BUILT UP A VARIED AND DEDICATED CLIENTÈLE.
and absolutely fell in love with the place! " Before long Mick was being pulled towards the needle thanks to an encounter with one of the resident artists of the Blue Dragon and eventually, Mick was making lasting f riendstiips that were to concrete Ms involvement with the studio. "I met one of the guys that was a tattooist and also did some airbrushing. We got into conversation and he introduced me to the motley bunch of lads that who asked me if I wanted to come and join the gang! So I worked a while on front of house and was drawing up and before long people I got to know in Brighton offered me skin. After I did that first tattoo..." MiCk's expression becomes unctiaracteristically serious and he pronounces his words emphatically, "I was absolutely frightened like I've never been frightened before. I walked out of the shop..." he pauses, as if to choose Iris words as carefully as possible in order to express himself "...two feet off the ground. It was an unbelievable experience and once I'd done one, that was it, I couldn't wait to get in that chair and keep going".
The Blue Dragon is an open and honest studio with a diverse selection of vibrant artists who have built up a varied and dedicated clientèle Mick has old school beliefs that are paralleled by the old-school swallow tattoos that are fading away on his hands and his team are dedicated to their own methods of working and have built themselves on a foundation of trust with their customers. " This shop has always been a very approachable shop, 99.9% of the work we do here is custom work, but we do still offer flash. The reason 1 get up people's noses is because I refuse to take flash out of the shop. It bothers people. I doin't know why 'flash' has become a dirty word," Mick ponders. His opinions on flash are steadfast and resolute, "I remember a tattooist came into my shop a few years ago and asked why we were so successful and at the time, Dave Lyeach was tattooing a lady. They were laughing and joking and the music was playing and I said "well, that's why". If you have an attitude, you don't work for the Blue Dragon. If someone walks in and says, 'I want a tattoo1, we will discuss it with them and then give them what they want. I refuse to look down my nose at people who want, for the want of a better word, a regular tattoo. I think all tattooists should do a spell in a street shop doing flash because you're thinking on your feet all the time and considering the whole tattoo industry started with flash, how can you say that what actually started it now shouldn't exist?" Mick's honesty and dedication to his working style is endearing and refresliing and he says it with such conviction, that I find myself agreeing with him. 'Jeremy' by Pearl Jam is echoing down the staircase as MickC
oontinues. "Tattooing didn't come naturally to me, I would class myself as self taught. I had to work hard to get into this shop. The founder of the Blue Dragon was an award-winning artist and he wasn't going to let just anybody in."
The development of Mick's style has been lengthy, and it's clear from analysing the imagery that he produces today, that Iris work is highly informed by his airbrushing roots. It retains a softness, a looseness and freedom of colour that makes his work come alive. Just one perfectly placed highlight immediately sets a piece alight, bringing it to life with vivacity and realism, but in true Mick J style, he refuses to accept that he has a 'specialty' and instead calls upon his persistent tattooing ideologies to illustrate his point. "I'm an all-rounder", he brazenly states. "That's another dirty word in this industry, "all-rounder", mulls Mick. His varied career has seen him conguer a multitude of different styles and approaches, but it's his current chosen concentration that he is most renowned for. "The tattoos I'm doing now are in a painterly style. It lends itself well to animals, horror and fantasy, which is what I specialised in with airbrushing, I wouldn't say that I specialised in this style now but this is the
kind of path I'm taking because I love doing it. I've always been drawn to animals and horror. Faces and eyes and expression, I suppose. For some reason, when I was airbrushing, I was very good at doing eyes. The biggest reaction I got from painting was when I did eyes. Even if it was a lions face, I would try to get it anatomically correct and the highlights in, but people were seeing it differently. They didn't say, 'oh, that's anatomically correct and the highlights are good', they would say, 'wow, the eyes are shining, and they're wet!'" Mick's eye tattoos have earned liim a great deal of attention and customers have been known to go to him especially for his amazing optical works. His eyes capture an uncanny reality that is expertly realised in amazing detail and lifelike realism. "I like to capture expression with my work, there are no rules, there are no outlines, so you're working within different boundaries, these tattoos are absolute nightmares as sometimes it's not until the last 20 minutes that it all comes together... when I was airbrusliing, I would put one spot of white and I'd be finished, but up until that point it would be like,..' will this work?'..,I know technically I'm doing it but I enjoy that seat of your pants thing. My outline is the transfer and I'm kind of working from dark to light and then medium and then dark and you're mixing as you go. It's exciting, it's a challenge and I think that's the main thing, I think we all need challenges. I generally work from a photographic reference,??
mainly to get the colours right. I mean, tigers aren't orange, you know? It's about how many different shades there are in that little piece of fur. It's something that I've done with airbrushing so I'm kind of using that knowledge in my painterly style of tattooing." The buzzing of needles begins to rattle down the stairs along with the sound of laughter and commotion. The shop feels alive and communal, and I begin to understand what Mick has been referring to when he speaks of the shop's atmosphere.
At numerous occasions during our conversation Mick has attributed his success and the success of Ms studio to many other people. "I am thankful to every single person I've ever worked with in the tattoo industry because I've either learnt from them or had the best time with every single one of them. I can't thank the guys here enough; they've taken it to another level." Mick pauses to consider his words carefully as though he is beaming with pride over his prodigal offspring. "We had Jason Ross here, who kind of made us all feed off each other and there's Ben English who was raw talent when he started here, and Jed Harwood, and I get as much pleasure from doing a tattoo I love as I do from seeing them do some work. The way that they have progressed has been absolutely brilliant. My old brother Aaron Soffe, God bless Mm, I've been working with him for
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