An Interview with UK Tattoo Artist Martin Couley
Originally you started out as a graffiti artist. What prompted you to move into tattooing? Is there any techniques from graffiti that transfers easily over to tattooing? Do you still do graffiti or other forms of art outside of tattooing? Do you have any pics of your work Ok what it is I never started out as a graffiti artist funny that ended up in the paper as to how I started. But no that isn’t true. However my day was/is an artist and I always watched him work. That gave me the love for art. Then for some reason I thought tattooing was one of the coolest ways to express your art and have it go so many places. Yeah I still love to paint but I haven’t for bout 7years. Just can’t find the time 😂 I do take my boys spray painting with my good friend Nixon. Who at the moment is smashing the art industry with his graffiti. So the story of how you started is an interesting one. You struggled to find an apprenticeship but when you did it was at a sunbed & tattoo parlour. Can you tell us a bit more about this and how it came about? Can you talk a bit of how much a struggle it is to get started for anybody thinking of joining the industry? Well that is a strange one. Yeah I started in a sunbed shop. There was a guy that was tattooing there was going to get my food in the door and show me how to tattoo. But a week after I started there he went to prison. So I was left on my own was told to make money by the show owner. Didn’t know what I was doing. Safe to say I didn’t stop there long before I got up and left. That didn’t go down to well. But it felt so wrong. That wasn’t what I expected the industry to feel like. So anyways I ended up in an old biker studio making needles day in day out drawing flash etc. Then he just didn’t have time for me. So I ended up in a new studio in the west end of Newcastle. A more modern studio up with the time at the time. I was there for about 4 years this guy showed me a lot where I had been going wrong. He also told me all about working conversations. That was when I started to travel a lot with tattooing. Had so really good times. We ended up falling out over some really stupid shot looking back. However we do speak now and all is good life is to short for drama. After all that I decided to go on my own and open my own studio and the rest is history but a lot of ups and downs along the way 👌🏻😂 You’ve mentioned in prior interviews that your initial apprenticeship didn’t workout after a short period and you didn’t feel you learned much from your second studio as you felt you are self taught as you already had been tattooing. Now that you own your own shop, do you feel your apprentices should be the same way? i.e. naturally talented, they either have it or they don’t. Following the issues with your apprenticeship, do you still see value in apprenticeships in the industry or do you feel there is a better way to get a start? Since you are mostly self taught is there a technique you've struggled with in the past and now that you've finally mastered you would like to pass on to any artists in training? I just explained a lot of this in that last question. But I would say I am about 90% self-torte. I think an apprenticeship is the best way to go about this game. I have had about 30 through my hands I would say there is only 3 of them I am really proud of. That have gone on to do big things that still show me so much gratitude and respect. The rest of them just learn what they can then think there to good then try to run before they can walk. Even now I always help people where I can if I can and there nice humble people. As sometimes happens in life, you had a disagreement in one of your prior studios and left without a copy of your portfolio. Nowadays this mightn’t be a big issue with digital backups but it did have an impact on you being able to attract new clientele with copies of your previous work. This leads onto the question: For you what is more important, building up your personal profile or the profile of the studio you work at? Being a talented artist and owner at the same time, do you have different strategies for both? Yeah when I left one of the studios he did scrap my portfolio. Bit of a dick move. I had to start from scratch and build it back up but not a drama just gave me a bigger drive to become what I am today. You can knock me down or try and slow me down but I will always come back on top. That's just the way I am. As for being an artist and studio owner no just have fun worry about your own shit what’s going on in your studio your life and forget about the rest and you will do just fine all have faith in yourself if you think you can do something keep telling yourself you can and you will that’s the only way I look at life.
Your work is instantly recognizable from your black and grey to your colour pieces but over time you have built up a nice backlog of portrait tattoos. Do you prefer doing portraits over other styles? Comparing some of your earlier portrait work such as the Michael Owen piece to some of your newer portraits, how have your skills evolved over the years? Is there a trick to capturing someones portrait, such as focusing on specific details?
Well I do a lot more black and grey but as soon as I do I nice bit off colour everyone jumps on it to get some. Then I will do a black and grey one then everyone jumps back to that. Just comes and goes. As for portraits it one of them. I was the only real portrait artist in the northeast at that time that was able to master them. So I got a name for myself that way. But I do love them still there so special to a lot of clients so that’s another reason why I love them.
Can you pick your some of your favourite work and for what reasons?Naa I couldn’t lol there are so many that I love. And for so many different reasons.
Your involved in the Mayan Mahem, how did that come about? Can you give us more details about it and why you wanted to get involved?
Well this one 😂😂 I seen I car on Instagram and started to message the guy Paul at lucky13 tattoo. about buying it. Then we got to talking and just clicked he was invited to the Mayan mayhem convention he was telling me to get on it too. So I did and safe to say he’s now like a brother to me. We get together and work as a team for all the shows now. I got to meet Brad who is the owner of Mayan mayhem and same just clicked. Now we get together as family talk shows etc. The reason I got so involved is just because it is one of the best shows if not the best show I have ever worked the people the attitude the place and the love that is put into it. Makes it what it is. I just love to surround myself with positive people that give me a positive vide. And that what I get from it. Not but love. These people what nothing from me but good friendship and that alone means the world to me. So in my eyes that’s family for life.
Your very active with your children and encouraging them to take part in artistic/creative activities. Do you feel having lots of encouragement and support 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?
The way I am with my kids. All boils down to the fact I love them and want them to enjoy life do what I do have the drive I have and open doors for them so they can see that world like I do. Life is for living and enjoying so if they can find something that love and and enjoy. Like me yes tattoo is my job but I love it. You can love doing anything if you approach it in the right mindset.
You recently renovated and opened your shop? What was the hardest part in getting open? What mistakes did you make that you would do differently if given the chance?
This time round wasn’t as hard for me the biggest mistake I made was bringing the wrong people into the studio to work with me but that’s all good now there not with me. Just negative people. No good to me and my studio
Everybody loves their craft and you can see with tattooing and yourself its no different. But in saying that, everyone has things they hate about their passion as well. What are the things you dislike about tattooing and the industry in general? If you had the ability to change anything, what would it be?
Negative attitude and negative people. Hahaha. And not having enough hours in the day other than that I love what I do.
What are your favourite tattoo conventions and what are the ones you'll be working at in the next year outside of Mayan Mahem?
Hard one. I used to work about 2-3 conversation a month but I took about 4-5 years out of them to battle my mental health and drug addiction. Mayan mayhem what my first time back in the shows that opened my eyes again give me the love back. I done hell city in August that was a show I have wanted to do forever and was not a letdown at all. Now I pick a few a year and just enjoy them when that come not 100% what shows I’m doing next year. Iv got the Rome one set in stone so far but the rest time will tell see where I end up 😉
Every tattooer has their own unique style of dress. What are the brands you like to wear?
I don’t have one lol just what ever I feel good in.
Some of the best music you'll hear is inside tattoo studios. What music do you like to work to? Do you have any link to playlists (youtube.com or spotify.com)?
Are we have a very diverse range of music in the studio every from funk to rock to classical it really depends on our mood hahaha.
Your quite passionate about your motors. You’ve recently had your merc wrapped in lime green. Any particular reason for that colour? I mean it’s a bit like your work, not very inconspicuous ! What would be your ideal motor?
Hahaha I love a good v8 just a beautiful sound. And the colour just seemed right haha nut like my cars it will change and so will the colour that’s the good thing bout it being wrapped I can change it at anytime. Soon as I get sick of the colour.
Your now well established in the industry with your own studio. Whats the next big thing you'd like to achieve?
I’m in no hurry to jump into anything just yet. Just enjoying what I have at the moment. Tbh I think helping my wife achieve her dreams at the moment helping set her business up witch has just took off massively so that’s making me happy.
Whats your current waiting times for an appointment?
At the moment it’s about 10 months. But that is to much so just closed my books again to work it off. In the ideal world I don’t like my clients to have to wait to long. So I end up putting the extra hours in doing a lot of nightshifts
Whats your hourly rate?
I don’t do an hourly rate I try and price the job/tattoo/project
Whats your day rate?
Same again my today rate is 700 but that really can change up or down depending on what I’m doing on the client
Whats the best way to book an appointment with you?
The best was is through Facebook or Instagram I never answer emails as I am useless. Or just walk into the studio and see me. You don’t need to book out time just for a chat the door is always open to everyone
Are there any questions you would have liked to have been asked or something you'd like people to know about you?
Naa I think that’s good. Would just like to thank you so much for this interview and the chance to talk. Really appreciate the love.