For many people tattoos can be a very personal thing to put on their body. Throughout many facets of modern life the spread of tattooing and the cutlure which surrounds it, has become more and more mainstream. I sat down with Sean from Snakebite tattoo and piercing, which has been around since 1996. We chatted about why people get tattoos in the first place. What types of styles are common and what symbolism or meaning can they hold for those who wear them.
“Tattooing is the furthest you can take the ability to draw or the ability to be artistic. Because you could be the best painter in the world, but if nobody likes them until a hundred years after you’re dead it doesn’t do you much good. But tattooing, you get people coming to you looking for you to specifically do something for them. That they then get to wear for the rest of their lives. Like it doesn’t get more important, I supppose in a way more gratifying.
As someone who gets to do that kind of stuff it is very gratifying. You get alot of people coming in, looking to get alot of very personal things done and they have the freedom to talk about it if they want. Cause to them they may not get ever get another one or they may not get another one for twenty years.
But I might get 20 people in, 30 people in a week all getting tattooed and they might easily all be first tattoos and they could easily all be very important ones. So you’ve kinda got alot of people with alot of important stuff going on, and I kinda get to be part of it. Even if they don’t tell me what it is, I’m involved in the process kinda thing and that’s a pretty big deal, kinda no matter what way you look at it.“
If you have never been in a tattoo studio. I would describe it as something which looks like a cross between a doctors surgery and a psychologists office, but with needles and ink. And to a certain degree that’s true. With all manner of people coming through the doors on a daily basis, all with their own stories. The studio becomes a place where they can give a voice to what’s on their mind and their unique and sometimes very personal story behind their tattoo.
“It’s more of a sounding board than anything else, I mean with that many people having their own stuff going on. You’re not going to be able to talk to everyone about everything. But if they have somewhere to go that’s part of if you wanna call it a healing process, a coping process or a rememberence thing or anything like that.
Then it’s nice to be that spot, just to sit for a while and just mouth, know what I mean. I don’t usually ask alot of the time, even if it is very obvious that it’s something important and it means something, cause alot of the time it’s something unfortunate as much as it might be something great.
And if it is something unfortunate, then there’s only so much you can say to them, because your not in their shoes. Go ah that’s dreadful and then expect them to sit there for another four hours in an awkward silence. Do you know what I mean, because that makes the whole process a bit more unnerving. If they don’t want to talk about it and bring it up, then that’s no problem.“
With a wealth of experience and knowledge in all aspects of his art form. I wanted to get Seans take on some examples of tattoos that fans of mixed martial arts would be familiar with. Worn by some of the sports bigegst stars. It was time to get his take and hopefully some insight into their history. What if any style they’re drawn in and what on earth could they possibly mean if anything?
Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson
“With things like that, black and grey. Black and grey in itself is kind of a style. I don’t think the wings themsleves are a particular style in and of themsleves. They don’t remind me of anyone in particulars work. Alot of the time you’d see people and their work would stand out. Very obviously being done by them in a certain way. Could be how stark the contrast is. Could use oceans and oceans of black with very little detail, that kinda thing.“
“Well the hands themsleves, they’re from a painting by a guy called albrecht durer. I can’t quite remember when it was from. But it’s kinda one of those fairly well known, sort of religious pieces that everyone would be aware of if you saw it. When you see praying hands in tattoos, alot of the time, that’s where the reference comes from, because it’s really good reference for that kind of stuff.
They would be just as many people who might clasp their own hands and take a picture of it. But the albrecht durer ones are really nice. There’s probbaly some kind of religious element to it. But kinda seeing it from the outside. That’s one thing I kinda like about looking at stuff like that and it not screaming what it is because, we look at it and we just see a nice tattoo. They look at it and it’s got potentially alot of meaning behind it. But that’s for them and the meaning isn’t for anyone else who’s looking at it. It’s just for the person who has it.“
“Looks Japanese from what I can see. Japanese stuff is great, because Japanese is one of not very many styles, that has been designed as a tattoo. It’s not just something that has been designed to look nice that happens to fit on the body. Japanese tattooing is something that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years and alot of that imagery has very particular meanings to it.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s why he got it. Like say you might see a Japanese sleeve that might have a Tiger and a coy or a dragon and a coy or something like that. If you were to get that traditionally in Japan. You would get that because each of those bits relates to something and that would then be specific to you and how they are put together would be specific to you.
Whereas kinda pretty much everywehere outside of Japan, you just get it becasue it looks nice, which is fine aswell. A nice looking Japanese piece will look good for life if it’s done the right way, with someone who knows what they are doing.“
On the tattoos of former UFC welterweight champion Georges St Pierre “It’s not so much a style, it’s just kind of script. That’s kind of the thing with other languages, things that aren’t written in the Greek alphabet the way we would. There’s only a certain degree to which we can stylise them or things we can do to them.
Because I don’t speak the language, I don’t know how the letters are put together. I don’t know if I change one line to be thicker if that’s going to make it different. Like say with the letter ‘c’, I know what shape that is supposed to be. I know how much detail I can put in it, how much I can illuminate it. Without it starting tolook like an ‘e’. But with Chinese or Arabic or anything like that I don’t know that.“
“These look like more stuff that the person getting the tattoo had the idea and just went to someone to have it done. To have it realised, that sort of thing, rather than finding someone who has a specific style and kinda going, I want you to do anything. Just do whatever you like, once it looks like you did it.
It wouldn’t be neo traditional, it’s not new school, it’s kind of, with predetermined stuff like that like crests and like images of some sort of warrior in a mask kind of thing from what I can see it is. There’s only so much you can kinda do with them. Because a crest needs to look like what it is.
If you change it at all it’s not the thing you wanted in the first place. Whereas if you went to someone and said I want you to do a skull or I want you to do a rose or something like that. Then they can twist it and it would still be a skull, but it would look like a skull that they did.“
“The person that has the tattoo is really the only person who needs to like it, because it’s on them. So if people don’t like it, that’s a shame, but it doesn’t matter, to any degree, really.. If you like it, it’s your body, do what you like with it..”
To get in contact with Sean check out the Snakebite website.