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PP: Spending Time at Shades of Ink - Day 1.

My first day spent working in the studio has been great. I worked with the tattoo shop's owner and only tattoo artist, Vince as he walked me through the day to day schedule of the shop.

Vince starts every day by ensuring that the studio is clean and tidy, using disinfectant sprays on surfaces and ensuring all the tattoo machines are working properly and are upkept.

This is imperative as cleanliness is absolutely necessary when working as a tattooist as it is very easy to transfer germs through surfaces and the client.

Once we cleaned up the studio we consulted Vince's 'Black Book' of appointments. For today he only had afternoon appointments so that meant we had time to put on the kettle and have a brew. While we worked our way through the coffee we discussed how and why Vince had started tattooing. He told me that he has always had a keen passion for art, sketching religiously as a child and often spending hours at night just drawing listening to music. He said however that he had not intended on becoming a tattooist until he was around 15 when he found himself socialising with the more Bohemian crowds. It was in this crowd that he found others with an equally keen passion for drawing and creating art, amongst whom was Leo, the person who would go on to be Vince's mentor.

Sketches and the 'Big Black book'.

Leo was a few years older than Vince and had already started up a small tattoo shop in London. Vince managed to get an apprenticeship with Leo and started working at the shop sweeping and help organise the schedule for Leo. It was while working at Leo's shop that Vince learnt the basics of tattooing and started getting tattoos himself. Here he properly learned how to operate a tattoo machine and how to prep and design for tattooing. Vince told me that he actually found the initial learning curve how to operate the tattoo machine to be quite difficult but with practice became much more confident over time.

This made me think about how I would love to enter the world of tattooing myself as it would give me, like Vince already has, the freedom to create art and actually make a living doing so. I showed Vince a series of the work from my portfolio from studying at Bath Spa University and asked if I would stand a chance in the world of tattooing. He loved what he saw and told me that if I would like to have a go at designing tattoos for actual customers I would be more than welcome.

Vince then took me through to his drawing alcove at the back of the shop to show me where he sketches up all his designs for the customers. What hit me first was just how much work was jammed away in there. The shelves are covered with hundreds of books on all sorts of tattooing movements and styles from the Sailor Jerry pin ups to Japanese mythology and animals. At his desk Vince showed me all his transfers and designs. It was at this point I realised just how much effort must go into running a tattoo shop. Vince told me that he spends pretty much all day sketching or tattooing and even when the shop closes (usually at around 7pm) he will spend another couple of hours once he returns home to continue to sketch and perfect his designs for the next day. This amazing time management and commitment was something that really inspired me.

Throughout today people came in asking for appointments, it was my job to input these clients into the Black Book with a time, date, and brief description of what they wanted to get tattooed. Vince told me that in order to be a successful tattooist it was as important to be a good talker and listener as it was to be a good artist, as this put customers at ease and would encourage them to come back again even if they didn't get a tattooed.

The walls in the reception of Vince's studio are also covered in flash cards, which essentially aim to attract people to seeing what level and style of work Vince works in. These flashes also allow customers to browse the studio easily if they aren't looking for something custom drawn and also encourages them to have a look around.

Walls covered in flash.

Later on Vince's first appointment came in, Vince showed me how he sets up when preparing to tattoo.

As Vince wanted me to see exactly how the machinery was set up he took me through a step by step of first assembling and testing the tattoo gun. This started with first sanitising his hands with antibacterial soap (as he'd already mentioned hygiene was imperative), he then showed me the gun itself. The barrel of the gun was the first component.He showed me how to set the grip to a good length and tightened the grips, he told me that often if there is excessive blood while tattooing it is often caused by the needle being too exposed as the grip wasn't set right.

Next step was to insert the needle, all needles come prepackaged in sanitised packets so Vince removed one and inserted it through the tube of the gun making sure not to dull the needle. The needle then needed to be fixed onto the top of the gun by tightening the grummel, or 'Nipple' as Vince referred to it. He also showed me how to adjust the needle up or down by adjusting the tube vise.

When this was all done Vince grabbed some latex gloves tested the connection from the gun to the battery was good and started prepping the tattoo itself.

Firstly he had to shave the exposed area of skin for any excess hair and ensured the skin was clean. He then grabbed the design, which was drawn on transfer paper, and placed accordingly to where the client wanted it. Once both parties were happy with the placement Vince began to start tattooing.

As the tattoo was only the outline Vince only used black ink ensuring he worked slowly and steadily as to ensure sharp, crisp and clean lines on the tattoo. Something unsurprising with tattooing is that it can take a very long time, this particular sessions was about 2 hours although some tattoos can make there way in to tens or even hundreds of hours over several sittings. Once the tattoo was finished Vince cleaned it off and applied antiseptic cream to the area. He then bandaged it with cling film and talked the customer through the importance of keeping it clean.

After watching Vince work it made me very excited to have a go myself, however as I have only a short amount of time to work with Vince it is uncertain if I will get a chance to actually tattoo.

Either way I very much enjoyed my first experience working in a tattoo studio and look forward to continue working there.

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