Tagged: Devon

Apprentice Love: Tammy Bestwick

We spotted the work of 22-year-old tattoo apprentice Tammy Bestwick on Instagram and instantly loved her traditional style tattoos. We chatted to Tammy to find out more about her life as an apprentice at Black Rose Tattoo, Barnstaple, Devon where she works…


How long have you been tattooing? I worked at a tattoo shop in Exeter doing my apprenticeship for two years. I got to do a few small tattoos here and there but it’s only really since working at Black Rose that I’ve been able to tattoo regularly. I started working at Black Rose back in June so it’s just going into six months of tattooing now!

What did you do before? Do you have a background in art? My first job was selling tickets at a zoo. Straight after that I started my tattoo apprenticeship for two years, I did a couple temp jobs where I made some of the most wonderful friends who still come and get tattooed by me now! I studied art at GCSE and A-level but I didn’t find it overly enjoyable, it was more about looking deep into the meaning behind why a square could’ve possibly been painted green and writing essays than actually being artistically creative. It was only since leaving college that I started to draw what I enjoyed.


How did you get your apprenticeship? As soon as I finished college, I took some of my drawings into a tattoo shop that was just over an hour away from where I lived. I didn’t really know anything about tattooing at this point but I’d been interested since I was 13. This shop was just opening and my mind was blown by the work of the tattooists there, I’d never seen anything like it before and so I just knew I had to try my luck. I wasn’t expecting much to come of it as it was the first shop I’d attempted to try work at and I was fully aware I had a lot to still educate myself on and so much more I could try do with my portfolio. A week later and they got back to me and they were willing to give me a trial run! Nothing could compare to that feeling when I found out I was being given a chance at something I’d wished to do for so long.

What drew you to the tattoo world? I started off being fascinated by all kinds of body modifications which then developed into tattoos. Anything a little different or controversial always drew me in. Being creative was the only thing that ever kept me interested so I knew I had to do something with it. I’m quite a quiet person and I love to have my own head space and be free with what’s on my mind, no rules or anyone to answer to. That’s what drawing was for me.

I used to draw a lot with my gramps. He painted beautiful acrylic landscapes and was a signwriter, so that’s definitely where I get my artistic flare from! The tattooists that inspired me to begin with are very different to the tattooists that inspire me now. My tastes and opinion of tattooing has developed a lot.


How would you describe your style, what do you like to tattoo? I’m never really sure how to answer this. Before I tattooed I only ever attempted realism. Currently I do different styles according to the customer’s needs and I’d love to get to the stage where I could do anything anyone asked of me and really challenge myself. Having said that, I’d be perfectly happy if I could only ever tattoo traditional again. That’s what I enjoy tattooing the most, super bold and colourful or just a lot of black! I’d love to get to do more movie related tattoos too.


What or who inspires you? Nature and books but Instagram is a god send for being able to closely follow my favourite tattooists and their daily work. Gem Carter (this is insanely cheesy because I now work with her) has inspired me from day one, before she was even tattooing herself I followed the work she was doing. Currently, I obsess over the work of Sammy Harding, Jack Peppiette and Bradley Tompkins to name a few. But I am completely fascinated about where traditional tattooing began – Ben Corday, Percy Waters, Amund Dietzel. There is just so much inspiration and so much more to be found that it’s overwhelming.

What is a typical day like for you? I very rarely will be tattooing 11-6 at this stage so I take my time with the customers I do have in and the rest is spent providing ultimate banter, replying to emails and drawing!


Can you tell us about your own tattoos? None of my tattoos have any meaning. I get something from a tattooist because I love their style of work, so I’m happy for them to do whatever they’d like to do or choose something they already have drawn! If I get tattooed by someone I want it to be a piece that is distintive to their style. I currently have work done by Danielle Rose, Sammy Harding, a re-work by James Pool (I’m dying to get something of his own too), Sento and mega babe Gem Carter.

Interview with Paul Davies

We chatted to geometric tattoo artists 28-year-old Paul Davies who works out of Artium Ink in Kingsbridge, Devon about what inspired him to become a tattooist and how he recently found out that he is autistic… 


Photo taken by Matthew Partington

I’ve been tattooing for roughly six years. I moved from Cardiff seven years ago to study fine art at Plymouth university. It was a really last minute decision so there was no available student housing. I moved in with some guys that worked in a tattoo studio, so hanging out with them everyday I started to think this was the path for me, rather than being a painter/illustrator which had been my original goal when moving. I’ve never been interested in doing anything other than being an artist. From the age of around five I really wanted to be an architect, but by the time I was old enough to do some work experience at an architectural practice, I realised it wasn’t as creative as I hoped it would be.

Once I started tattooing I was immediately drawn to patterns and geometry. But the style wasn’t really as popular then, so I just did anything to keep busy. Dabbled in all styles of tattooing and slowly convinced people instead of idea had, maybe it would look good to add some patterning to their tattoo. As time progressed the patterning took over. But I still really enjoyed all the other styles I used to do so I merged them to create something of my own.

I enjoy all the drawing I do but given the chance to design unrequested designs I tend to draw things that I have an almost obsessive interest in, like people with super human abilities, whether that’s a comic book character, Jedi knight or action hero that inexplicably can’t be killed.

I have a few guest spots and conventions around the UK lined up for this year but the one I’m most looking forward to is a guest spot I was invited to in Toronto. One of my favourite artists from Japan has been invited at the same time as me so looking forward to meeting him.


I hate most of my own tattoos as I did the majority that I can see myself to practice when I first started. I’m ambidextrous so I’ve done both of my forearms which as they are always on show, get most attention. I get embarrassed when I’m asked the artist that did them as its not a reflection of the work I do.
Recently I found out I’m autistic. On the spectrum it’s Aspergers but I’ve been told that’s not used anymore and it’s ASD (autism spectrum disorder). For my job it’s a massive benefit, I’m completely focused, never want to stop working and able to think about things a little differently to other people. Behind the scenes it really impacts my personal life. I’m currently writing this from a bar in Cheltenham as I’m heading back from Tattoo Tea Party in Manchester and I’ve freaked out that too many people got on the train in Birmingham and I can’t get back on until I’m drunk.

My wife would liken me to the character Spock from Star Trek, I’m not without emotion, I just don’t understand to show it properly. I think only logically about things and have little time struggle to include other people’s feelings in my actions. A few people over the years have mentioned I maybe autistic but I naively dismissed it as I thought only of the extreme form of the disorder.
Recently I posted a status about this and I’ve had a couple of artists message me saying they often feel a similar way, I wasn’t surprised to see they also specialise in patterns and geometry.

Being a social job I do struggle with it, it would be great if I could just be given an arm to take away and work on alone. Since finding this out I’ve realised I have a script that I say to each customer and that helps me feel in control. I have almost the same conversation every day and I really like it that way. Routine helps me function well, and sometimes I think I couldn’t have got to where I am without autism. However I am stuck in Cheltenham until I get over my anxiety attack and I’m drunk enough to get back on public transport so, swings and roundabouts.

Merpola Clothing

25-year-old Toby King is creator of streetwear label Merpola a mixture of maritime whimsy and urban sensibilities. We chat to him about what inspired his debut collection, how The Prince’s Trust helped him set up his business, and his aquarium of oceanic tattoos… 


How did you start your company? What inspired you? The ocean is the main inspiration for the pieces I make. Merpola worships at the alter of the world Ariel left behind, that inspired Cher for Halloween, that Rose survived and Jack froze in, that swallowed Pinocchio, that produces up to 70% of the oxygen we depend on for survival… it’s an endless source of inspiration. I’m really proud to be the founder of a company that I always wanted to exist, no one else was doing it so I decided to do it myself.

I started Merpola with the help of Prince Charles’ charity; The Prince’s Trust. They have a scheme called Enterprise for young people who want to be trained in entrepreneurship, they are honestly Jedi Masters at what they do (and to be their Padawan was a huge honour) they taught me a lot and helped get Merpola up and running.


Can you tell us a little about your brand? Merpola is my own clothing and accessories brand that launched in Winter 2015. The first collection is on sale now and is made up of t-shirt prints, beanie hats and tote bags. The brand is independent, unisex and forward-thinking. I didn’t want to gender any of the items because the concept of giving a sex to threads of cotton or a design element is ridiculous. If you like it, put it on. A focus on high quality within affordable limits is a number one priority, it’s important to me that I offer something that isn’t set at an elitist high fashion price but that still feels unique and special, like a lot of passion has gone into the creation of it. I source components as ethically and ecologically-friendly as I can given the budget and sell worldwide.

Do you have a background in fashion?  I don’t have any background in fashion, no! I studied Media & Communications at university and went into television and PR after graduating. I love all forms of expression though, from tattoos to clothing, and the idea for Merpola has always been in the back of my mind. I had been working for a company that I didn’t respect – the way they did business was without any moral compass. I had to get out of there, and that’s when I went to The Prince’s Trust with my idea for a streetwear label.  They provided classes to teach me all about being an entrepreneur and helped fund the equipment and fabrics I needed to get going, it’s an amazing organisation.


Can you tell us a bit about your new collection? With the debut collection, I wanted to create a solid baseline and incorporate certain staples that would help define Merpola moving forward. I think there’s a very playful and rebellious attitude to all the things I’ve created so far, I’m really proud of everything. There wasn’t much money to get started with so I chose to focus on creating a small run of a select pieces that build the foundation of what I want to achieve whilst still having opportunities to expand upon on and adapt as the business (hopefully) grows. Some sizes are already selling out, and because there’s only a few dozen of each item I think the first batch will be quite special one day. RuPaul has already given Merpola his stamp of approval, which was a massive confidence boost when I needed it most. Starting a business is scary!

The brand is a reflection of maritime whimsy and kitshy elements mixed with some urban sensibilities picked up from my current surroundings in London.

What do you want your collection to say? I want Merpola to inspire rebellious spirits and invoke a sense of adventure. If you want to feel empowered like a menacing sea witch, cover yourself in our tentacle print. If you want to tell the world “watch out, I will drown you” then represent that with the Sea Tee. You haven’t escaped the Matrix so you don’t need to dress in plain black every day of the week. Break the rules, have fun with your style.


What is your favourite piece from the collection? I’m proud of the little details in all of my first collection. I don’t have a background in fashion or design, and it was a long process to teach myself how to do it properly – nothing is worth doing unless you throw yourself into it 100%. I actually feel like my DIY approach has benefited the clothing, there’s no fashion rules to follow when you don’t know them! But it’s little details mixed with a sense of humour and rebelliousness that give my label its identity. I really appreciate and strive for humour in what I do and hope it comes across.  And I’m getting better at what I do every day, I’m starting the process of creating Collection II now so there’s a lot to be excited about going into 2016.

Where can people buy them? I set up Merpola.com as a platform to sell the collection, that’s where you’ll find my garments. There’s also a blog there with updates on the business and more creative writing planned for the future, swing by and have a poke around.

Can you tell us about your tattoos? I’ve always been awestruck by tattoos. I craved having my own when I was younger because I viewed them as a sign of a free mind, a rebellious statement. Now finally having my own, I understand that they’re much more than that. They’re art, stories, history and emotion sitting under your skin. Unsurprisingly, most of my own tattoos are rooted in oceanic imagery, I’m my own aquarium and I love it.


What was your first one do you still love it?  My first tattoo is terrible, but yes, I still love it. A lot of people I meet have a ‘first pancake’, that first tattoo that didn’t turn out right. I saw the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch when I was around 14 and it blew my mind open. There’s a tattoo in that film which I wanted to replicate so I had a fake I.D. made, skipped school and went to a really crummy place in Exeter that tattooed it onto me for just £20. It’s sloppy and gross, but it’s been with me for over a decade now and reminds me of the fearlessness I had that day, it’s quite empowering.

Interview with Gem Carter

20-year-old Gem Carter works at Stay True Tattoo in Ashburton Devon and creates beautiful lady faces and tattoos inspired by nature. We chatted to Gem about her developing style and love for traditional tattooing… 


When did you start tattooing? March 2014

What did you do before, do you have a background in art? I went to art college and I worked in graphic design for a clothing company for a little while. I tried commission drawing for a bit, but I was never sure about any of it. I had a strong art influence from my family too. I always wanted to do something artistic, but for a while I just wasn’t sure what. Tattooing is the only thing that’s really kept me interested!

How did you get your apprenticeship? It was luck really. I was sort of looking for a while but was in no rush as I was quite happy to do the uni thing. On the off-chance I sent an email to a shop who had an artist leaving and wanted an extra pair of hands to help out. He liked my work so took me on as an apprentice, I quit my foundation course and started my apprenticeship a few weeks later.

How would you describe your style? People ask me all the time and I never know what to say! I started in a small shop in a small town where I literally couldn’t afford to turn down any of the work that came in so I quickly had to pick up a lot of different styles. That’s stuck with me and I still do a bit of everything. So style wise I’m not sure, but subject matter wise, I love anything floral, animals, anything vintage, lady heads, all the good stuff. Oh and disney! Lots of disney.


Lately you have been tattooing mainly black and grey, is this what you want to focus on? It’s just what people seem to want. I love the etching type stuff and it’s a style I’m really comfortable with, I love working in black but I wouldn’t want to limit myself. So many artists have such distinctive styles and I just think how do they do it?! If I focused on one thing I would never have any work! Hopefully one day I’ll find something I can easily do forever, and that people recognise and specifically come to me for. (Watch this space!) If people come to me because they like my black work then that’s really awesome, but at the moment I’m happy to do everything, and try to improve in all areas.


How would you say your work has developed? I started off pretty timid and scared of challenging myself. I’m so thankful that I was able to move to my current studio, it’s a great environment and I feel more inclined to just give everything a go. I’ve learnt a lot. I think my work is more grown up because of it. I hope so anyway. I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m properly happy with everything I do but it’s nice to be slowly getting there!

What inspires you? Nature, plants and animals mostly. I’m so lucky to live where I do and be surrounded by these things every day! I love old books and vintage illustrations. I take huge inspiration from all the artists I follow too. It’s this constant stream of awesome tattoos and artwork, it’s amazing if you’re having a down day and need some motivation.


What would you like to tattoo or do more of? I always enjoy traditional, I don’t get to do enough, so it would be fun to do a bit more. I’ve also only ever done one full back piece which is still a work in progress, and only a small handful of sleeves, so I’d love to do some more large scale work. If that fails, just girl faces and animals please!

Can you tell us about your own tattoos? I have a few from local artists, a couple of ropey self-made ones, and a few from artists I’ve travelled to see. I wouldn’t say I really regret any but it’s definitely a weird mix match of stuff. I started off just getting tattooed for the sake of it, it’s only been in the past year or so I’ve actually travelled around the country to go and collect pieces from artists I love. I got tattooed by Guen Douglas this year and it’s honestly my favourite thing I own! I don’t get tattooed that often, it’s so difficult to find the time, but I’m in no rush to get covered, if it takes me 20 years then that’s okay.