The Engine Shed, Lincoln
Being of a certain age I can remember when the people I knew who had tattoos were servicemen, criminals and prostitutes. Tattoos were for a separate part of society, and they were mainly what’s considered ‘old school’. Naked ladies, lucky dice, nautical scenes, ‘death before dishonour’ were some of the ones I remember. As I grew up and started my working life, I came into contact with more people who were tattooed. I remember my shock seeing an old lady maybe in her eighties with a number tattooed on are wrist. Being too shy to ask, she saw me looking and told me it was her ‘number’ when she was in a concentration camp. I had an uncle who was heavily inked with the old school stuff – including a naked lady on his forearm and a bracelet around his wrist with his name on it. I never understood that one, still don’t. Drinking in the pubs and clubs of South London brought me into contact with people who had different ink. Japanese, Maori and Celtic symbols and popular images like the panther scratching the bicep and the often regretted ‘tramp stamps’ on a girls lower back. My fascination grew but I could never find nor imagine the design I wanted on my skin for the rest of my life.
I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was well into my mid-thirties. Whilst on a weekend trip to Amsterdam I noticed a tattoo studio which looked like a clinic. It was pristine, the owner was following people and when they touched anything he immediately wiped it down with bleach and a cloth. The tattoo area was open so you could see what was happening. I asked if I could watch for a while and the tattooist and client both agreed. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision exactly because I had the idea of what I wanted I just hadn’t found anywhere I felt comfortable. The places I had seen in London were dark and dingy and appeared dirty and unwelcoming plus I had seen dome of the work by particular tattooists who were supposed to be reputable, and it didn’t impress me.
About thirty years ago I joined a branch of the civil service and during the recruitment process, I was asked if I had any tattoos. Not at that time. I joined with people who were ex-services and others who did have ink and they were all asked to provide photos and descriptions. If any were deemed unsuitable or inappropriate, they were denied the job. I worked with one fella who had his son’s name on his forearm, he was told that he had to wear long-sleeved shirts or cover it up with a huge plaster.
How times have changed, I am now working with people who have ink on their necks, hands, and behind their ears. Through my service, I have met people from all walks of life who are inked. Doctors, teachers, politicians, and white-haired grandmothers to name a few. During these years tattoos have become more socially accepted and are considered living art rather than a symbol of rebellion, although there is still an element of that, they all have meaning whether personal or traditional.
Once I saw that there was a Tattoo convention happening virtually on my doorstep I asked the organisers – the incredible and wonderful Stef and Jordan if they would like the weekend reviewed – yes, please. A couple of weeks ago I paid them a visit at their studio Hazards Emporium in Sleaford where I was lucky enough to talk with Stef and two of the 9 artists – Nick and Phoebe who were most gracious with their time and their views. Both are heavily inked, and both have suffered discrimination because of their tattoos. Neither bear anybody any ill will for this discrimination because they are both incredibly comfortable in their own skin and are trying hard to educate people. They are both artists in a different mediums. I was to discover that they were more than artists to some people which will be explained later.
When I pitched the review request to Stef, she wanted to know what and why I was going to do. I explained that People get tattooed for many different reasons – some have a need to feel the pain, some need to remember people or a specific time or some just want a tattoo they think is fun. All valid reasons so, I came up with a few generic questions for both the customer and the artist.
I also found out that it wasn’t just about tattoos, the whole weekend was geared towards promoting the alternative lifestyle with a Burlesque show, Drag competition and a battle of the bands.
For the customer
What was your first tattoo?
Why did you choose that particular tattoo?
Do you have any you regret or have had covered up?
How many tattoos do you have?
What’s your next tattoo?
What advice would you give to anyone considering getting inked?
For the artist
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to tattoo?
How long have you been tattooing?
Is there anything you will not tattoo?
Do you like being tattooed?
Who does your tattoo’s?
Do’s and dont’s?
Here are some of the interviews I conducted – which were brief because people were getting inked or had the gun in their hand.
Customers first –
Anna has a cat tattooed on her shoulder by her daughter Phoebe –
‘My first tattoo was a tribal ‘tramp stamp’ on my back then years later I let Phoebe loose on me. It was the fashion at the time. I do regret it but I’m going to get it covered up with something. I don’t know what yet, but Phoebe will come up with something. I did want more after the first but I waited until Phoebe was fully trained before I got any more. I would get tattooed by Nick (Phoebe’s mentor and partner) but Phoebe’s outline work is phenomenal.’
‘As regards advice I would make sure that you choose the right artist. Research them and check their social media. Visit the studio so you can get a feel for the place.’
James was being inked by Nick –
‘My first was my nickname ‘Farms’ down my forearm. I was young and stupid. I regret the tribal on my arm because it was just the fashion back then. I can’t tell you how many tattoos I have (he was literally covered). I’ve probably been to four or five tattoo artists and Nick has done a few of mine. I moved away and we have re-kindled our friendship so today I’m his canvas for the competition.’
‘Don’t rush into getting inked. Be sure you want one and find the right artist that does that style then you won’t regret it. I’m going to get my legs finished and after that, I don’t know what I will do, I didn’t think I would ever go this far!’
Betty is being inked by Kimmie.
‘My first was this script – ‘Look Beyond The Autism And You Will See Someone Special’. I’m autistic. I feel like tattoos are therapy for me. These people make me feel safe and comfortable which is weird. Everybody here accepts people for who they are. I do regret one tattoo, but it’s covered up now, it was girl’s name, I won’t be doing that again! I started getting tattoos in 2016 and I searched and searched I also suffer from tremors, so I shake quite a lot. I found Nick and he said he could deal it. Nick is now more than just my tattoo artist he is my friend, and I can be really open and honest with him, and he makes me feel comfortable. He really supports me too, they all do.’
‘Next, I’m going to have a pride of lions on my back then after that a Valkyrie on my leg!’
Gwen originally from Orpington, Kent now from Chapel St Leonards has one of her dogs inked on her thigh –
‘My first was a dolphin on my back. I got it in Florida after I had swam with manatees. My mother had recently died, and it was a bit of rebellion I suppose because she wouldn’t have approved. I don’t regret it, but it’s covered up now by a lioness which is my favourite tattoo. I’ve now got about thirty tattoos’ now and most have been done by Theresa. I went to her studio and saw her artwork and chose her because most of my tattoos are from photographs my husband has taken (Gwen has flowers and animals all over her arms and legs). ‘
‘If you’re looking to get a tattoo, I would say look at the artwork NOT the flash and really think about where you want it on your body. I can cover all mine up if needed. I come from an era where the only people who had tattoos were criminals, prostitutes or sailors. Tattoos are now becoming more socially acceptable but there’s still a long way to go! I consider my art, not tattoos.’
Matthew from Leicester was having Marvel characters inked on his leg.
‘My first was my sleeve (Matthew’s right arm had a full sleeve, as did his left). It’s all about Jack The Ripper – I absolutely love history. The other arm is taken from a picture from a coal mining museum in Bemish in the North East where my grandfather was a miner. I don’t have any that I regret. I found my artist through friends who found him through Tinder! If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo – just go for it but find something that you’re going to love forever and find the right artist for that style. Once I’ve finished this piece, I’m going get Venom and have the whole leg, Marvel.’
Ryan from Lincoln was having a design ‘hand-poked’ on his calf by Ash from Norwich.
‘My first was the England badge I don’t regret it and now I’m covered. Both arms, left leg chest and back are all in the Japanese style. I was recommended this guy by my Dad, and I thought I’d give him a go – it’s much less painful. Advice? Think about it seriously first then do your research.’
Here’s what the artists said –
‘It’s been a dream since I was a kid to become a tattoo artist. I’ve always been ‘arty’ so I had to do something with it. If I wasn’t creative, I’d go mental. The weirdest piece I’ve tattooed was an animated marijuana leaf with a zoot – not my finest work! I won’t tattoo anything racist, and I won’t tattoo anyone’s face. Job stoppers. Times are changing but not fast enough.’
‘Nick does my tatt or I do them myself. I’ve done all my legs; you’ve just got to get over the concept that you’re going to hurt yourself. Once you’re doing and you’re focussed you don’t feel it. When I apprenticed, I used anything I could to replicate the feeling of tattooing skin, but there’s nothing like human skin. I used synthetic skin, pig skin from the butchers, oranges, grapefruits, lemons but most artists tattoo themselves.’
‘My advice – it’s really important to research the artist. Check their socials and look for their images. More importantly, look for images of when their work has healed. It always looks great when it’s freshly done but you have to see it after the healing process. In a customer, I look for someone who is open to a little artistic free rein and who has imagination, but I don’t want to copy anybody’s work.’
Amelia Galvin –
‘Art! I really enjoyed art at school and even then, I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist from about 11 years old. I started building a portfolio. I found the style I liked – neo-traditional, gothic and nature. I don’t think I’ve done anything that weird maybe some names and quotes. I won’t tattoo anything racist. My tattoos are done by my mentor Kimmy although my first tattoo was done by someone else, I was 18 and I just wanted ink. I don’t regret it, but it is covered up now by a bigger piece. I won’t tattoo anybody who is rude to me or anyone who won’t listen to my advice. I don’t like tattooing necks, fingers or hands.’
‘I kind of fell into it really. I started tattooing in my house which I do not recommend. I asked for an apprenticeship, and I got one, that was about 8 years ago. I started by tattooing friends and family then apprenticed which was really hard work, I got myself out there and built up a portfolio and found an artist I liked, and he gave me the opportunity. You really have to put the hours in and learn the trade. I spent hours practising on myself and on fake skin and I developed my style – colour realism. I think the weirdest thing I have done was a tuna sandwich on someone’s shoulder. I won’t tattoo anything political or racist. My advice is to do a lot of research first because not everyone can give you what you want and don’t just get anything really think about it.’
Olivia – Kimmy’s apprentice
‘Always loved art. I was actually studying engineering at university, and I didn’t enjoy it anyway I was getting tattooed in a shop and the artist mentioned that she was looking for an apprentice so I said can I give him my portfolio. She said yes and then offered me the job. I’ve only been tattooed by people at the shop I work at. As an apprentice, you do the menial chores but most importantly you watch, listen and learn. It’s not easy work but it is amazing. We have to set up for the day and then clean the place down as well as look after the shop. If you really want a tattoo – go for it! But you have to be sure! Research the people who do the style you want. My speciality is black and white – I’m actually coloured blind! So I only do black and grey at the moment.’
‘I was a fitness instructor then I met Craig who tattooed me and it went from there. I apprenticed for him. The weirdest thing I think I’ve done was a skull ice cream with the brains dripping from the cone. I will not tattoo genitals! Or anything racist. I don’t actually enjoy getting inked – it bloody hurts! Craig likes it, likes the pain, he’ll sit there all day. ‘
(Craig – ‘It’s less pain than being married!!’)
Amanda continues – ‘What I look for in a customer is someone who is open to change and who will take my advice. Often the tattoo they want in a particular place is not suitable. Some places on the body are difficult to tattoo like faces on the ribs and it will be evident in the piece.’
Ash – a ‘hand poke’ artist.
‘The tattoo guns use a motor, with this technique, I’m the motor. It’s all done with pressure and dot by dot. You build them up by overlaying them. It takes longer but it’s less traumatic on the skin and it heals quicker. I find it really therapeutic, it’s like acupuncture. I can use a gun, but I don’t like the constant buzzing, it really irritates me. I lived in Thailand for about a year, and I got interested in it out there. When I came back, I started drawing designs and I thought I could do tattoos with the designs. I knew a girl who had a studio and I asked if I could come in and learn how to set up. She knew I did the ‘hand poke’ style even though I had only done it on myself and fake skin, but she let me come in and asked if I wanted to do it in her studio. I’ve now got my own place in Norwich.’
Finally, I caught up with one of the convention organisers – Stef who along with her partner Logan arranged the weekend.
Whose idea was this convention?
‘Logans! We were driving home from another convention and Logan realised that Lincolnshire didn’t have its own convention. He went quiet for a second and said ‘Let’s do it!’.
As I was driving, he was on the phone to the Engine Shed asking about availability, access, dates and prices.’
It all sounds so simple.
‘Oh no, it wasn’t! I wish it was. It all gets a bit blurry because we couldn’t believe we were really doing it. It’s almost like we didn’t take ourselves seriously that we could pull it off. It was really slow in the planning stages in case we had to pull out. Most of the conventions are well-established with established artists. Logan isn’t that well known within the industry simply because no one is from Lincolnshire. We don’t work in big cities, so we don’t get much coverage. It makes me think about ‘The Inbetweeners’ when they used to say ‘you might end up at Lincoln University.’ That’s the impression of Lincolnshire. We’re not really known for anything.’
‘We put the idea down and mulled it over for a while and we didn’t actually start planning until February or March this year. Even then we were like, ok we can take deposits and we can pay them back without any trouble in case it all goes tits up. I have to say that it didn’t feel real until this week due to all the stress and excitement. It’s so bizarre. I think it’s because I’m working here as well so it feels like someone else’s convention. We can’t quite believe we’ve pulled it off.’
Stef then let me know a little of what was involved in arranging a convention.
‘So much is involved! We have to work closely with environmental health – every single person who works at the convention that has anything to do with the body has to have their own individual license. They all have to be vetted because we want the best we can get, and every single person needs to be insured, and that’s down to us as organisers, not the artist. Talk about a huge responsibility.
Logan found all the artists – I’m not a tattoo artist so he knows what’s good, and he’s done all the social media side of things. I was in the back office, and you wouldn’t believe how many spreadsheets I have!’
All this as well as running the studio.
‘Yes! And kids! We are still working six days a week at the studio. We have a conversion going on on the ground floor. Its really exciting. We’re making a Tim Burton-themed coffee shop where we’re trying to create a community space. What we’ve found is that when people come in to get inked or pierced, they’re very open because they’re in a position of vulnerability and we reciprocate. There’s no hierarchy in that situation and I probably open up to my customers more than I do to my friends. You have to be as vulnerable as they are. We’ve got this amazing space in this tiny little town that doesn’t really have much in it. You have to travel to get anything so we’re installing a projector and we’re in talks with Lincolnshire sexual health partnership to start a sexual health clinic to have drop-in sessions. We also want to set up support groups for victims of sexual assault and the LGBTQ community, so they have a safe place to come. I can’t tell you how excited I am. I love helping people and I love the feeling of having someone feel better walking out of our studio than when they came in. I feel That I achieved something.’
So, what about next year?
‘This is our baby. We want this to be our flagship. It’s a perfect size and there’s something about this place, it’s got everything we need. I can’t say too much about next year other than we’re booking it at the end of this week plus we have some other plans that I cannot talk about. It’s ambitious so watch for announcements.’
Finally, I mentioned that the quality of art and artists was phenomenal, and I told Stef some of the weirdest tatts that people have done.
‘It’s amazing what people can create on a living breathing entity. It’s truly mind-blowing. Did you ask Logan about his weirdest piece? It was a spider’s web in a girl’s bum-hole. He had to hold her bum cheek open with his elbow whilst the girl’s husband held open the other one.’
‘Only Fans! People love to see alternative modified women – and men! It looked pretty good.’
Yeah, but where was the spider? Alright, I think Logan wins. Considering this was the inaugural event it was an absolute triumph. Some of the work on the show was incredible. The people, both customer and artist, were so friendly and welcoming. There was no judgement just acceptance and a feeling of community which was a refreshing change to what goes on in the outside world. If more people could see this community, then I think the world would be a much better and more colourful place.
My heartfelt thanks to Stef and Logan for allowing me to ask a load of impertinent questions and basically annoy the artists and punters they were working on. My thanks also to all the artists and customers who gratefully answered my inane questions especially the amazing Nick and Phoebe from https://hazzardsparlour.com who have given me an even greater insight into what is involved in tattooing and introduced both me and my wife, Georgie, to some of the most amazing and inspiring people. Thinking of getting inked – do your research and think of something original but always get advice from the artist. See you next year!
All images are reproduced by kind permission.