Cookie at The Ink Spot - Why So Serious?

Published: 29 April, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 224, April, 2013

Simon Cooke, better known to the world as Cookie, needs to cheer down. In a world where most things are taken very seriously, he’s damn good fun to be around. More importantly for the ever-increasing line of people looking for work from him, he’s also pretty good with more than a keen eye for detail.

Detail – it’s what the man thrives on. He will probably be the first to admit that every day brings something new to the table that he needs to master, but then, that’s a realisation everybody should be making about themselves. It’s the one thing that surprises me every time we meet – which is, by some strange twist of fate, once a season.

Opening his portfolio reveals a man who, despite being great fun in a social setting, will never be happy with his work and always pushes the boundaries of what he knows he’s actually capable of. Not bad for a man that was deadly serious and intent on making it as an entertainer at one point. Looking back on this interview now and the things we discuss, it becomes obvious to me that he still is – even though he probably doesn’t recognise it himself…

“I was never in a band; I wish I had been. I was just a singer working clubs, pubs. I loved it and that comes from the rush I found that you get – from about the age of seven – when people are watching you being good at something you really enjoy doing. I auditioned for boy bands and I just always wanted to be that sort of person – cheesy boy bands. That’s where I always saw it going, but it never came off so I just… stopped.

“I’ve danced all over the world mind – I was a professional dancer for three or four years too. I was in charge of 38 dancers at one point, choreographing shows and stuff like that – been there, got the T-shirt and I have no regrets that it didn’t work out at all.

“In fact, I think I’m very happy that things have worked out as they have. I worked at a shop when I started out that we’ll call ‘the bad side’, and that taught me all of the things you shouldn’t do. I’m grateful for having had that experience. It wasn’t that much of a bad side really – it was run unprofessionally but it was a street shop, where if I’d stayed, I’d never have progressed beyond what we call ‘what can you do me for £30’ tattoos.

“There comes a time when you have to step up. After that, I opened my own shop and we were doing fine with walk-ins, but it wasn’t really that long before we were booked up for the next week, then the next month – now we’re like seven or eight months booked in advance.”

This, I feel, is key to Cookie’s ongoing success. The bright side is always visible regardless – nobody wants to spend hours at a time locked in mortal combat for a place on your skin with a cantankerous old bastard.

“I honestly can’t thank my customers enough. It’s still stressful and hard work every day but it’s not my way to enter into that with a sad face on.”

I pose to Cookie that no matter your position in life, nobody walks about the earth being appreciative of the things they’ve got every minute of the day like some kind of loved-up saint. To get better (which is the ideal here) means you need to keep moving.

“We have fun with it for sure. I sing, the iPad is on all the time, it’s a nice environment to get work done, that’s a priority for me. Sometimes I think people don’t take me as seriously as I would like them to because I’m a bit of a joker and I’m always having some laughs – every line has a line, but you know that. But I also think it’s part of the reason we’re successful too and I’ll take that trade-off any day of the week.

“You’ve got to be yourself. It’s me in my shop and – work aside – that’s what you’re going to get. Me.”

This reminds me of the David Lee Roth quote that I’m far too overly fond of using – “Just because we’re having fun, doesn’t mean we’re not serious about what we’re doing”… something like that anyway. The quote applies to Cookie so well, he could wear it like a suit.

“I can’t turn it off. I can’t be a clone that everybody expects you to be. 12 hours a day, six days of the week and more if needs be – I can’t be the machine that controls the needles all of that time. You have to find escape mechanisms to lighten things up otherwise, that can be a very long day – especially when those days turn into months and then years. But I also think that it’s a great way to be and why we’ve got so many loyal customers. We cater to people’s needs – a lot of people even hang out after the tattoo is done and drink tea, and I like that about the place. That’s a nice way to live don’t you think?”

It must be hard though, when somebody like me comes along and asks you to actually put these trains of thought into actual words. I make it harder by asking where he thinks he might be going next?

“I’m excited about the future! I’m not that guy who has the grand design and the big plan. I’m the guy that’s taking it day by day, enjoying the moment and seeing what turns up. If you have that grand design and it doesn’t happen, you can disappear into a downward spiral. My aspirations are high but the key is in how you approach it.

“You also have to keep things in perspective. You do have to take a bird’s-eye view on what’s going on in the world. There are so many tattooists and opportunities for them right now, that it’s very easy to get lost in all the noise. So despite not having a ‘grand design’ as such, I’m still trying to figure out how to play it out there.

“I actually quite like intimacy you know. Working a big show like Tattoo Jam is fantastic; being a part of something like that is like being on the bill at Glastonbury, but you can lose a little bit of intimacy at a festival. I really enjoy that ‘one on one’ with people and getting to know them and what they do. I’m basically a people person at heart.”

Cookie’s next statement to me is a little shocking. He tells me that in the area of his shop and our mutual friend, Mark Poole’s shop (Dermal Puncture Emporium) – which, while not exactly walking distance are certainly close – there is something like 70 tattoo shops in the Stoke area. Good or bad aside, that’s a lot of damn shops. Imagine opening a car sales franchise, a bookshop or a cafe and finding you were in competition with that many other places. You’d probably think twice, but it’s a sign of the times with people coming to the industry drawn by the allure of, well… you name it, there’s probably a reason for it. It’s tough to be great out there when a really higher percentage of people simply want a tattoo for the sake of being tattooed, than actually want a great tattoo because it matters.

“When you’re positioned in a town like Stoke, it’s hard to specialise because there’s so much traffic and variety coming through the door. Which on the one hand is great – even an average tattooist can make a living there. But I think to specialise… well, people know what I do now and come to me for those reasons.

“I’m doing a sleeve for this guy at the moment – it’s a motocross sleeve – and being honest here, it’s macro-tattooing. It’s minute badges, things like that where you have to have your nose on the guys arm to actually read it, and I love stuff like that. Spending 15 hours on something the size of a postage stamp? Bring it on – I absolutely love it because I think it’s just… different.

“The new school movement doesn’t really float my boat a lot. For me it’s just colour washes with line work. I’d prefer to spend an hour, two hours, doing something the size of a pound coin and getting as much stuff as I can in there and making it look like it really should. That’s what floats my boat. I’m the detail man…”

Be careful what you wish for buddy. Time to start sweating the small stuff!

The Ink Spot

57A Church Street
Silverdale, Staffs

01782 619144


Text & Photography: Cookie


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