I got my first tattoo two days after my twenty-first birthday in 1984: it was a simple blue crescent moon with a smiling face and the word Moon written underneath it – Moon was my nickname in art college and beyond (and some close friends still call me that). Even funnier (especially considering how much things have changed in the intervening 28 years) is that it cost me all of £1.50… yes, £1.50. Of course, it was going to be the only tattoo I would ever get, as that was all I wanted in all honesty – then again, you could argue that I still only have the one tattoo, it’s just that it starts at the top of my head and covers my back, arms and chest….
There’s a lot of crossover between horror and ink fans, what do you think the connection is?
I really don’t know – taking a stab at a guess, I think it could be because both are very visual media, perhaps, and that horror artists can produce some stunning imagery which translates well onto skin. Look, for instance, at the number of people who have Giger-inspired tattoos – nothing says horror more than Giger (at least in my view). Additionally, people who like tattoos and get inked have seen it as an act of rebellion, although that’s becoming less obvious these days as it has now almost entered the realm of social acceptance (some people still have a problem with tattoos, as they always will) – even those people we might deem to be ‘normal’ are now getting them. This isn’t a bad thing – far from it, although one aspect that still needs to be seriously addressed is workplace discrimination against employing those with tattoos – since when does having them make people incapable of doing a job?
Of all your tattoos which do you think is most synonymous with horror?
Believe it or not, the screaming face on the side of my head is the one I most associate with horror as well as the images on my left forearm. Although I have other tattoos that might be associated with the stereotypical idea of horror (pentagram on the top of my head and a goat’s head on my sternum), they were done at a time in my life when I wasn’t in a very good place, and they now represent a part of me that no longer is symbolic of what’s going on with me. I don’t regret having them nor am I ashamed of them (as they’re reminders of who I was at that point), I just happen to think they’re no longer symbolic of ‘me’ as I am now.
Who are your favourite horror tattooists?
American artist Paul Booth – no question. All his work is done in black and grey, freehand I believe, and it’s just absolutely stunning, both in terms of technique and subject matter. If there was one artist I would choose to have work done by it would be him – but I think I would have to be considerably richer to afford one by him.
How much does a person’s tattoos tell you about them?
To me, tattoos are just another form of adornment, just like clothes and jewellery, for instance. In my mind, however, I don’t really like to make judgements based on peoples’ choices of body ink – I prefer actually talking to them and getting to know them as people that way.
Is it ok to get a tattoo because it just looks fucking cool or do you believe there should be a deep message behind each tattoo?
I’ve done both, so I can’t really say, although I will say that as I’ve got older I am more likely to think carefully about what I want. Many of the tattoos I have I can point to specific times in my life and tell you exactly what was happening around then, so they’re in effect messages from the past – and they serve me as mnemonics in that regard (and since my stroke 15 years ago that’s been extremely useful). I do think, however, that if you see a tattoo that ‘speaks’ to you in some way, that it’s doing so for a reason – it may resonate with you on some deeply subconscious level for reasons that you may not even be immediately aware of. Having some kind of a message behind the tattoo brings with it a lifetime of meaning behind it, which is a good reason for getting it in the first place.
Do your research! Don’t just go for the first tattooist that you come across and certainly don’t go for the cheapest. Just because your mate’s best friend can do that £300 tattoo for £25 doesn’t mean that you’re saving money – it may be that down the line you’ll just have to spend even more dosh to have it put right because it looks nothing like it was supposed to. Having worked in a few tattoo studios in my time, I’ve seen this happen time and again.
If you come across a likely tattooist, ask to see his/her work portfolio, ask them questions and ask others about what they’re like. Make sure they’re fully licensed too and have a proper studio. Although one can’t tar all artists with the same brush, if someone is using their kitchen table or bedroom to tattoo from then my advice is to avoid. Also, just as you would with a car or a holiday, shop around – look at all the tattooists in your town and compare them. Buy magazines and have a look at what other artists are capable of doing – it might just be worth travelling to get that tattoo you’ve always wanted.
Once you’ve found your artist, discuss your needs with them – they’ll be more than likely to create something that is uniquely yours and that will be markedly different from other peoples’ tattoos. It makes it that much more special if you possess something that no-one else does.
Any words of warning regarding tattooing and things to avoid?
Yes – like I said above, don’t go for the first or the cheapest. If you go looking for a new car, you wouldn’t buy one that doesn’t go, or has no engine, or looks like it’s more rust than steel, would you? You should treat tattoos in the same way – research, investigation and then, and only then, make a solid decision based on the information you’ve gathered.
One other thing – don’t get one just because a) it’s a fashion trend or b) all your friends have them. If you want a tattoo, it’s because you genuinely want one for your own reasons. It’s something you will wear for a lifetime – so think VERY carefully about WHY you’re getting one.
For those who haven’t been to a tattoo convention, what can they expect?
A real eye-opener – I went to my first one a couple of years ago and I’d never seen so many inked people or great artists in one place before. It’s a fantastic way of doing that research I mentioned above. The artists attending are at the top of their game and what you see on display will give you more than a good idea of what the art of tattooing is capable of.
If, for whatever reason, you were told that you could only have one more tattoo, what would it be and why?
I think I’d have the Spectral logo inked on me, because that would mark (apart from getting married, that is) the most successful phase of my life so far.
I think it’s a hangover from tattoos having associations with the ‘criminal’ class – this no longer holds true, of course, but you will always get those who think that tattoos are ‘dirty’ and that those who get them are thugs and hoodlums. A good case in point – a teacher friend of mine showed a picture of me to a group of 16-year-old schoolchildren and asked them what sort of impression they had of me. They answered unemployed, illiterate, had done time and was on benefits. They were genuinely shocked when she told them what I was really like – I was the complete opposite of their assessments. And this holds true for the vast majority of people who get tattoos.
(As a comparison, she also showed them a photo of a nurse holding a baby – they considered her trustworthy, a caring person and an upright member of the community. Of course, it was a picture of Beverley Allitt, the baby murderer – the moral, don’t judge a book by its cover, naturally).
As for the question of whether it’s a trend that’s reversing, it is, albeit on a geologically-slow timescale. There are still too many employers out there who harbour negative opinions about tattoos, thinking they’re unprofessional or ‘dirty’. It will change eventually, but it will take an awfully long time, I believe. I’d like to think that in 10 -15 years’ time things will be different, but I’m not holding my breath.