehand or stencil it up, whatever I need to do.
 
Do you find people are quite open to the ideas you put forward?

They are now, yeah, and when they see other work that I’ve done they are happier to go along with my input. Years ago, people would just pick them off the wall and if you suggested things to them, they weren’t confident enough to go along with it.

If you show that you’re keen and enthusiastic, it encourages them to go with your ideas. If I can show that little bit of interest and get them excited about the tattoo, that’s when they get into my way of thinking.

Do people come to you specifically, based on the strength of your work and having seen you at conventions?

Bizarrely, I get a lot of Americans who have come over to see their family and come to me, which is great because when they go back to America and show my work off…that’s a good feeling. I don’t really have a style and I’m more of an all-rounder and I will literally do anything, except hands and faces. I’m not going to risk your career prospects.
 
Do you have much chance to paint or play around with art when you’re not tattooing?

Not really in the studio because I’m tattooing almost all of the time, but I tend to get into paintings and drawings at home and do some when I have a day off. It’s not like we’re sitting here waiting for work, but if it ever does go quiet we will sit there and paint or draw, or get things ready for other people.  

A lot of the time I’ll take drawings home and can be up until three in the morning working on them to bring them back in to work and carry on, so I’m almost working eighteen hours a day. It’s taken me almost ten years to start getting recognised and that’s because I’ve really pushed myself to get higher. It’s hard to balance time between your family and your work; you have to spend time with your kids and family as well and juggle things around.

What sort of books do you use for reference?

Art books and photography books are my biggest source. I buy books nearly every week and if I see a certain style of painting that I like, I’ll buy that book for that one painting. If I know I’m going to be drawing a bat, I’ll go out and if I see a book with bats in that I like, I’ll buy it. Most of the books we’ve got upstairs are mine!

Do you get much chance to watch the guest artists working here?

It’s hard because sometimes they’re only here for a week and if I’m busy all day, it’s hard to find the time to actually go down and talk to them. Whenever I get chance, I go up to them and I’ll watch how they do certain things and speak to them and have a general chat with them. People say I talk too much…I don’t know if you’ve noticed? I won’t sit there in silence when I tattoo someone, I’ll talk the bollocks off them! If you talk to people about something they are interested in, then it takes their mind off what’s going on and makes them more comfortable. It’s almost like being a psychiatrist as well because people tell you their stories, but then you end up becoming friends. You learn a lot from other people and their experiences and it’s good to listen too, you learn more about other things in the world; I’ve tattooed doctors, and I’ve even tattooed someone who makes prosthetic limbs! Sometimes people tell me to shut up and keep on tattooing, but there you go!

Is there anyone you’d really like to be tattooed by?

I’d love some work from Tom Renshaw. I like Shige’s Japanese stuff and…there are too many to say! It would have to be someone I got along with too, I’d probably go to a convention and try to meet up with them first.

I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of getting along with the person tattooing them!

Anyone you want to thank for the career that you have?

Even though Deano was a right bastard to me, I’d like to thank him for putting me in a studio because without him, I wouldn’t be here. Also, Steve Crane for giving me that second chance and letting me work here. This is a great place to work; we’ve got an excellent team here and we all get on well together. It’s got a nice atmosphere, well organised and we’ve got a good system here – I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. I’m here and I’m a lifer…until they get sick of me talking all the time!

 

Caroline Henderson

So Caroline, how long have you been here at Alan’s?

Since June of last year.

And how did you become involved with the studio?

I had a marine life sleeve from Sivo; I started with a little dolphin at the top of my arm, then I was going for a half sleeve and I thought, ‘Sod it’…full sleeve, and it snowballed from there. I was teaching at the time and I was becoming more and more disillusioned, didn’t like it, and I thought ‘I’m old enough to do something that I really want to do’. I’ve always been interested in tattooing so I approached Debbie at the Liverpool convention, and here I am!

So you were looking for a change of direction?

Oh yes, I ended up hating the school, the other teachers, the paperwork, the work I was doing…the kids! The only good thing was that you were off school for a long time, but when you had work to do, it was just crap.
 
When you arrived at the studio, were you given drawing, drawing, and more drawing work?

Well, because of my art background, Steve and Debbie said to me they’d rush me through because I didn’t need to start at base-level drawing – I just needed to adapt some of my drawing skills to more tattoo-orientated stuff, and I was asked to produce a sketchbook that I’ve called ‘Animal Magnetism’ and some it is just line work, some are fully shaded, and I was to carry on with some artwork and learn the basics of hygiene. Just before Christmas, I started working on skin, so it’s gone quite quick, and I’ve learnt to make needles, put machines together…

So you’ve had the full background?

The full hit, yeah. Like I say, they rushed me on because I’m more mature – in years, not in my brain – and with my art background I already had a lot to show them.

Did you ever play around with tattoo themes before you landed your apprenticeship?

Yeah, I was designing for other people…always sketching, always drawing, and I did a lot of drawing for my sleeve that Sivo did. I’ve always been interested in it since I was ‘so’ big, but always held off whilst I was teaching because you can’t have them on show, and now I’ve gone full hog!

How’ve you found the transition from paper to skin?

(pause) It’s just completely different; I’ve started doing re-colour work over old tattoos and then I’m going to move on to doing some simple designs, but I’ve done a bit of colour and other stuff as well. I love it, what I’ve done, in the limited time that I’ve been doing it, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever done. I’ve worked in ceramics, carving, painting, all kinds of art-based stuff, but I’ve never done anything like this. You’ve only got the one shot, not much scope to rub it out and try again!

That’s good! So how do you feel that you’re progressing, how do you feel when you sit down with a machine?

I feel more confident, because I was crapping myself to begin with – I don’t shake as much!

Was the first time nerve-wracking?

Very.

Who was your first tattoo on?

Des, from Triple A.

Did he give up a bit of skin and say, “Have at it”?

He did, but he didn’t tell me in advance! He rang up and said, “I’ve got something special for you to do…you’re going to be tattooing”. I wasn’t expecting it; I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know when. They all knew…bastards!
 
Are you glad that they didn’t make you sweat over it?

Yeah, because I’d have been a nervous wreck!

From where do you draw your influences for art?

All over the place. The guys here, because they are so diverse in the stuff they do, and I like stuff by Afferni, Gogue, Mike DeVries, Zhivko, Bardadim…I’m like a sponge just soaking up whatever I see. I’ve been looking at Polish magazines with Tom and there a lot of great Polish artists as well.

I can see from your tattoos that you’re partial to colour work…

Yeah, but they’re quite cartoony and not so realistic, but I like black and grey as well.

You can’t ask for more than that! Is it quite useful for you being here with so many guest artists passing through?

It’s fantastic; we saw Brent McCown recently and I did some stretching for him, and that’s when I first decided that I needed to build this (wrist) up! That was fascinating…then we had Olga from Russia, and some of the needle set-ups that she had were different. I’m looking forward to Sid Siamese 1 coming back, because I’ve seen him as a customer when I’ve been hanging around but I’ve not seen him working that much, so it would be nice to spend time watching him. We had Carlos, who works with Boog, he was here as well and it was good watching him work as well. I’m picking up tips all around.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Just thanks to Debbie and Steve for giving me a chance and thanks to the guys who I work with, because they’re fantastic, I learn a lot from them, and we have a good laugh.

 

 


 

Credits

Interview: Neil & Alex Photography: Various

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