There was a time when sporting a tattoo would mark you gangster, sailor or punk. Today they’re adorned by young and old, rich and poor, straight and rebellious alike. In this series, we meet London’s finest tattoo artists to discuss the growing appeal of ink. Photography by Rory James and Yoshitaka Kono.
Grace Neutral – tattoo artist, documentary presenter and living, breathing artwork; forked tongue and elf ears and inked blue sclerae – hand pokes tattoos at Femme Fatale.
"I’m just so addicted to my job. I’m fully possessed by tattooing. If you want to do this job well you have to dedicate you’re whole fucking life to it, you know? People think being a tattoo artist is really fun and really cool because it’s popular and tattoo artists are like rock stars. But it’s only a cool job if you actually have a passion for it. Because if you don’t, you’re just going to be shit."
Mowgli works from his studio Through My Third Eye where he specialises in uniquely intricate artwork.
"I’m always trying to push myself into different realms, trying more realism or attempting straighter lines. I like to decipher people and represent their ideas in my own complicated way. We are all complex beings; I’m trying to fit it all into one little space."
Emily Malice, who draws on people at Femme Fatale, combines her love of botany and pop art in a “delicious collision”.
"I love learning and seeing work I wouldn't usually get to see in my day-to-day life. Inspiration is everywhere. I love what can be done with textures, [it's] more of a graphic kind of language. I'm not that into hyper-realistic baby portraits... the teeth creep me out."
Sarah Schor, a craftswoman and artist, applies artwork to people at Parliament Tattoo.
"It’s more mainstream now than it was even ten years ago. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas. Even in my family. About intelligence. Culturally: 'oh you’re into classical music but you have tattoos?' They expect you to be in a biker shop listening to heavy metal."
Luke Jinks is a traditional tattoo artist, drawing inspiration from Indian art. He draws on people at Cloak and Dagger.
"People often get to caught up in the meaning and forget that the point of a tattoo is to look great. Old men always have the best ones. If you spot an old guy full of tattoos, you can be sure he has a lot of stories to tell."
Rose Harley works at Vagabond Tattoo Studio, where she sketches refined and intricate artwork on bodies.
"I’m sure some people hate tattoos. There are some in the older generation that disapprove and judge – that’s their prerogative. But then I have tattooed a lady who was 85, and she loved them. "
Michelich Matesich, a lover of the craft, works at Cloak and Dagger, where he marks people with black and grey ink.
"Some workplaces still don't want to hire people with visible tattoos. I know that to work for the police you can't have tattoos from your elbow down [for example]; which is maybe a sign that society thinks a person with fewer tattoos has a more formal and professional look."
Meg Stedhead draws solid, clean lines at Velvet Underground Tattoo.
"Keep it small. Don’t think about it too much, but enough to be okay to live with it forever. And preferably something that means something to you, or something that you like! Maybe consider where future tattoos may go before you go ahead, you only have so much skin."