Chips, beans and a hot mug of tea; the tattoos of Simon Cooke
Simon Cooke is a multi award winning tattoo artist, Tattoo TV personality and Yayo Pro Team member who is the best of the best. Despite his incredible success his feet are firmly planted on the ground and he takes pride in making every customer he tattoos feel like the center of the world. We sent out Yayo scribe Matt Haddon-Reichardt to meet Simon and find out if tattooing can survive austerity Britain.
“I just woke up one morning, rolled over and told the wife that I was going to become a tattooist,” explains Simon with a smile. “She thought I was mad.”
That mad early morning idea has resulted in an award winning career, hundreds of satisfied customers and a place on the Yayo Pro Team.
“I had no clue how to do it but I had a good background in art so I thought at least I have transferable skills.”
Simon studied art at collage and he describes drawing as the only thing he has ever been good at. After collage he jumped from job to job getting bored and frustrated with the lack of control and creativity of the average workplace.
“It didn’t matter where I worked there was always a white collared guy stood behind me criticising what you are going even though he didn’t have the skills or knowledge to do the job. Being your own boss is defiantly hard work but I love the freedom it gives me and I love being able to pick and choose who I work with.”
It was after a stint as a motorbike sprayer that he decided to pick up a tattoo machine and he hasn’t looked back. More than a decade later Simon has over 40 awards under his belt including the runner up of E4’s Tattoo Artist of the Year.
“I know people will frown when they read this but it was Miami Ink that really made me want to tattoo. That show may have its critics but it really helped normalise tattooing and make it acceptable. After tattooing hit TV tattoos weren’t just for sailors, sex workers and criminals.”
"After tattooing hit TV tattoos weren’t just for sailors, sex workers and criminals.”
What Simon really connects with is when art transcends aesthetics.
“90% of tattooing means nothing but I really love that 10% that has heart, soul and spirit. There is nothing more humbling to me as a tattooist, than doing a memorial tattoo. It’s a really honour for someone to allow me to be part of paying tribute to someone they love or have loved.”
Tattoo studios now seem to dominate the high street wedged in between Greg’s and Oxfam. I ask Simon how his studio thrives in such a competitive environment.
“I think it’s down to 2 factors. The first is you have to be providing great tattoos but that’s only half the story. You have to run a studio right and that means treating your staff and customers well. I’ve seen too many studios where they are cramming people in, tattooists working cheek to jowl. There are studios where tattooists sit with headphones on while they work and if the customer wants a coffee they get told to go to Costa across the road.”
I can relate to what Simon is saying and I’ve sat more than once in a tattoo chair desperate for a drink while artists work in silence as Spotify churns out a generic sound track of rap and metal staples.
“I can talk the hind legs off a donkey if you give me 5 minutes and I think people want a personable, friendly tattooist. We are like old school hair dressers, you know asking if they are going anywhere nice on holiday this year and listening to their worries and concerns. Tattooing is an intimate process and it breaks down barriers. I’ve had people I’m tattooing tell me stuff they wouldn’t tell their best friend.”
“Tattooing has evolved in the last 10 years; the culture has shifted. People no longer walk into a studio, pick something off the wall and get it inked there and then. Most work is custom now and people want an experience they can talk about; they want a good day out. In these days of environmental chaos and austerity people are struggling to get by. Us artists need to remember that a tattoo is a luxury item that people are spending their hard earned cash on. A smile and a cup of tea should come with every tattoo.”
"90% of tattooing means nothing but I really love that 10% that has heart, soul and spirit."
It certainly is a crazy world out there and with Brexit still hanging in the balance, a general election round the corner, and floods ravaging the land things look set to be unsettled for the foreseeable future. I ask Simon if tattooing is alive and well in broken Britain.
“There is a lot of talk about if we have hit peak tattoo and I think it’s defiantly plateaued; but it is still alive and I’m certainly being kept busy. Tattooing has been with humans for thousands of years; it’s one of our oldest known art forms. As long as there are people wanting to create, express and communicate tattooing will be here in one shape or form. The real question is will humanity survive? We seem to be being ruled by cartoon characters in an increasingly cartoon world. We really are living in interesting times.”
Despite his success Simon likes to keep his feet on the ground.
“I don’t do flash tattoos and I don’t do a flash lifestyle,” he jokes. “I used to collect retro toys but even that’s dropped off; it’s all just stuff at the end of the day and stuff isn’t where you find happiness. What does a big expensive car say about you? All it says is you drive a big expensive car; it shouldn’t define who you are. I take a real pride in what I do and every tattoo, be it big or small, should have that same level of pride injected into it. My satisfaction comes from the recognition I get for my craft. A satisfied customer is the most important aspect of the job but the awards I’ve won also remind me that a crazy idea can lead to the job of your dreams.
"As long as can afford a cup of tea and a tray of chips and beans life is good.”
Simon is very proud to be sponsored by Yayo.
“I love being part of the Yayo Pro Team as it’s a sign I’m doing my job well. It helps that they make the best products on the market and that they are such a nice bunch of people to work with. I’d rather work with nice people and get by, than be rich and work with arseholes. As long as can afford a cup of tea and a tray of chips and beans life is good.”
A final thought from the author: "There is a myth on the streets that black and grey tattoos are easier to heal than colour tattoos; this is just not the case. In fact due to their desaturated nature flaws in black and grey tattoos can show up more easily, with no colour contrast to hide ink drop out. Follow Troy's advice and always heal your tattoos with the best aftercare on the market. Always choose Yayo."
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