There was a time when sporting a tattoo would mark you gangster, sailor or punk. Today they’re adorned by young and old, rich and poor, straight and rebellious alike. In this series, we meet London’s finest tattoo artists to discuss the growing appeal of ink. Luke Jinks is a traditional tattoo artist, drawing inspiration from Indian art. He draws on people at Cloak and Dagger. Photography by Rory James.
DISORDER: What first hooked you about tattooing?
LUKE: I liked the idea of doing something with my hands. I had studied illustration at university and really enjoyed the painting and drawing side of it but got tired of being stuck on Photoshop for hours on end. I liked the idea of learning a craft that didn't rely on technology so much and tattooing appealed to me for this reason.
How long from first entering a tattoo shop to becoming a tattoo artist – and what happened in between?
It was about two years or so... I got my first tattoo in my second year of university [and] started to consider the possibility of it as a career. I continued to get tattooed and, once I'd finished [my degree], began to look for an apprenticeship. A few months later I was learning the trade.
What was your first tattoo, and how do you feel about it now?
My first tattoo was of a gypsy lady face done by Valerie Vargas. They're a great artist; it still looks great nine years later.
Any advice for people getting a first tattoo – style or place or motivation?
Not to follow trends. There are a lot of designs nowadays that won't stand the test of time. Stick to a style that has being around for a long time, whether it’s traditional, Japanese or tribal. This way it will look as cool when you’re 70 years old as the day you had it done.
How frequently do you get new ones? What’s next?
I haven't been tattooed for a couple of years. I’m not sure why. But I’m going to start again this year. I’m not sure what yet, but it will definitely be jungle themed.
Tell us about your personal style as an artist? And, what other artists do you admire – past and present?
Traditional. I like bold, simple tattoos, but I also like to make sure it has a unique look. My favourite artist is Henri Rousseau, the king of jungle paintings. I take a lot of influence from Indian art – in particular Indian miniature paintings – and try to use elements of this within my tattoos. My favourite piece of art ever is Tipu's tiger in the V&A in London. It’s a gruesome music box which shows a tiger attacking a man. It is nearly life-sized and beautifully hand-carved in an Indian style. Plus Tipu, the sultan who commissioned it back in the 18th c., sounded like a pretty colourful character.
What can you tell about someone by the artwork on their bodies? And what do tattoos reveal about your own stories?
I’m not sure. I know a lot of great people with terrible tattoos. They don't always need a story – just pick something you like. People can often get to caught up in the meaning and forget that the point of a tattoo is to look great. Old men always have the best ones. If you spot an old guy full of tattoos, you can be sure he has a lot of stories to tell.
Is there such a thing as a bad tattoo, and what does that look like?
Modern tattoos that are about a cm in size with lots of details are the worst. It may look great when it’s first done, but even a year down the line it will start to falter, and look terrible in ten. We always offer advice at the shop as to what will look great over a lifetime.
What style of tattoo artwork excites you today?
I still love traditional tattooing. In the last few years it has come so far; there are lots of people pushing the style further and taking influence from elements outside of the tattoo world. I’m not too fussed about seeing the same traced classic designs. They look great. But I like when people’s tattoos have a bit more personality and style. It’s always nice to see people adding twists to classic designs or coming up with new things. It’s the only way to move forward.
How has tattooing changed with sudden exposure on social media?
It’s had a huge effect. Before I started tattooing, I never used social media. But it’s gained me a lot of clients. It’s lets you show your work to thousands of people easily and for free – for which I’m very grateful. I avoid sharing any of my personal life online; it can feel a little narcissistic. I like to keep my work and private lives separate. I get a little worried tattooing is becoming a little bit of a reality show, with everyone sharing every aspect of their lives. And [then] there's all the terrible TV, showing the worst side of the craft. [But] I guess mass exposure will always show the best and worst of any industry.
What’s the tattooing community like – creative, supportive, macho, competitive?
I guess there are all sorts. I think the macho culture is being driven out. Which is great as [tattooing] is pretty much just drawing on people; I never really understood why it was so macho in the first place. [And] I think every creative industry is competitive – which keeps everyone on their toes.
Are there assumptions from the “straight” world about people that have tattoos? Is there a tension?
A little. But tattooing has always been a rebellious culture. [Though] far less now than what it used to be. I think most jobs are accepting – they have become more normalised – which is great. I like the rebel aspect, but it’s [also] great that anyone can have one without judgement. All we need now is a Prime Minister with a crawling panther on their forearm and tattooing will well and truly be in the 21st Century.
Are there still taboos in tattooing?
Hands and necks are still looked at as “taboo” in some workplaces, but that’s why they appeal. People always want to separate themselves from “normal society” and tattooing can be a way of doing that. I’m not saying society is right to judge, but there will always be an attraction to kicking against social conformities – which is where a lot of the greatest art comes from.
Are you more into the craft or the art?
Both. I like doing something with my hands and tattooing is very tactile. But you can be incredible at tattooing and terrible at drawing, or have rubbish taste and create bad designs. I think both elements are of equal importance.
What is your proudest moment?
Doing my first tattoo on my Dad. It was a wolf on his leg and it took six hours when it should have taken two. He must have been in agony, but I was proud of him for supporting me when I had just started out. And for getting a crap tattoo but still being super happy with it.
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