The Devil's in the Details - Cock a Snook, Newcastle

Published: 19 September, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 203, September, 2011

Wall-to-wall oddities leave you with the feeling that you’ve entered into the realm of an eccentric collector of all things weird, rather than a tattoo studio, but then Cock A Snook is not your average tattoo studio…

Just stepping inside its doors transports you from the streets of Newcastle and takes you away to another world completely. And this is all before you have even had the chance to meet the folk who ply their trade there; artists and staff who are an equally eclectic mix of passionate and mischievous artists.

The grand overseer of all things Cock A Snook is Kerry-Anne Richardson; collector, artist and now, successful studio owner. Only three and a half years in the business and she has turned a dream into a reality. And as I was to find out when I caught up with her at Tattoo Jam, when Kerry-Anne sets her sights on something, not much will get in her way.

“I had been tattooing for about a year and a half before I decided to open Cock A Snook in November 2009. I was working in another local shop and it took me about six months to find premises, settle on a studio and actually decide I was going to do it. I chose to open my own studio as, in Newcastle, I didn’t think there was anywhere else that I could fit in. My style, my work ethic, all of it… I just felt like I didn’t fit at all. I thought that there was maybe one shop that I would like to work at. I just felt there wasn’t what I wanted in the area, so I knew I had to open up my own shop. I didn’t want to move out of Newcastle as I had only just moved back from New Zealand, where I had been snowboarding. I really didn’t want to go again.

“Opening Cock A Snook wasn’t an arrogance thing or me being overconfident, but I really wanted to create an environment that I was happy to work in. A place that was creative, that focussed on learning. When I opened the shop, it was just me and another young tattooer that I took on. Then it started to get really busy so I just kept taking on more artists. The whole idea of the shop was to get other young artists in who hadn’t been tattooing very long, but were obviously extremely focussed and talented, so that we could all learn together. Another thing was, because I haven’t been tattooing very long myself, it needed to be an experience that we all shared together. And all the guys who work at the shop have had bad experiences at tattoo shops before, myself included. We have seen the wrong side of tattooing and they had seen how nasty people in the industry can be.

“Everyone we have got in the shop have been very intentional choices, even the guest artists. I have researched and found people that are, obviously very good artists, but are also people that I know will all fit together. I think this is really important when you are working with people day in and day out. Obviously you have squabbles and stuff, but everyone has to have the same goals. And everyone in the shop wants to be as good as they can and everyone wants to learn as much as possible.”

Kerry-Anne has obviously done her research before hiring artists for the shop. Whether it is work or play, the Cock A Snook team are a tight knit group.

“Paul and I worked together at a previous shop and I said to him that when I opened my place, I wanted him to come work with me. I already knew before I opened the shop that I wanted to get Paul in. He’s very modest and I think that is very important, especially in a male tattooist. I know that sounds awful but there is a lot of arrogance and ego in the industry and the guys in the shop, none of them have that. Greg has been tattooing the longest whereas Joe has been tattooing for five minutes. But he is incredible. I had my eye on him for ages. I got Bailey to come work at the shop because Bailey and Joe are friends and they compete with each other anyway. They both have different strengths so I put them together and already I can see that it is going to be really good. I employed Kirsty (shop manager) about six months ago and at last it is all falling into place. If it wasn’t for Kirsty, I wouldn’t be here. Essentially she is my boss cause I make her make me do things.

“Now I have the artists I want, I don’t think I will be getting anymore in. It’s a case of heads down and learn more… particularly me.

Because I set up the shop, I’ve lost maybe a year and a half tattooing time because I have had to deal with all the other stuff being the person in charge. Being the boss is awful. I don’t like being the boss. Thankfully, I am now at the stage where I can get back to tattooing now I have Kirsty. Now I have to keep my head down and start learning because everyone in the shop is so much stronger than me tattoo wise. It’s quite intimidating and scary, but it forces me to get better.”

Being the boss is hard enough but being the boss in a historically male dominated industry; I ask Kerry-Anne if being female shop studio owner has made it harder.

“Men of a certain age, maybe in their 40s or 50s, they’ll come into the shop and want a tattoo and half the time they’ll want a guy to talk to and if any decisions have to be made, say if someone is not happy with a tattoo placement, when I come out, they’re not interested. It’s like, ‘What? You’re just the receptionist or the woman in the back that shoots the babies out'. It’s hard because I have a lot of respect for the old school tattooers, but there are still a lot who still see it as a man’s world. Everyone else accepts it because there are so many women tattooing now.”

And in the same vein, how is the competition in Newcastle? Do the studios support each other or is it every man (or in this case, very competent woman) for themselves?

“I think that tattooing is very different in Newcastle than everywhere else in the country. It is almost like the old ‘rites of passage’ getting a tattoo here. I’ve seen more tattooed people in Newcastle than anywhere else. I think it is because everyone is friends, everybody knows each other. All of the arsey shops, they can get on with it. They whinge and bitch but don’t concentrate on their own work, whereas if you are friends with the other studios you can learn from them. If something happens, like a little while back one of the shops in Darlington got burgled and Low (Allan Lowther, Northside Tattooz) put on his Facebook status to say something like, ‘If anyone has seen this kind of equipment to contact him’ and they were caught and the studio got all their stuff back. I think a sense of community is important. Low was really supportive when I opened the shop because I was still quite young and I was doing it on my own.

“And I believe you should always be friendly to everyone because you need to treat people how you want to be treated. I hate it when you go to conventions and you are walking past someone’s booth and they won’t say hello.”

The fun and friendly atmosphere of Cock A Snook is definitely a major draw for the studio, with crazy activities like ‘Hide A Snook’ (check out their Facebook page) to liven up the day when things are quiet.

When you have a look through Cock A Snook’s artist portfolios, there is no doubt that Kerry-Anne has chosen artistically sound tattooists who individually are strong enough to stand alone in their chosen field or style. But the really amazing trick she has managed to pull, is seeing that when working together they are five times stronger, offering the customer anything they need in one shop.
“I never wanted a shop that focused on one style. I want people that do all different things because that then covers all the bases. So if a customer comes in, we know that we can get them an artist that can do that work. And even if they want a particular style and we haven’t got someone who specialises in that particular style, we might have a guest artist that’s come in. But we try and match the customer to the style. I wouldn’t have a shop that did all one style because that excludes so many people and everyone has got different tastes. It could be a very bad business decision. And also, you are only going to get one type of customer or tattoo and that could get very boring.

“Each of the artists that we’ve got in the shop, they can cover most styles, but everyone has different styles that they like, so if a customer comes in with an idea, you know pretty much straight away who is going to do it. To be honest, even though we are a street shop, we don’t get so many walk-ins. Most people want custom stuff. A lot of the time, the customer has already made up their mind which artist they want before they come in. We basically share everything. We put everything into the pot and share because we are all still very young tattooists.”

And this seems to be the key to the whole success of Cock A Snook, everyone working to one common goal rather than pulling in different directions. As we wrap things up, I can’t help but ask Kerry-Anne about Cock A Snook’s décor. Call it junk shop collecting or high end interior design, it makes no difference because it works wonders.

“A lot of the objects in the shop are from my own house. My old housemates used to complain that I collected shit. I used to go into skips and charity shops. They basically used to be always telling me off and I just started slowly moving it to the shop. Now most of it just goes straight to the shop. I can’t help myself. If I see some taxidermy or an unusual antique I just have to have it. I think you have to be surrounded by beautiful things to be inspired and I wanted the customers to feel comfortable.”

Joe Ellis

Tattooing began for me only very recently under the wing of Cock A Snook. It took me a very long time to get my foot even in the door of a studio (unless it was to be tattooed!) and I spent a good few years trying to find somewhere to teach me the art, but it was so hard to get people to even look at my portfolio or take me seriously.

I started tattooing volunteers on evenings in the studio around November 2010; it was exciting to finally be where I wanted to be after so long, however, it was probably the scariest experience of my life. After a couple of months, in February 2011, I was set loose on walk-ins and the perils of daytime tattooing. I have been really fortunate in the kinds of work I get to tattoo and I’m greatly appreciative for that, although I don’t quite understand why I get to do so if I’m totally honest.

There are a lot of artists and tattoo artists that I look up to. I like to take an interest in what other tattoo artists are doing, but to be honest I try not to look so much because the quality of their work really amazes me and makes me disappointed in myself.

Tattooing for me is everything I’ve ever wanted to do and more, but it is so much harder than I ever imagined it to be. Working alongside some very talented artists will hopefully help me to learn more and maybe even give me a bit of confidence in the future.

Paul Johnson

I started tattooing professionally, almost three years ago, after falling into the industry by complete accident. Six years previous to this, I had studied and worked in music production, whilst spending the majority of my spare time designing small horror-themed comic books. Not having the time to concentrate on what I enjoyed most, I packed in my career in music and worked a series of part-time jobs to fund my love for drawing. Whilst designing band posters and promotional material, I was offered an apprenticeship in a newly opened Newcastle-based tattoo studio.

Here, I had free reign to use the shop space, unsupervised, whilst the studio was closed. This resulted in trial and error tattoos on myself and close friends, for which I am eternally grateful! It wasn't until March 2010, that I began working at Cock A Snook and started to use my own interests to develop my skills as an artist and tattooist.

I guess my love of horror, sci-fi and comic books have greatly inspired my work – ranging from fantastic realism to my own cartoon-like designs. I am not tattooing towards a definite style, I prefer to experiment with my work and not be restricted by the boundaries of a singular tattooing genre. Recently, I started using photo-manipulation as a design technique; working alongside Kayla Wren of REN Photography to produced blood splattered gas masked girls and other dark, haunting imagery adapted for skin. Along with other projects in the pipeline, we are working on a series of pieces which combine realism and hand-drawn images, from futuristic pin-ups to destructive robots of doooooooooom!

Shaun Bailey

I’m the new guy at Cock A Snook, having only started a couple of week ago. I have been tattooing just over a year and a half and made the move to Newcastle to start at the studio. It all started when I did a little guest spot a few months ago. Then a few weeks later they asked me if I wanted to come work full-time. I didn’t really know what to say at first. I was a bit scared of taking the next step and I got on really well with everyone at Blue Blood (where I worked in Manchester), so I was sad to leave. But it was just something I needed to do to improve my work.

Everyone at Cock A Snook are great and really hard working, they all make me want to work much harder and push myself.

I started tattooing about a year and a half ago, although this was not something I intended to do. None of my family or friends had any tattoos. I went to university to do illustration, but dropped out and generally lost interest as my fascination with tattooing grew and took over. I spent the next few years working on my drawing and never showing anyone, then one day I got the courage to show some of my drawings and they gave me an apprenticeship.

There are a lot of artists that I look up to. Uncle Allen, Jessie Smith, Adrian Edek. Adriaan Machete. Curt Baer, Steve Whittenberger, Dan Morris are just a few, but there are so many.

Would also like to thank Matt Cooley, Polly Tompson and Jemma Jones at Blue Blood – love you all.

Greg Scott

I am 25 and I have been tattooing for six years now. I had a curious fascination with tattoos along time before ever picking up a tattoo machine. Because none of my family were tattooed it wasn’t until I went with a friend, who got tattooed, that my curiosity became so much more. It was over a year after this that I plucked up the courage to actually get tattooed. Even at this point my fascination had not stretched to even consider this could be a profession for me. It was quite a few drawings and quite a few tattoos later that I was offered an apprenticeship. It wasn’t the greatest of apprenticeships, but I realized very quickly that you have to take the chance and endeavor to make the most of it. My foot was in the door and I spent the next few years working hard.

When Kerry-Anne offered me the chance to come work at her studio I knew it was an amazing opportunity. I had already seen some of her work and the amazing studio she had. Cock A Snook is a great studio to work at, everyone is so artistically driven but so laid back at the same time! It’s such a creative environment, we work hard, we help each other… and maybe play the odd practical joke on one another.

There are so many tattooists that I am amazed by and aspire to be like, but I have always found the biggest influence on my work has been the people I have and do work with… and I have been lucky enough to be working with four other great artists here at Cock A Snook.

Cock A Snook Tattoo Parlour

5 Coast road
High Heaton

0191 340 8835


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Kayla Wren


Artist Profiles: