Mustapic and Jamieson
Photography provided by Ryan Crossland
Behind a glossy little red door on Aire Street awaits the split-level tattoo shop where partners Scott Mustapic and Ruth Jamieson work alongside a small team of artists. Having moved from Oddfellows Tattoo Collective, the pair pitched up their own shop in 2014. I made my own enquiries into a simple tattoo piece (read - nothing my poor mum would disapprove of) and was recommended James Butler, who works more in fine detailing. Ruth and James pitch up in the top loft room of their building, which is decked out in a few minimal and tasteful trinkets and prints, and some ace ‘Bob’s Burgers’ cross-stitching to boot. The pair are friendly and the space has a chilled atmosphere which puts me at ease as I contemplate my imminent experience.
When I first arrive, James and Ruth are both busy stencilling out designs, which Ruth says she always begins with; ‘There has to be a lot of trust when you freehand a piece, which is a rare practice’. Ruth is working on a large realistic image of a lily intersected with a hummingbird. When I check in on her progress, the piece is genuinely stunning; instead of the thick black lines which are distinctive to the ‘traditional’ styles, the lily looks as if it is painted on in watercolour; blocks of exotic but subtle colours. Ruth explains the more realistic styles and portraiture are her favourites. We agree that from an artist’s point of view, these kind of complex and coloured pieces are far more satisfying but not necessarily what everyone wants tattooed on them. Poor James is set with the task of doing a much less exciting tattoo on my own arm, he assures me that smaller, finer pieces are no less fun or important to do however. We chat about their own personal set of tattoos too, of which between them there are many, but less on Ruth. I muse on whether it would be strange if a tattoo artist didn’t possess any tattoos themselves to which James sagely answers ‘you wouldn’t trust a skinny chef’. He may just have a point there…
10 minutes later and with minimal pain, I have a teeny new addition to my arm but looking at James’ Instagram - j.d.butlertattoos - his work ranges from simpler floral pieces to elaborate designs, featuring both realist and surrealist imagery. Check out Ruth’s work too at ruthjamieson85.
Chris Lambert at Snake and Tiger Tattoo
Photography provided by Chris Lambert
In Thorton’s Arcade sits soon to be brand spanking new tattoo shop Snake and Tiger tattoo, set up by Black Crown Tattoo’s Christ Lambert and Gareth Miller. The name is certainly testament to their approach to tattooing which is in the main, ‘traditional’ style work; Japanese figures, animals, thick lines and strong colours. He stands by the sentiment that fashion and tattoos should perhaps not correlate too much because of the way that fashion dates, and the permanence of inked skin.
Chris went to work in Pennsylvania with a friend out there, gaining great experience of different tattooing styles and culture, as well as picking up ‘little trade secrets’ here and there. Chris compares the clientele of Leeds to be far more patient and understanding of the time and value behind tattooing as opposed to the more hasty impatience of some US clients who would sometimes as Chris recounts, ask for the cheapest option. He did also for a time consider setting up shop in London where he was known to do a monthly guest spot. But the high rent prices meant there was little opportunity to set up in the city centre, the vibe of which Chris enjoys in his work, hence the move to the arcade, a place with much foot traffic.
The shop is currently in slight disarray when I visit, with workmen buzzing around us with tools and various cuts of wood. They seem to be creating a pretty cool space though, with the resurrection of the slate floor underneath, a relic of The Hip Store’s time in the arcade, before the following tenants sacrilegiously covered it in AstroTurf. The style, Chris tells me, will be fairly sympathetic to the Victorian arcade that houses it, but with a slightly more modern take, down to the ‘arsenic green’ walls.
Chris has also worked with UK Custom Plugs to produce an ace little Old School Tattoo colouring book, something which seems to have taken off of late, overtaking the meagre crossword on the train. Snake and Tiger tattoo is due to open later this September.
Photography provided by Ryan Crossland
These lads and lasses are walking showcases of their work, making them too interesting-looking not to photograph. Located on Mill Hill for four years, the team are made up of ex-Geordies and Mancunians alike, coming to Leeds to work with friends in the business. Their chilled out and welcoming vibe reflects this element of the job too, with the shop feeling more like a hang out spot. Their printed work lines the walls, showing off their predominantly ‘traditional’ style, interlaced with, as Jemma Jones puts it ‘a bit of fun’; traditional pieces like pin up women, dice and animals are given a tongue in cheek twist.
Their social media following is also eye wateringly impressive, with a collective number almost in the hundreds of thousands. Its no wonder though, given the cult following of their style which ensures a healthy return of clients coming back to fill the gaps on their body but Jemma also tells me that a lot of first-timers also come to get their first tat.
The team is also made up of Rich Hadley, Jimmy Wizard, Shawn Bailey, Joe Ellis and Sway (‘just Sway’); their styles vary slightly with their own personalities and preferences but they are all rooted in the traditional style. They also sell merch between them on their big cartel page and coming up is their one off charity event, on the 21st of November. Run in conjunction with the Bad Cat Club -who sells patches, tees and other merch - the event will see attendees inked out in exclusively small cat and dog tattoos, with all proceeds going towards The Brain Tumour Charity. Find Bad Cat Club on Etsy and check out Sacred Electric’s big cartel page: www.sacredelectrictattoo.bigcartel.com.
Lucy O'Connell at Red Tattoo and Piercing
Lucy O’Connell takes up residence at Red Tattoo on the Corn Exchange Balcony, in a delightfully decorated shop bursting with prints, jewellery (they also do piercings) and other trinkets. Lucy’s style is easily spotted around Leeds’ tattooed folk because of her distinct take on colour- which is bright, cleverly blended like water colour paints - and her almost cartoonish illustrative style.
‘My style has definitely developed but I have always had a certain style, I would just say it's improved throughout the years. Originally I wanted to do realism. But through drawing up designs, I enjoyed the illustrations more and thought why do I want to tattoo something that already exists when I can try my best at creating something new?'.
Like most artists, owing to the variety of her work, she finds it hard to pin down her favourite pieces, tending to enjoy the next project, which she says makes her ‘try to move the bar higher’. Her more stylised pieces like portraits of Dot Cotton and Prince, which employ a bit of humour, also ‘compete pretty high’ but ‘I have too much fun with my work to single out any one piece.’
As expected, Lucy is also partial to a fair few tattoos herself, meaning that as well as guest work she frequently works alongside other artists. ‘I always think '’They're so good, I'll never be on par with them’’, which is very negative of me, but after my short depression I'll do a piece that makes me think, ‘I've learnt something there, and it was worth the grump’.”
Lucy is always painting and drawing, translating her work via several mediums. You can check out what merch she sells on www.horseheadtattoo.bigcartel.com’