Hope and Glory Tattoos

Published: 01 March, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 169, February, 2009

Swaffham - not really a name that is synonymous with tattooing but this sleepy little Norfolk enclave has a well-kept secret. Until now that is...

Drive into the town centre and you’ll soon come across a very neat and tidy shop. From the outside with its neatly trimmed Bay trees and subtle facade, you’d be forgiven in thinking this is a tea rooms but walk through the doors and you find yourself in Hope and Glory Tattoo studio.

Even once you close the door behind you it is still a little confusing as there is little or no flash on the walls but the decor looks like a small nautical art gallery with voluptuous leather sofas and seafaring memorabilia. Only my trained nose recognised the oh-so familiar smell of green soap, disinfectant and tattoo ink and I knew I had the right place.

A sprite-like Tem came bounding down the stairs to meet me, full of smiles and her usual enthusiasm for everything and Simon the new guy was busy setting up for the day. Not long after Olly came in doing his best to be the grumpy old tattooist; but he just is too passionate about his art and that instantly shines through and his passion is infectious, and this get passed onto his customers who all end up sharing his love of the art. You can’t fool us Olly! Hard on the outside but a more warm-hearted bloke you’ll not find.

Directly opposite the studio was a familiar building that I just could not place and it was only when the guys mentioned that is one of the buildings used in the ITV series Kingdom based in and around Swaffham with Steven Fry that it clicked into place, and indeed this month Hope and Glory Tattoo studio features in one of the episodes.

All three artists and the apprentice/front of shop guy, Callum make you feel so welcome in this wonderful studio and the work they turn out is first class, but don’t take my word for it, have a look at their work and judge for yourself.

So what brought you to Swaffham?

Pure Chance! We were just driving through the town and we knew there had been a tattooist here but he had gone and we had a friend from here and we stopped for a cuppa with him and was walking about and saw this shop up for rent. The estate agent was right next door so we popped in. We had previously looked for a place in Norwich but it so financially prohibitive. So we sold our motorbikes and I sold my horse and everything else to set this place up. The place was a complete empty shell; there was nothing inside at all apart from the four walls. I built all the rooms; I did all the wiring, plumbing with lots of help from friends. Tem did the wallpapering (Laughs from all!)
Because we didn’t get a loan to do this or anything we just thought; fuck it; what’s the worst that can happen?

So have you been busy from the outset?

Not too bad at all really. We braced ourselves for the worst winter ever but it’s been good.

I presume you brought some of your clients with you as both of you have been around a bit – if you pardon the expression.

Yeah, we have guys coming from Nottingham and the other places where we have worked. Having Simon on board too, our third tattooist has made a big difference as we now have three different styles of tattooists to offer the public.

So what got you guys into tattooing in the first place?

Tem: I was forced to be a graphic designer by my parents, I wanted to be a lawyer but they said; ‘no, you will go to Uni do to graphic design!’ so I did a degree in that.
I was always into drawing and art. Because I am the oldest, I got dibs on being the arty one, my brother is the academic. So I did the degree, then did a postgraduate then I thought, you know what? I hate this! I hate computers, I didn’t want to do it, so I spent my whole academic life skateboarding and snowboarding in France up in the mountains and then I had a little tattoo and I had a moment of epiphany, and I said ‘fuck it, I’m going to tattoo!’ Literally within two days I’d met a guy in the mountains and he started to show me how to tattoo. He was the worst tattooist but was such a lovely guy. So again, I sold everything and moved back to the UK and sort of muscled my way in. I was really lucky as I met some wonderful tattooists but back then everyone made a point to tell you to fuck off, but I kept coming back and making a pest of myself and eventually they realised I was serious and started to show me how to make needles and I would take work around to their shops and they would rip it to bits, but constructively so I slowly progressed. I was also very lucky that I managed to get some tattooing jobs pretty quickly and things went from strength to strength.
Olly: I did graphic design at college but didn’t finish the course as I had a bit of a disagreement with the course tutors and I was put on probation from the first month! I wasn’t that happy from the off; though I believe the standard of my work was okay, but I don’t think they agreed with my lifestyle.
So I quit that and embarked on various other jobs but never gave up the art. I got into airbrushing and ended up doing portraits on motorbikes and stuff. One day I decided to get tattooed and was totally intrigued in the whole process, and few years down the line bought myself a quite famous book on how to tattoo and then acquired a couple of machines off a raging BNP member in Matlock. I didn’t know what I was doing but I studied that book for ages and practised on myself and a few trusting friends and got into the industry that way. Right from the start I have always been very paranoid about my art and have never wanted anything to come out wrong so worked really hard to perfect my skills.
I tried to get an apprenticeship but got the usual story - F- off, F- off! I then moved the America and gave tattooing a miss for a couple of years but then for personal reasons moved back the UK and then picked up my tattoo machines again. Not long after I managed to get my foot into a shop, not the best shop but a shop none the less and it was a start.
Simon: I grew up in New Zealand so I have always been drawing; my mum is an artist so I have been around art all my life. I failed high school because I was always drawing! I started getting into punk music and lots of bands were asking me to draw t-shirt designs and album covers and the older guys had tattoos that got me interested in them. I spent a couple of years getting my portfolio together and a new shop opened near by to me and I walked straight in there but they had an apprentice already but they had a look at my work and took me on instead of the other guy. I came over here a few years ago for a guest spot after going to Sweden and have been lucky enough to have found these guys and the shop has such a nice atmosphere and have sort of stayed!

Do you think you have a distinct style that you can call your own?

Olly: I think I have now, it has taken me to this point to find it but yes, I think there is an ‘Olly’ style out there now. I have worked in a lot of street shops and tried a few things out from time to time with varying degrees of success and I have found what I can do really well and what I can’t, and stick to what I feel comfortable with and I am really enjoying my tattooing at the moment.
Tem: Erm, yeah, Screen print tattoos! (Laughs) As long as it looks like a five year old did it, then that’s me.

What about influences?

Tem: Tattooing really, everyone that has tattooed me has been a big influence on my work as I have studied them while they were working on me. I get tattooed and then try and steal their power really!
Simon: I love traditional American tattoos, the devil, I like dark imagery and evil looking tattoos. I like doing stuff that my Mum would gasp at and say; ‘why have you done that?’ I go out to get tattooed by people I like and that influences me.

I believe ITV filmed the series Kingdom with Steve Fry in this town and they did some filming in your studio. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

We thought it was going to be really derogatory towards tattooing but it wasn’t, it was just a bit naff. Clearly the writers still have that ‘dark age’ approach towards tattooing but the guys said that because the show goes out to old grannies and stuff they had to pander to what the public might conceive a tattooing studio looks like. We all know different but not everyone watches Miami Ink. The filming guys wanted to keep the old clichés of the grumpy old tattooist outside the shop, fag in mouth, that sort of thing…
We tried our best to bag all the equipment up properly but the said; ‘we want to see the tattooists rings so no gloves’ and we’re like ‘oh God you can’t do that, it’s wrong!’
We were happy as they paid our rent for a month and the film crew seemed to have a good time saying thing like; ‘Oh, look at you quirky people!’ They squeezed twenty people in here, God knows how.

Have you been well received by the locals, as this doesn’t seem like a town that would house a tattooist, let alone three of you? It seems so genteel?

The locals seem to love us being here, they seem happy that we have made the shop in character with the surrounding buildings and shops. Some have said it’s been a credit to Swaffam, which was nice.
You have Callum, the apprentice/front of shop, yourselves and Simon tattooing, do you plan to have any guest artists at some point?
That’s how Simon started and Tiny Miss Becca will be coming over and we have had Sway from Northside Tattoo work with us for a while too and we do plan to have more at some point.

Are you guys a custom only tattoo studio?

Tem: No, we started off to do flash and walk-ins but it hasn’t really gone that way, As much as we had lots of flash books scattered about, but most folk want individual work. We have been pleasantly surprised with what people come in wanting and I think we have done two tattoos out of the books. I think part of that is down to the fact that we are in the arse-end of nowhere that we don’t get that many people walking past getting impulse tattoos.
Most of our clients are either by word of mouth, recommendations or by the Internet. It just evolved like that…
Olly: I tattooed a granddad the other day. He was in a regiment that was based out in India back in the fifties but it got disbanded so I tattooed his regimental badge on him and he was a lovely bloke. I asked him when he wanted to get it done and he said; ‘As soon as possible, I might pop ’me clogs soon!’
We get to tattoo lots of Americans as there are a few airbases in this area like Lakenheath and they have started to hear about us and come over for a tattoo now and again.

Do you have any other aspirations for Hope and Glory or are you quite happy with how things are going at the present?

Tem: We just want it to be a place where folk can come for a good tattoo outside London; it just seems that we have a big area in the east where there isn’t huge amount of custom tattooing going on and most people tend to go up north for that kind of work, and it would be really nice for people to know that we are here and they don’t have to travel too far.
We ‘d like to do more conventions next year but obviously we have only been open since May and the main purpose is to make sure we hit the ground running and hopefully it will carry on that way. Conventions for next year are on the cards, last year we were build, build, build and before we knew it, it was like, shit, we missed that convention!

Do you find that tattooing is less of a closed shop than it used to be?

Olly: Without a doubt, I have been privileged to have been to some of the Artists Tuesdays up in Thou Art in Sheffield and have worked along side Jeff Gogue and Bez, It’s just a great opportunity to talk to these guys and swap information and glean a little of their techniques and I feel my work has improved because of these art sessions. It’s amazing how much of an influence these days can be on your own techniques.
All you have to do is look at work by Guy Aitchison and Jeff Gogue and you can see that they are using painting techniques and applying them to tattooing with wonderful effect.
Tem: I have found that without a doubt, every tattooist that I have met and spoken to have been happy to impart some information about his or her techniques, which what is so wonderful about our industry these days. I find the ones that do sometimes crave the limelight more than others aren’t necessarily that good where as the ones that blow your socks off are usually spectacular artists and amazingly humble.

Have you worked any conventions at all or will this year be your first foray into the show scene?

We worked Philadelphia and that was completely insane; we were sitting opposite folk like Guy Aitchison and we’re like ‘we’re not worthy!’ We did a small show in Wales and did Manchester too as some of our friends came over the from the US to work with us, which was great.

What do you think of the current proliferation of artists that seem to be popping up from nowhere?

Tem: I get onto Myspace from time to time and find these amazing artists and they have only been tattooing for a few years and I’m like bloody hell! Where have they been hiding?’ There are some incredible Australian girl tattooists about at the moment too. God, there are so many wonderful artists out there this is a really exciting time for tattooing.
I guess the young guys tattooing these days have maybe hit the ground running as there is more information out there to be had or maybe the standard is higher and so they got a lot better quicker these days.

What do you guys do when you are not tattooing?

Tem: I go show jumping quite a bit. I don’t go out in the public too much! Just the horses and my dogs, I used to do the snowboarding and skateboarding but I have knocked that on the head now as I very conscious of my hurting my hands now.
Olly: I still dabble with building motorbikes and I am currently building a 1939 Indian Scout bobber. This is when I get a spare five minutes. This should be on the road next year. I prefer the building to riding so build them then sell them on. When I’m not doing that I am working on the farm or painting. I am trying to get into oil painting, which isn’t very easy for me as I am used to watercolours and pencils.
Simon: When I’m not tattooing, generally I’m drawing, that tends to take up most of my time. Really I don’t know much about motorbikes but hopefully Olly will teach me some stuff. I also travel a lot.

Do you have any aspirations for the studio?

We’re just happy with how things are going at the moment and would like to build up a good, solid reputation for our work. When you are a kid you can’t wait to get to London then as you grow up you feel more affinity with getting out of that rat race and settling somewhere a little quieter. It’s nice to have an option for the older and the frumpier (laughs) or the kids who don’t want to go to the big smoke to get tattooed. London doesn’t have to be the Mecca for tattooing.

Do you find that you all work so close that you tend to influence each other?

Tem: No! (Big laugh).
Simon: I’m still quite new to the game, so I do look over these guys’ shoulders a lot.

Is there anyone that you would like to thank for helping out your careers so far?

Tem: Loads of really amazing people for helping me out right at the beginning, names like; Jason Saga, Xam, Xed and Olly, who has put this amazing studio together. Everyone I have met in tattooing has been really, really nice!
Olly: A huge thanks to my partners in crime Tem and Simon. My Mum really, she has helped me no end and if it hadn’t have been for her I wouldn’t have got into tattooing and art in the first place. I should also thank Lucy Pryor In2U too for getting my foot in the door. Terry at Bodycraft in Nottingham for his technical help with machines.
I tend to find the more people I run into, the more that seem to help me, which is great.
Simon: Marv Learning from New Zealand. He helped me out with my apprenticeship and many folk throughout this journey and Olly and Tem for letting me work here in this amazing studio. All the folk I have travelled with and to.

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

Tem: Everybody is shit when they start and it’s lot easier to start and be shit now, yeah, that’s great but be aware that you are shit! Maybe after having a tattoo machine for three months you shouldn’t be like; ‘Do you know who I am?’
Olly: There are a lot of people who have started in the industry that think they are good but they are not. Try and keep your head down and learn the trade. The media has a lot of blame but also it has opened the public’s eyes as to what can be achieved with a tattoo machine so think outside of the box.

Credits

Interview: Neil, Photos: Neil and Annabelle Saker-Neale

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Skin Deep 169 1 February 2009 169
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