Lloyd Evans combines his appreciation for the art and his journalistic merit as he investigates the ins and outs of one of Harlow’s busiest tattoo parlours.He spoke to several of the artists about their time in the shop and how they came to be tattooists in the first place, all while adding a fresh piece to his growing collection.
BIG DOG Tattoos is a Harlow based, modern tattoo studio housing various resident artists. A well-known shop in the local area, with a fun and friendly client base, Big Dog seem to be doing everything right.
Established in 2011, Big Dog has trained and worked alongside many different artists, all having their own distinct style and personality. Currently, the shop has three resident artists, two apprentices, and a shop manager.
I spoke with three of the current artists, Alice, Ben, and Louise. They have a wealth of knowledge between them, yet have all come from very different backgrounds. They were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedule to speak to me.
I had booked in to see Alice about a design she had posted on her Instagram page (@/alicehopetattoos). She was more than happy to share her journey to becoming a full-time tattoo artist.
How long have you been tattooing for?
“I started my apprenticeship about three-and– a half years ago, originally I was in a different shop, I was in that shop for two- and a-bit years. I just wasn’t given the opportunity for a chair space, and I felt like it was time to push to the next level. It’s like, ‘Two years and I haven’t touched the machine…’ I got the opportunity to come here and I’ve been here since February last year, just before all the lockdowns.”
So, how did lockdown impact you finishing your apprenticeship?
“I was quite lucky, my partner at home let me practice on him. I did my first tattoo in February, and then we went into lockdown in March, in those months of lockdown I basically tattooed the top half of his leg, we were just entertaining ourselves tattooing. Then we came back, had like three or four months in here, another lockdown in November, and then December I was working and that was when the guy said to me ‘I think you’re ready to be a full-time artist now’, so after Christmas, I was meant to come back as a full-time artist, and then again obviously we had another lockdown, so I’ve only just started full-time as of last week.”
Alice entered the world of tattooing after being fixated on art and drawing for many years. Her time spent in London with a fashion degree wasn’t all it made out to be, and her real passion was drawing up designs, so she transitioned to tattooing, after spending eight months looking for an apprenticeship.
I asked Alice about her experience at Big Dog.
“It’s just got a really nice atmosphere, this is actually my third tattoo studio I’ve worked in now; another one I was a piercer in, I used to do piercing as well. The other two shops I worked in before– they were cool and everything, but this shop just has a really nice atmosphere. I like that there’s other females working here, because in the industry it’s very male dominated, so it’s nice to be surrounded by other like-minded people. We’re all sort of a similar age as well, which is cool; Before I was working with basically older men, and they have their jokes and you’re not really involved as much. So, it’s nice and it’s chill.”
“Everyone here is really nice, we all sort of push each other, there’s no sort of jealousy, if someone comes in and picks a certain artist, everyone works well together. We literally spend more time here then we do at home so it’s good we all get on.”
What are your plans moving forward?
“I think over the next year or so I will just continue to do everything, I think until I find out exactly what my niche is; and then I think going forward, in the future I would like to specialise in something. And then obviously the end game is to have my own shop, way, way into the future. My other half is a barber, so we always had the idea that it’d be cool to have a barber/tattoo studio together.”
Her partner, Kieron (@/kieron_webb), works at Big Dog too, he rents one of the treatment rooms where Lucky Eight Barber resides. He divides his time between his London shop and brand, The London Barber, and Lucky Eight. This has been good for both businesses.
I then spoke to Ben McCarthy, a.k.a. @/honest_bens_tattoos.
Ben’s been tattooing for 13 years, spending 10 years owning his own shop, before moving into Big Dog, a year and a half ago.
Why did you start tattooing?
“I always wanted to do tattooing, from when I was younger my grandad had tattoos and I always liked them. I didn’t start till I was 29, I started quite late. I always liked tattoos, always had tattoos as soon as I could have tattoos. Just something I liked, I did a lot of art and things like that, just thought have a go, I’ve done everything else I might as well have a go.”
What do you like about Big Dog?
“I like the people. I think they’re very nice. There’s less stress here, I can relax more and enjoy it a lot more. It’s just genuinely a really nice shop to work in, the clients are nice, the clientele are a lot nicer compared to my old shop.”
Ben had this to say about the industry.
“I think everything moves with the times, tattooing’s not the same as it was when I started 12 or 13 years ago, obviously it had changed already by then from 12,13 years before that, tattooing’s always going to change, it’s always going to be about. I think its saturated at the moment. I think there’s a hell of a lot of people doing it, I think it’s a shame in the way it’s gone in regard to it’s all bookings. when I started it was walk-ins, everyone did walk-ins. It was fun, you didn’t know what was coming throughout the day. I think it’s a good learning curve. At my old shop, it was flash all over the walls, every wall was covered in it, people used to come in and pick stuff off the wall, I remember doing that for my first tattoos.”
“I just think it’s becoming a bit sterile, the tattoo industry is becoming sterile, which is a shame.”
“If you wanna be a tattooist, you’ll be a tattooist. That’s it.”
Finally, I spoke to the shop’s apprentice tattoo artist, Louise Heathorn (@/heathorn_tattoos).
She’s been working through her apprenticeship for two years, but the pandemic took away a large chunk of her learning experience.
How did lockdown impact your apprenticeship?
“Oh massively…I had my fake skins, and I took all my stuff home, so it was practice on there. But it’s still very different to normal skin. In general, once I came back, it was a nice environment to be in, seeing clients and actually getting more experience.”
How do you build a good rapport with your clients?
Her bubbly personality and conversation skills help put any anxious customer’s mind at ease. A lot of her current clients find her through social media and contact her regarding her flash work.
“It’s nice to just sit there with the client and be able to have the conversation and build the relationship in that way.”
What do you like about working here?
“Just the environment, everyone is just so nice. It really doesn’t feel like work, you can have a full day, there’s an element of stress but its good stress. Obviously where I’m still practicing and experimenting it’s that sort of thing, if I try something new it’s the good pressure, not weighing down on me. Everyone is so friendly; the clients are friendly as well. It’s just completely different to any other work environment.”
Located in Bush House, Bush Fair, Harlow, Big Dog Tattoo can be contacted for all enquiries and appointments on 01279 420388, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature photo: Big Dog Tattoo Studio, Harlow
Photos by Lloyd Evans, and supplied by Bigdogtattoos, AliceHopeTattoos, and Heathorn_Tattoos