Troy Tuck is one of the UK’s top black and grey tattoo artists. Specialising in realism, he produces work that both baffles the brain and tugs on the heart strings Troy is a tattoo artist who wears his heart on his sleeve and lets his work do the talking. We sent out Yayo runner boy Matt Haddon-Reichardt to meet Troy and find out what it takes to become part of the Yayo Pro Team.
It’s a rainy autumn day but inside the coffee shop I’m feeling the comfort only caffeinated beverages and cookies can provide. I’ve seen Troy before on the convention circuit but this is the first time we have sat down for a chat; thankfully he is in a reflective mood.
“I’ve been tattooing now for around nine years; but it doesn’t feel that long,” he chuckles, “I’m completely self-taught which is unfortunate.”
"Only when I felt I was truly ready did I look at setting up my own studio."
I’m surprised he feels this way about his path into tattooing and decide to dig deeper.
“I choose this way not because it was the best option, but it was my only option at the time as I my wife Leanne had just gave birth to our second child. An unpaid apprenticeship which would have resulted in me having to work a second job in the evening would have left me with no time to see the kids and support my wife. So I did what I had to do with work and then taught myself tattooing in the background. After a while it reached tipping point where my work got good enough to be offered a job in a studio. My name was starting to be heard around town in a good way!”
Troy took the opportunity to go pro with both hands and squeezed the life out of it.
“When I started tattooing I made a point of working in every style possible to learn as much as I could. Over three and a half years I worked in several different shops and soaked up as much knowledge as I could. Only when I felt I was truly ready did I look at setting up my own studio.”
That studio is Embellished Ink in Poole, Dorset, which Troy has built up over the past 6 years to become one of the top studios in the county.
The opening of Embellished Ink coincided with a solidification of Troy’s exceptional style.
“It was around this time I fell in the love the black and grey Chicano style tattooing and decided to dedicate myself to this style. I’m following in the footsteps of great artists artist like Antonio Macko, Ivane Natale, Fred Flores, Brian Gonzales and Ricardo Avila to name a few. I’m also pulling a lot of my influence from South American street art as well as architecture and statues from Italy and Greece, amongst other places. It was all these aspects that drew me into this style and I’ve been developing my own take on that style ever since.”
"I want my customers to know that they will get the best aftercare for their tattoos and Yayo is the best."
Troy’s skill as a tattooist has been rewarded with a spot on the Yayo Pro Team. But in an over saturated market, where so many people are still happy to opt for a cheap and nasty tattoo, even the best of the best are under pressure. Troy agrees that tattooing has become bogged down with freeloaders, scratchers and grifters but this hasn’t dented his business.
“It definitely has become a waterlogged market with studios popping up everywhere but I can’t say I’ve felt a drop in the market where I am; I’ve always managed to keep a good amount of bookings. I feel a big part of that is I’ve always made a strong effort to stay professional with my clients not let them down. I always try my hardest to reply to their questions and queries no matter how busy I am. Obviously giving them a decent tattoo helps,” he laughs.
Over the past ten years the mainstream media has jumped on the tattoo bandwagon and what was once the mark of the underground elite has become the latest fashion accessory for social media influences, boy bands and celebrity wannabes. Despite what the papers say Troy still feels the beating heart of underground tattooing.
“I wouldn’t say that by anyone getting tattooed this would make the scene less cool. It only makes for different people wanting to get tattooed and for me any publicity for the industry is good. To be honest I’m yet to have someone come in and ask for a tattoo that Justin Bieber or One Direction have; then again there is always time and that lion Ed Sheeran has could prove very popular.”
“As for people straight up copying other people’s work well that’s the lowest of the low."
Troy has been a Yayo Pro Team member for just over a year and he’s loving being part of such a supportive family.
“Yayo’s tattoo aftercare products are a blessing in my studio not just the process butter, which I use every day, but also the aftercare products. I want my customers to know that they will get the best aftercare for their tattoos and Yayo is the best. It’s easy to use, smells great and really does the job. I can’t thank Kirk and the rest of the team enough for including me in the Yayo Familia Pro Team. It is an honour to work amongst so many amazing artist and have my work be appreciated enough to be chosen to join.”
Social media has been a double edged sword for tattooists. On the one hand it allows them to connect with customers in an unprecedented way yet it means their tattoo designs can be copied and ripped off my unscrupulous artists. Troy has felt the sting of the copycats.
“Unfortunately this is a big thing at the moment where people do not have the artistic vision and just want to find a picture and you copy it. It’s down to us the artist to take customers ideas and turn them into a piece that they want and also one we are happy with. With a world of easy accessible images and data we are always going to stumble across images that other tattooist could have used. It’s down to us to make sure we put our own unique twist on each tattoo to make it personal to the customer.”
“As for people straight up copying other people’s work well that’s the lowest of the low and if you feel you can’t research your own ideas then you probably should rethink tattooing as a career. The copycats aren’t going to go far in the industry and these types of people are the ones usually saying they will do it cheaper than the respected artists. I’ve been ripped off a few times over the years but I take it in my stride and laugh it off. You have to think of it as a positive compliment; that your works stands out enough to be copied. Any other approach is just setting yourself up to fight a losing battle.”
Troy is clearly passionate about his work but he makes sure he retains a good work/life balance.
“Other than my tattooing I am a family man I have two amazing kids. I’ve been with my wife, Leanne, for eleven years and we have been married for three. Between them they take up most of my spare time which clears my head and lets me focus on being a father and a husband. But if I get free time to myself I like to draw, paint, build, whatever is creative really. I was a builder before I was a tattooist so I’ve recently just completed renovating our family home which at times was challenging but isn’t life always challenging when you are working hard.”
I check my watch; my parking is up in the next ten minutes. I begin to wrap up the interview and finish my cookie. My final question for Troy is what does the future hold?
“The rest of this year I’ve not much planned except keeping working and the having some time off over Xmas. It will be my first holiday in nine years so that will be nice,” he grins as we had out of the coffee shop.”
The rain has eased and the cold autumn sun is desperately trying to break through the clouds.
“Next year I’m planning on a few conventions and to get out and see some new places, meet some new people and push my tattooing even more. I want to focus on developing my style and getting my name out there more. As every tattooist will admit there is always room for improvement.”
We shake hands and as I head to my car I make a promise to myself that next time we meet it will be in Troy’s tattoo chair.
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."
Yayo... its a family thing.