How tattooing is surviving Covid-19. Part 1: UK

How tattooing is surviving Covid-19. Part 1: UK

It was 10 weeks ago today that I broke off interviewing tattoo studio manager Matt Wall, to dash outside and begin the Thursday night ritual of clapping for carers. Over the past 2 and a half months the applause have expanded to include all workers on the front line, risking their lives to fight Covid-19. Now as calls begin to echo that we should end the practice of applauding those who fight to protect us, I felt it was appropriate to give Matt another call and find out if UK tattooing is surviving Covid-19.

 

When Matt Wall picked up the phone he was busy building a wall in his back garden. The co-owner and studio manager of Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour in Leek (Staffordshire, UK) Matt shut up shop as soon as the government gave the orders for tattooists to down tools. Like so many in the industry he has time on his hands.

“I’ve been keeping busy and to be honest I’ve not had a lot of down time. In between home schooling the kids, DIY, trying to keep sane and getting the studio ready for reopening there hasn’t been much let up.”

Boris and his advisors have spent the weak dodging negative press while setting out a road map to ease lock down and bring us all into the new normal.

“Tattooing has been lumped into phase 3 of Boris’s plan which puts us in line with hairdressers,” explains Matt as he downs tools and heads inside to eat his lunch while he chats to me.

“As it stands, dependant on any changes or the appearance of a second spike, the soonest Old Smithy will be back up and running will be the 4th of July. Independence Day; you have to love the serendipity,” he laughs.

“There are a lot of questions that the industry isn’t being given answers for. We can open the shop and social distance, but we can’t tattoo and social distance. I can keep out of the studio and run the shop from home but artists need to be hands on. We are looking at taking all the necessary precautions but it would be good to get input from local and national government.”

 

“There are a lot of questions that the industry isn’t being given answers for."

I ask what measures Matt is planning and it’s a pretty comprehensive list.

“PPE will be at the heart of what we do. So face masks, aprons, arm guards and gloves. We are also looking into if visors will be appropriate. The worry is they could hamper vision but heart surgeons wear them so if they can do what they do I’m sure our artists won’t struggle. Its maximising safety without buying in bulk equipment that won’t be used or isn’t needed; we are aware of the amount of plastic waste that could be generated by everything being one use.”

I talk through what measures my wife and her team of community nurses have introduced in regards to PPE and intimate contact with the public and how scientific consensus seems to be that people should wear masks to stop them spreading the infection rather than catching it.

 

 

“We are looking at customers wearing masks and if they don’t bring one with them we will charge £1 for a mask, with all the money to be donated to the NHS.”

“As well as PPE we will be running the studio based on social distancing rules and infection control. The door will be locked and we will be only be seeing people by appointment. The customer will not be able to bring in friends or family. Like I said I’ll not be in the shop and we will be having the bare minimal artist in working. We are also going to de-clutter the shop getting rid of magazines, ornaments and curios.  We are also going to re-appropriate the piercing room at the top of the building to allow more space for our tattoo artists. Work zones will be taped off to show 2 metre distance and there will be a clear walkway through the shop. Access and space will be focussed around access to hand washing facilities.”

 

“We are looking at customers wearing masks and if they don’t bring one with them we will charge £1 for a mask, with all the money to be donated to the NHS.”

Matt makes the good point that perception is important and that if people feel they are in a safe, clean environment they will be relaxed and enjoy getting their new tattoo despite the new studio set up.

“At Old Smithy we have always prided ourselves on having top hygiene standards and these will continue during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond.”

Another way Matt is planning to ease pressure on the studio is to have more flexible opening times. The studio will open on Sundays allowing fewer artists in the space at any one time.

My line of questioning turns to the UK government and in particular if they have supported the studio financially.

“Yes the business has survived but it’s not been easy. Without creative thinking I don’t think we would have been able to put food on the table. Hollie (Matt’s wife and resident Old Smithy tattoo artist) has been doing paintings and commissions and we have been selling vouchers, running tattoo raffles and offering special offers to people who want to buy now and get tattooed later.”

“The business got a £10,000 grant from the government and we are trying to negotiate with our landlord for reduced rent while the studio has been empty. The way we run things and my position meant I couldn’t be furloughed, but the grant has secured the long term future of the studio. We are entitled to universal credit as we are self employed so we have managed. I dread to think how people who can’t work, or have lost their jobs have coped.”

 

“At Old Smithy we have always prided ourselves on having top hygiene standards and these will continue during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond.”

On a positive note Matt feels the tattoo community has been at its best during the crisis.

“I’m so grateful to out loyal customers who have supported our artists through this difficult time by buying art or gift vouchers. It shows tattooing is more than just a business; it’s a way of life, a community. I’m also really impressed with what I’ve seen on Instagram with artists having the time and space to branch out from tattooing and dip into other art forms. There have been some amazing works on display and it’s been great to get to know the faces behind the tattoos and what makes people tick.”

Matt is an optimist and he feels that the Covid-19 outbreak could be the start of a transformation in the tattoo industry.

“What this has shown me is not just that we need guidance from government; the industry needs to guide government. I feel more than ever that we need a centralised voice for tattooing; we can’t stay lumped in with hairdressers. I don’t know what form it would take, a governing body, council or federation but we need to be able to work together as an industry to let local and central government know about the needs, principles and practices of our very unique profession.”

 

 

A final thought from the author: "Despite all the isolation, illness, anxiety and death; if Covid-19 has taught me anything its that the human spirit will endure. I''m not a tattooist but I'm proud to work supporting the tattoo industry and over the next few weeks I'm going to be looking at how tattooists and tattoo studios have survived and flourished during the outbreak. Its been great to work with Kirk and the rest of the Yayo team and I hope this blog has provided some inspiration during these dark times."

Yayo... its a family thing.

 

 

 Words by Matt Haddon-Reichardt
Images by Matt Wall, Matt Haddon-Reichardt, Yayo and NHS England
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