The more things change, the more they stay the same. 10 years in the trade.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 10 years in the trade.

2022 marks my 10th anniversary writing for the tattoo trade. In that big time tech companies have clawed at our beloved craft, media empires have risen and fallen and a whole new breed of artists have taken over tattooing. In this blog I look back at the past decade in tattooing and explore the good, the bad and the ugly.


YouTube, Instagram and Facebook eventually killed Tattoo Master Magazine. 


Back in 2012, when I got my first article published in Tattoo Master Magazine, tattooing was taking over the shelves of every newsagent in the land. Thanks to the popularity of shows like LA Ink, the high profile of celebrity tattoo canvases like David Beckham and Angelina Jolie and a new generation of talented artists emerging, tattooing was riding a wave of popularity that would have seemed impossible during the last century. Tattooing was now cool and everybody wanted a piece of the action and a prime cut of the cash cow.

I got my break covering a story about Nokia patenting hepatic tattoo technology. The idea was that an iron rich pigment would be tattooed into the skin; this would be activated to vibrate when linked to a specially designed smart phone. This high tech angle on body art wasn’t something other tattoo journalists hadn’t picked up on, and the scoop heralded the start of my writing career and my rocky relationship with Jazz Publishing.


 "One area where change has been less dramatic is in relation to tattoo prejudice."

An early shot for an article on Kawaii tattooing. 


After a year writing for Tattoo Master my career shifted gear and I graduated to the pages of Skin Deep. This was followed by articles I had written featuring in magazines and websites from all over the globe and in 2015 I realised that I was one of the most widely published professional tattoo writers in the world. These truly were the golden years but the high times would not last and very soon the castle began to crumble.

While year on year the quality of tattooing just kept getting better and better after 2015 the magazines began to slide. As social media began to become ubiquitous the tattoo magazines began to struggle with sales and advertising revenue. This was great for artists and the public, but bad for us working in the magazine trade. It seems impossible now to imagine a time when an artist’s work was not set free on the world through the internet and to envisage the gate keepers of publicity that were the magazine editors. Back when I started writing the endorsement of an editor could make the difference between being a jobbing tattooist and being a tattoo rock super star.


Despite big promises Hi-Tech tattoos are still just a novelty. 


While the magazines battled social media for control of the heart of tattooing, big tech companies kept plugging at a way to get in on the tattoo game. The past decade has marked a borderline obsession with melding tattoos and technology with big tech, eccentric inventors and bio-hackers all trying to mix man and machine. I’ve seen tattoos that act as a music score for motion controlled synthesises, tattoos that act as keys to augmented reality and animated digital tattoos. Along with these artistic endeavours mobile phone companies keep trying to find a way to link their handsets to your tattoos. Despite everyone’s best efforts cyborg tattooing has yet to find a practical application aside from novel experimentation. I can’t see that changing over the next decade, but never say never.

One area where change has been less dramatic is in relation to tattoo prejudice. In 2022 we inked individuals still face the scorn of conservatives on the left and right of the social spectrum. Our body art continues to be sneered at in the press, on television and online. Over the years I’ve kept tabs on the media’s interpretation of tattooing and while the general public have become more accepting of tattoos and tattooed people the press can’t help but stick the boot in from time to time. Over the past ten years the same old clichés get dusted down again and again. That tattooing is tasteless and crass and doesn’t deserve the honour of being called art. That tattooing is legalised self harm and the expression of angry youth. That tattooing is a sign of mental illness and social dysfunction and should go back to the gutter where it once dwelled. Only this week the irrepressibly charmless shock journalist Melanie Philips stated in The Times that tattoos made her “physically sick.”


 "The secret society has unlocked its doors."

The inked man and the sea. An image from one of my favourite interviews.


It’s surprising, but not unexpected that hacks like Philips still get paid to write their diatribes. After all tattoos are one of the few social phenomenon that defy class, race, religion, gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity or education. In the modern tattoo era everyone is welcome to join the party. What was once the mark of sailors, criminals and prostitutes is now open to all. The social stigma attached to ink under the skin is fading in the bright sunshine of acceptance. Rants such as Philips’s highlight not that tattooing is still taboo, but that in a media saturated age only venom cuts through the constant noise of click bait. Saying nice things just doesn’t get the same attention as slagging something off. It’s not tattooing that needs to go back in the gutter it’s the press who need to drag themselves out of it.

What has changed over the past 10 years is the popularity of hand and neck tattoos. Back in the day you’d have had to have had full coverage before a tattooist would touch your neck and hands. Now it’s often the first port of call for the needle. This shows that visible tattoos are far less taboo and that the customer is now at the centre of tattooing. The secret society has unlocked its doors. Back in the day it was hard to become a tattooist. It was more akin to joining a gang than taking on a profession. The tricks of the trade were closely guarded secrets and an apprentice had to put in blood, sweat and tears to become a master. Tattoo equipment was jealously guarded and you had either to be lucky to get hold of a kit or an official paid up member of the organisation. That is no longer the case. YouTube is flooded with online tutorials, Amazon sells books on tattooing, tattoo kits can be bought by anyone through the internet and artists no longer serve a humbling and lengthy apprenticeship to become a registered tattooist.


I'm a huge fan of old school tattoos. Thanks to Kev for modelling.


Convections are another area where the old guard has lost control. When I started writing many of the big conventions were heavily linked to specific magazines and there was fierce competing for dominance. People turned down interviews with me worried that appearing in one magazine would mean being black listed by an opposing magazine and therefore denied access to their affiliated conventions. I still remain blacklisted from certain events myself due to inadvertently picking the wrong side in a secret turf war. But as tattooing emerges from covid I can only see the strangle hold publishing companies had on the convention circuit being further eroded. Over the past decade the convention circuit has been blown wide open as tattooings old guard have lost their domineering grip. Now more than ever tattooing is an industry run by artists for artists without the heavy hand of corporate greed.


The Tattoo Tea Party 2012. My first convention of many.


Two areas of body art where my predictions did not come true are in regards to face tattoos and body modification. I expected that as tattoos got more popular the fashion would shift through the gears in a linier process. From discrete tattoos, to visible work, through to sleeves, then hands and necks; I felt the face was the next logical step. This has yet to happen but I wouldn’t be surprised, in the next 10 years, if face tattoos become the next big thing.

As for body modification I expected those seeking the push boundaries and break taboos to embrace extreme piercing and heavy body mods. Tattooing as a social rule breaking ritual has become rather diluted. My aunty Roz is in her 70’s and got tattooed in her 60’s; a butterfly on her wrist. The tattoo is no longer a mark that warrants crossing the street to avoid. One big reason I can see for why body modification has not taken over from tattooing is that many of the procedures are more akin to medical surgery than a aesthetic cosmetic procedure. It seems not many people want a rod through their genitals, a nipple removed or horns in their head; or maybe I’m just not talking to the right people.


 "Human beings have been transforming their bodies since the Stone Age."

Body modification fascinates me. Eyeball tattoos are not for the faint hearted.


The other is the criminalisation of body modification. The banning of tongue splitting in the UK and the arrest, trial and imprisonment of prominent body artist Dr Evil has pushed the trade underground. It’s tragic that rather than working with body modifiers to legitimate and improve the trade, government has chosen to criminalise and penalise.  Human beings have been transforming their bodies since the Stone Age. Conservative British policies will not stop this practice; it will simply make it less safe for those who follow their primal urges of transformation.

I am proud to have spent 10 years watching the talent pool of tattooing grow exponentially. Over the years I’ve worked with some wonderful people and some super creative artists and it’s been a real honour to watch their careers go from strength to strength. In particular it’s been wonderful to see Nick Baldwin go from apprentice, to tattooist and finally to running one of the best tattoo studios in the world, with Bold as Brass in Liverpool. Guy Fletcher is another artist whose work just keeps getting better and it’s fantastic to talk with him while he tattoos and learn about tattooings links to the Viking and Anglo-Saxon cultures.  James Surridge needs special mention for his comedic Nigel Farage tattoo that raised £500 for the mental health charity Mind and got me on page 2 of the Daily Star.


Me and Nigel at our best. My 15 minutes of fame. 


Out of all the people I’ve interviewed since 2012 particular praise needs to be given to dot work and hand tap tattooist Mereki fade. Not only is she one of the most talented artists I have ever had the privilege to be tattooed by, she is also a wise tattoo anthropologist, a passionate film maker and courageous adventurer. He work documenting tribal tattooing around the world and her expeditions deep into tropical rainforests, isolated pacific islands and the sun bleached deserts has made her the real life Lara Croft of tattooing.  It’s only a matter of time before the mainstream realise what a pioneer she truly is and TV channels come calling.


A young Meraki Fade; the most inspirational tattoo artists I have ever met.


Where I have seen a vast improvement over the past 10 years is in tattoo aftercare products. I first got tattooed in 1997 and back then the best the tattooist could recommend to me was a tube of Savlon. When I began writing for Tattoo Master in 2012 aftercare was more of an afterthought. It is thanks to companies like Yayo that aftercare is now front and centre of the tattoo process. No longer do we have to resort to nappy rash creams, antiseptic balms or greasy tubs of petroleum jelly. Tattoo collectors now have specialised healing creams that not only do a fantastic job but look, smell and feel great. I don’t just use Yayo because I write for the company; I use Yayo to heal my tattoo because I honestly believe it is the best aftercare range on the market. I’m really looking forward to trying their Bubblicious Tattoo Butter. Pink tattoo aftercare cream would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. It’s great to work with such an innovative company as Yayo.


 "My face never really fitted at the conventions or round the publishing offices."

To wrap up my 10 year anniversary review the last area I need to praise is the tattoo artists themselves. When my first article was published I didn’t imagine that the quality of tattooing could improve year on year. We are truly living in the golden age of tattooing and I’m very excited to see where the art can go in the next 10 years. It’s also amazing to have so many great artists as part of the Yayo team. In my magazine writing days I always felt like an outsider, looking in on the scene. My face never really fitted at the conventions or round the publishing offices. I can honestly say that Yayo is the best company I have ever worked for, and Kirk is certainly the most liberal and enthusiastic editor I’ve ever written for. Here’s to another 10 years writing about tattooing.


 The brilliant Tanya Buxton, one of the first artists I interviewed at work.


Next time… The Blade Artist! Yayo talks to the superhuman Veronica Blades.



A final thought from the author...

"While writing this piece my wife asked me what I am most proud of from my 10 years writing for tattooing. The answer is simple; it was getting the first trangendermodel on the cover of a tattoo magazine. That model was Veronica Blades and I have to thank her and Total Tattoo editor Perry Rule for making it possible and making history. To celebrate the start of my 2nd decade in the trade I will be interviewing Veronica in my next Yayo blog."



Text MNHR Images by MNHR, Yayo and David Stacey