Blood Brothers

Published: 25 August, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 184, April, 2010

From the outside you would be hard-pressed to guess how long Blood Brothers Custom Tattoo Studio has been open. Amidst the hustle-and-bustle of the busy Holloway Road it emanates an aura of calm, somehow avoiding getting caught up in the whirlwind of sights and sounds that spills onto the surrounding streets. Before you walk through the door you get the impression that this is a place that doesn’t have any time for the dramas of the tattoo industry, but instead has the time to make sure you have a good tattoo experience. As it happens this is true, but the studio has definitely earned the name Blood Brothers.

From the studio’s inception in 2003 it was the focus of some unwanted attention from some of those in the industry who did not approve of new blood moving in and opening up shop. As they say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and the studio survived some bad luck and (with hindsight) bad business decisions. Instead of getting involved in the drama, the guys at the studio focussed on the reason they opened the shop: To make good tattoos.


Ironically, the very people who sought to crush Blood Brothers at the start are probably the reason that the studio itself emerged as a close-knit family of hard-working tattooists and is such an easy-going and relaxed environment. Less than a minute after walking into the studio Jim4 (the founder and driving force behind the studio) had already offered me a cup of tea and I was invited to enjoy the well-worn and comfortable sofa in the waiting area. It’s this kind of welcome that makes you feel more like you’ve walked into someone’s home than a business. 


After years of keeping quiet Jim4 also feels now is a good time to finally tell HIS side of story to the readers of Skin Deep. “From the start we met resistance, having not followed the traditional route of spending 15 years slaving for someone else, saving our pennies and eventually opening own shop. After the banks baulked at the idea of giving a loan to a tattooist I was lucky enough to have the support of my mum who re-mortgaged her house to provide me with a loan for the capital. We started out offering piercing as well, but soon decided it was better to stick to what we knew best and built a good team with JJ Dallas (of Bugs and Angelic Hell fame), Wez4 came in full-time and Luci Lou (from Brazil). 


Unfortunately my business partner (whom hadn’t invested a single penny into the business) wasn’t as dedicated as the rest of us and soon the partnership was in trouble. After I confronted him and he agreed to walk away he turned on us and started trying to play our friends against each other to destroy the business. Anyone who knows me knows that Blood Brothers was opened to be a family affair and run as a custom studio, not a money printing machine. Malicious threats were made to have the shop raided by the police and it all came down to upset egos and greed. I think of my team as my family, full of fun and full of life and not an attitude in sight!”.


As you would expect an experience like this either makes or breaks you, there is no doubt about how Jim4 has taken it, “I feel our work speaks for itself, the quality shines through. We’ve been here for over 6 years so we must be doing something right!” 


It wasn’t all bad news, during all this, Wez4 built a reputation for producing daring New School Designs and Jay Jay Dallas battled his artistic demons and emerged with a unique style that has given him an enviable waiting list of people willing to wait to get some of his work on them. Mike Owl had been working with the Blood Brothers guys and was picking up many tips and tricks; eventually coming into his own as his skills and confidence grew. It seemed Blood Brothers had survived the impossible. But the excitement wasn’t over, as Jim4 explains, “ After many conventions the Blood Brothers family extended to Sweden where JJ and Wez were hit by the love bug and found themselves Swedish beauties. Blood Brothers found a sister shop in Sweden called Blue Bird and artists from both shops started to go backwards-and-forwards, inspiring each other along the way.”


Nick Whybrow (from Immortal Ink) joined the family and was able to offer brilliant Japanese designs alongside the other artist’s work. Anita Carroll, an Aussie punk, has (to quote Jim4) “the tough job of keeping everyone organised and inline”. On top of all this, they have regular guests from their sister shop, including the award winning Johanna Thor and Gunnar coming over on a regular basis to tattoo the lucky customers.


It is nearly ten years since Jim4 started tattooing and it looks like he has no intention of slowing down; they are currently gutting the garden at the rear in preparation for some Spring-time events and are planning a huge party at the Purple Turtle in Camden. He is still involved in helping local stroke and epilepsy charities by providing artwork that is sold at auction, and says he has something in the pipelines to help our girls and boys in the forces. He also intends to have a working holiday guesting in Sweden during 2010, and JJ and Johanna are flying out to work the convention in South Africa too. Everyone at the studio enjoys attending conventions, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Blood Brothers name at a few more in 2010.


It’s clear why people should come to Blood Brothers, apart from the tattoos; it’s an open plan studio where the staff and customers can feel comfortable. As Anita says, “You can have a cuppa and a chat while you wait for your appointment. Mike and Nick play-fight like real siblings and the stereo pumps out music that you want to hear, not what supposed to be ‘cool’. Our artists have their own specialties and no two tattoos we design are ever the same. People here are always joking and laughing”.


Wez4 sums it up in his own way, “The shop is described as down to earth, however we can get a little rowdy, but I’m sure some customers just come here not just to get tattooed, but to hear more of our crazy stories! We always aimed to make the place feel like a customer can just walk in, get a coffee, get the in-jokes and feel like they should be here. Since we aren’t stressed, you get the best work we can do as we are focussed on that and not on drama”. Johanna nods in agreement adding, “These guys are happy people with their hearts in the right place, not an attitude in sight. This is probably why Bluebird and Blood Brothers have such a good relationship, as we are so alike”.


The work ethic of the studio is to always give the customer the best they can, and to admit when you think another artist is better suited to their needs. The team that Jim4 has assembled means that there is always someone in the studio who specialises in what you are looking for. 


The diverse interests of the tattooists has attracted a variety of clients, Wez4’s involvement in metal and thrash has led him to tattoo a lot of people in the metal scene including Nicolas from Lock-Up and Luca from Ted Maul. Mike Owl admits to having, “a massive obsession with guns and playing airsoft”, Nick admits to being “embarrassingly rubbish at skateboarding in my spare time”, JJ enjoys travel and Johanna enjoys everything from graffiti to inventing.


The guys at Blood Brothers were happy to indulge me in the usual questions about getting your first tattoo, what they think of where the industry is going and to even give some advise to people who are thinking of becoming tattooists themselves.


“Work hard to put together a good portfolio of designs, artwork and drawings and then take it to show artists who you think are awesome”, recommends Nick, “Don’t be afraid to ask, but be prepared to listen to and accept the feedback and advise that you get given”. Wez4 expands on this point,”If you are supposed to be a tattooist someone out there will give you the chance. Just because your mum and your best mates say you are good it doesn’t mean you are… If no one gives your portfolio the time of day you simply are not good enough. It’s not the Hollywood lifestyle you see on TV, it is hard work for those who care, but its those that care that last”.


At a time when most people in the industry are complaining about it being mainstream, Mike has a much more rounded point of view about the effect on the industry, “ It’s in a good place, people are wanting quality and there are more people out there who can deliver it. The standards in the industry are being pushed higher and higher and I can’t wait to see what’s next!”.


Nick probably has the best advise for someone who is new to tattoos, “Get involved and come to us for it. Only kidding, think hard about what you want and where. Don’t obsess too much though, otherwise you get to the point where you are paralysed and can’t decide. Research artists and find one that does the kind of work you want, don’t be afraid to ask tattooists questions either; if they don’t want to make the time to listen, do you really want them working on you?”


Johanna made some good points about how it’s a tough industry to start out in, it consumes your entire life and you can never afford to have an off-day, “For me it is important to love the tattoo I am doing, after all it has my name on it so it had better be fucking spot on! Ha ha, that should be my motto. I want people to have good memories of me”. It’s good to see people taking such pride in their work, we have all seen too many footballers and celebrities with lots of time and money sporting terrible tattoos where patchy shading and poor line work is obvious even from the photos in the tabloids. Unfortunately this kind of celebrity worship, and artists selling their careers on the back on shoddy work on dubiously famous non-personalities, has made many artists reluctant to talk about whom they have tattooed in case they look like they are fame chasing. In this interview it meant that I almost didn’t get to find out that JJ had tattooed Joe Strummer (of the Clash) a few years before he passed away. Having spent 15 years working on his art and craft, it is safe to say that JJ isn’t trying to get credibility or acceptance by name-dropping. In an increasingly ‘instant’ and disposable culture, which seems to be spreading to tattooing too, it’s refreshing to speak to someone so down to earth.


Jim4’s closing statement is a pretty good summary of what makes it all worth the hard work, “We are lucky to have friends at Pearl in Kent like Marcus and Martin Ox. We also have guest artists who are great friends like Chris Hatton, Norm from the States, Takami from Japan and Berckart from Germany. It’s been really good to meet all these people and to work with such genuine talent. That’s why we started! 


They have all been there for me, like a rock and given me the hope to keep alive and kicking, for that I am forever grateful and respectful”.


120 Holloway Road, 

Holloway, London, N7 8JE

Tel: 0207619 0345



Words & Photography: Al Overdrive