Josh Jeffery is a true renaissance man. He lives and breathes tattooing and for him tattooing means family. As Asian bat flu begins to sweep the planet Yayo tasks scribe Matt Haddon-Reichardt with interviewing Josh and finding out how art and passion combine to make awesome tattoos.
I’m not well. My wife calls it man flu; I’d rather call it a flu like virus with mutogentic strains. A new disease is seeping out of China, a virus that should only attack bats but somehow has made its way into the human population. Early symptoms resemble a heavy cold but in a short space of time the patient is dead. Convinced I am the first case of coronavirus in England I cancel driving to meet Josh and instead hook up with him via Skype. As gulp Lemsip (other cold and flu remedies are available) and empty my over flowing sinus cavities into copious quantities of tissues; I’m convinced I’m dying. My wife is convinced I’m a drama queen.
“My dad’s friend actually opened a tattoo studio for his son, local to where I lived at the time. He saw what his son was doing and decided he wanted to learn to tattoo too, so he asked my dad if he knew anyone who would be down to get free tattoos while he practiced. I came forward and ended up sticking around. I eventually plucked up the courage and asked for an apprenticeship and never looked back.”
“I never really set out to become a tattooist, but always knew I loved the idea of being heavily tattooed. I always enjoyed drawing from an early age so once I was among other artists constantly I just kinda fell into it!”
“I never really set out to become a tattooist, but always knew I loved the idea of being heavily tattooed."
Josh’s enthusiasm for tattooing bubbles through even via a laptop screen. He is clearly a man who enjoys his job.
“I love many things about tattooing; it’s very rewarding in many ways. Nothing beats making a client happy. People put their trust, time and money in for us to sit and create something they will wear for the rest of their lives! And for that I’m forever grateful. I love being in a great studio with an awesome atmosphere full of artists constantly upping their game pushing out great tattoos.”
For all the positives of being a tattooist it isn’t as rock and roll as many people think and social media is particular bugbear of Josh’s.
“I kinda dislike the whole Instagram thing. I used to be obsessed with trying to gain a following on Instagram, watching how many likes I’d get, how many followers I’d gain... or lose every time I post a new tattoo. As essential as social media is to our industry it takes away from what really matters in tattooing, which is whether the client wearing the tattoo is happy with what they have put their trust time and money in for.”
“As long as the client wearing the tattoo is happy, it doesn’t really matter what everyone else on Instagram thinks; because they haven’t got to wear it. So yeah Instagram can be great for a tattooist but it can really affect you if you pay too close attention on performance. So I wouldn’t say I “hate” it but it’s definitely up there with the stresses of being a tattooist.”
“As long as the client wearing the tattoo is happy, it doesn’t really matter what everyone else on Instagram thinks."
I put the kettle on to make another hot lemon drink and Josh warns me not to overdose; at this stage of my illness death would come easy. I ask what else sucks about tattooing.
“No shows suck! But things happen. Tattoos are a luxury not a necessity so people’s priorities aren’t to get a tattoo. If there’s no reason to why a client will bail on an appointment then that’s a piss take but most of the time there’s a genuine reason. We are in an industry where 99% of us love what we do so losing a day’s work here and there sucks but it’s not the end of the world. Tomorrow’s always a new day, new client and a new design. There’s very little we have to moan about.”
Josh’s philosophical attitude to customers fucking him around is admirable. I ask what he thinks to the risks people take tattooing from home and if more can be done within the industry to educate people about blood born disease and infection control.
“I think tattooists preach enough about the risks, a lot of it is common sense really yet there are still people getting tattooed out of kitchens. It is what it is I guess you can only pass on the info, if people take it then great but if not it’s on them to deal with the consequences.”
Realising I’m bringing the mood of the interview down I try and flip things over and compliment Josh on his neck tattoo.
“Yeah I love my neck pieces by the insanely talented Chris Green!”
Like many skilled artists who are in high demand, Josh strives to achieve a good work life balance and its clear family is at the centre of his world.
“Yeah family is important for sure; I think everyone works to provide for their family and their future.”
My head begins to ache and I check my list; only 3 more questions to go. I ask Josh if there is anything he won’t tattoo.
“I think it’s important to tattoo within your capabilities so as long as I think I can execute something to the best of my ability I’m always happy to take it on, not shy of a challenge but think it’s important to be honest with yourself and your skill set. As far as drawing the line on the highly visible side of tattoos such as face neck and hands, if it’s a cool idea and I think it’ll look good as long as there’s enough coverage on the client that it won’t look silly then I’ll go ahead.”
"I’ve tried other brands throughout my career and find the Yayo products suit me better.”
One thing I’m finding talking to artists who use Yayo is how genuinely stoked they are about the company’s aftercare products. Josh is no exception.
“Yayo is a great! I use the butters, soaps and the guard for all my tattoos and cannot fault it. I’ve tried other brands throughout my career and find the Yayo products suit me better.”
A sigh of relief rattles out of me as I fire the last question across the internet.
“Plans for 2020 are just to improve and excel in tattooing. Maybe drop into a few conventions and try put myself out there a little more than past years.”
I thank Josh for his time and lament I couldn’t meet him in person. He tells me not to worry and to go back to bed, which I do. I quickly fall into a restless sleep haunted by apocalyptic visions of disease, death and bat tattoos.
A final thought from the author: "Infection control is a serious matter when it comes to tattooing. Getting a tattoo is a surgical procedure and keeping the wound clean is vital. Always wash your hands before applying tattoo aftercare and always trust in Yayo to heal your tattoo to perfection. If you want the best then use the best; use Yayo."
Yayo... its a family thing.