An Interview with UK Tattoo Artist Colin Whitfield
Has Colin Whitfield's striking work caught your eye? The Devon man's journey in the tattoo world hasn't always been easy but his work is constantly improving and stands out. Colin agreed to sit down with Skin Giants for an interview. The following are his opinions on some of the questions we put to him.
You've said in interviews in the past that you got your original interest in art from your uncle who is a painter. What spurred you to move from art into tattooing? Was it an easy transition? And how did your parents react to tattooing as a career choice?
My parents have always been 100% behind me, I wouldn’t say it was an easy transition I soon realised everything I knew about painting in particular wasn’t necessarily going to translate into nice clean tattoos, having an artistic background definitely helps though.
You were 26 when you started your apprenticeship with Chalky who works out of 14tattooing in Devon. What were you doing before your apprenticeship? Was it still in a creative field? Nowadays with college courses being run on tattooing, whats your opinion on apprenticeships? Do you believe with college courses that no natural talent is required and everything can be taught from a curriculm?
I thoroughly believe that any skill set can be learnt, anyone can learn to produce good artwork and tattoos the hard thing to find is someone who has the drive and passion to want to see the whole learning process through, tattooing does become your life and if your not 100% committed you probably won’t make it.
For me an apprenticeship is still the best way to teach someone, there is definitely room for some extra courses particularly in the hygiene side of things, I know some great tattooists that still have a pretty poor respect for cross contamination and cleanliness.
Can you tell us more about your apprenticeship? How long was it? For the benefit of aspiring apprentices, can you tell us what was expected of you? Now that you own your own shop, do you treat your apprentices in the same way? What are the core lessons you try to convey? Is there a technique you've struggled with in the past and now that you've finally mastered you like to pass on to artists in training?
I won’t lie it was pretty tough, I did two years in another studio before I joined chalky at 14 tattooing always working a full time job alongside my apprenticeship to pay my bills working night shifts and days in the studio surviving on naps, I did a full three years of this and as much as I know it made me appreciate what I have now, it was nearly too much at times. Our apprentices are only made to concentrate on things that will help them become a good tattooist from good customer care, how to build your name and of course perfecting your design work, there’s no shop bitch mentality, we are all equal and help each other progress together. After all we are all still learning all the time.
I think it’s one of the most important things to have your own style but like most creative things it can easily become repetitive and loose its magic, I do try try to keep adapting and changing and learning as much as I can, plus it’s more fun that way.
Can you pick your some of your favourite work and for what reasons?
Anything that involves taking a little chance or doing something a little out of my comfort zone makes me happy, I love working conventions that little added pressure always pushes you to produce extra special pieces.
Your involved in the Kaos Theory project, how did that come about? All the artists involved seem very supportive of each other and also with Kelsey (your wife) you have a strong network to encourage you to push your work. Do you feel having a strong support network helps in your creative process? Can you describe your creative process? Do you have an idea of what you want to do and try and find a canvass willing or do you work with a clients references to come up with a design pleasing to both?
I got to work on the Kaos theory project because Ryan Smith the creator has been a good friend and mentor since my days at NR Studios, all round lovely bloke, always willing to help anyone passionate about the industry and give them a chance, I couldn’t do what I do without the support of amazing people around me in particular my wife Kelsey, she’s pushed me and put up with my crazy shit from day one, easily made me who I am. My usual process is clients approach me with some base ideas that we build into a design together but I do always have plenty of custom designs ready to rumble for the right client.
Yourself & Kelsey have made tattooing a family affair with Kelsey working in the shop. How do you guys appear to manage the work/life balance so well? Do you have to compartmentalise? Inspiration & creativity is not necessarily something you can schedule, how do you make sure it doesn't impact homelife?
I think the only reason it works is because we both equally have huge work loads that we share, running the studio together helps massively as it means we still get to spend a good amount of time with each other, I think if we worked different jobs it could easily affect our family life and relationship. I love my job but it does take over, the hardest thing to balance is making sure we spend enough time as a family. My daughter has just turned two and that time has just vanished! It’s always good to step back sometimes and remind myself why I do it all in the first place, being dad and husband comes first.
Being a great tattoo artist doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great business owner but you've been successful. Can you give any tips to artists thinking about owning their own shops? What areas should they focus on?
Treat your artists well, with respect and you will receive it in turn. Don’t be greedy and make doing good tattoos the most important thing.
What are your favourite tattoo conventions and what are the ones you'll be working at in the next year?
The Tea party was great fun, I am looking forward to attending Liverpool for the first time this year, I’ve heard good things, next year I am hoping to do a similar set up as last year but maybe with a couple European shows thrown in there.
You seem quite passionate about the planet and sustainability. Have you made any changes within the studio or how you tattoo to make a small contribution to improving this planet?
We just try to recycle everything we can and always look for alternative options, I have been shown some bio degradable set ups that people have been using lately but still haven’t found out enough information yet on how much of a carbon footprint it has and if it’s better than plastic, particularly as it’s medical waste that gets incinerated anyway, but anything that can help is always worth looking at.
Your now well established in the industry with your own studio. Whats the next big thing you'd like to achieve?
I’m hoping to get involved with as many like minded artists and work on some more collaborations next year, always seem to learn loads when working alongside others.
Whats your current waiting times for an appointment?
I try to keep my waiting list no more than 3 months
Whats the best way to book an appointment with you?
The best way to book an appointment with me is through our website whitfieldtattoos.co.uk