Alex Woodhead, 28, tattooist at Black Garden Tattoo
Photography ©Rob Greig
What did you do before becoming a tattooist?
‘I was doing some freelance illustration and working other jobs to pay the bills. But as soon as I started getting tattooed, it was like a switch got flicked. It just seemed like the exact thing I should be doing. There’s this indefinable thing about it. And, let’s be honest, it’s pretty badass as well! So I started my apprenticeship about two years ago and I’ve been tattooing for around nine months now.’
Why the traditional apprenticeship route?
‘You can take all kinds of paths. But personally, I knew that doing an apprenticeship was the correct way to get into it. So I started teaching myself how to paint flash [tattoo designs] to build up a portfolio. I’d been tattooed at Black Garden and eventually I saw that they had an apprenticeship, so I applied and luckily got it. It changed my life.’
Was the apprenticeship intense?
‘I couldn’t even touch a tattoo machine, except to clean it, for a really long time. It’s all about learning how the shop works, cleaning, helping it run smoothly. And then it’s constant drawing. The most important thing is having the other tattooists critique your drawing – it’s soulcrushing, but it’s how you get better. You think: Yeah I know how to draw a rose, I’ve seen a rose before. But you quickly realise you don’t have a clue. You work all day, you draw all night. Then, months in, you get to start tattooing on pig skin to get a handle on technique.’
Now that you’re a tattooist, what does your day actually involve?
‘You tattoo all day, and in the evening you just draw or paint. It sounds cliché, but it’s not really a job, it’s a lifestyle. You can’t clock in and clock out, it’s your whole life. That’s how it should be.’
What’s the worst bit?
‘Tattooing is all-consuming. I swear I used to have other interests! I just don’t know what they are any more. I don’t really have a social life – it’s just one of the things that falls away. That’s not a complaint, though; it’s a choice I made, and I love it.’
Interview by Eddy Frankel
Or why not become a busker?