interview with Matthew James

  Hello Matthew James! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your beginnings. What inspired you to start tattoing? To be creative! Tattooing is simply another medium, far from the money making and 'industry', it is mark making at a very personal level. As my journey proceeded so did my critique of why tattooing made sense to me, it became more of a regular process. But it's been a balance of travel, writing, drawing along the way.

Q: Was it hard to learn the basics? Did anyone help you?
A: I came from a self taught background, for the first few years I was tattooing in a squat in the UK. I dropped out of an art university, then I traveled to Australia, then to America and Europe beginning to work in the tattoo shops. I did this for about nine years. Visiting every museum and art gallery I could come by, studying the 'masters', especially in Europe. I attended art classes, technical drawing seminars, live drawing. I painted graffiti, I learnt air brushing, but mostly simply sketching things around me on my travels, pencil and paper is the easiest medium to travel with. It was/is always in my bag.

The understanding of the technique, the skin type, and yes tattoo ink is very important. I've used the same bng pigments for ten years. It's easier to build and adapt muscle memory when using the same products, machines etc, giving more head space to focus on design. There are lots of rules in tattooing that I believe must be adhered to. We must do our best to guarantee the longevity of our designs, understanding exactly how our designs will age and 'hold' is exactly what being a professional tattoo artist is all about. It's so complicated, but studying, asking questions, learning and application is the key.

Q: What really makes your style special, is the fact that every tattoo is unique. Every design is like a dream recall, a beautiful mix of many images in one... with a bit dark, emotional vibe too. At least, that's how I see them. I'm fascinated.
A: Thank you very much! My process for designing always starts with a sketch, a loose charcoal, to explore flow and very basic composition. Finding ways to direct the eye and focus. I use many reference points when actually tattooing, trying to utilize every technique I can in the process, but leaving enough out to give clarity and balance.

Q: Do you negotiate with your clients? Do you accept refference images?
A: It's very important to work with the client to give them something personal, as we know people get tattooed for a number of reasons, so every tattoo should be unique. I don't have a format when I design and I have no interest in pursuing one. I believe that creative individuality was never conceived in the shadows of routine but is found in the beauty of expression and experiment!

Q: What details or "last touch ups" are the most challenging to work on?
A: The last touch ups for me wait until the tattoo is healed, giving a few months for the design to really settle in and then taking time to check, step back, squint your eyes and decide what needs darkening and maybe refining. We are not printers and nobody is perfect. We can only do our best to remain professional. We should all love seeing our tattoos age!

Q: All black & gray, would you experiment with color?
A: Yeah, I've experimented a lot with color over the years. I still dabble on occasion, I just prefer how black and grey looks over the years. This is in no disrespect to color tattooing, it's just my preference. I dream in black and grey!

Q: You also paint a lot. I love it. Your paintings remind me of your tattoo style.
A: I always seem to be changing my art supplies, I think its important to experiment, but like tattooing there is a side to the artwork which is more of a craft. Such as certain types of charcoal and pencil that mix well with each other, or certain paints/mediums that mix well together. Deciding which to use is what makes our art unique. There are endless online resources available now to research products, but I prefer to try as many products as I can, and learn what's best for me. The process to me is everything and I know I will be happier with my process if I explore every angle, balancing my frustration with content. We have to do paintings we aren't happy with to understand why we like the ones we do. The secret is how to know what we really like, see through what is expected of us as artists and use our creativity to actually be truly creative!

Q: You meet a lot of people every day, you listen to their stories while doing their tattoo, did you learn something about life from them?
A: Yeah, it's very personal! Now, spending multiple days sittings with clients, you have the opportunity to really get to know people. However I leave it up to them. I try to treat everyone with equal respect, that I expect towards me. Everyone is an individual, so I create space for that. My studio isn't a tattoo factory. If clients want to chat, ask questions, watch a movie, I'm fine with it. I try and go into every tattoo knowing how much of a big deal it is for strangers to trust people based on their portfolio and rarely about their character and personality. So I let them be in control.

Q: So the tattoo is done... Any favorite client's reaction?
A: My tattoo sessions are always very long and very exhausting, for both of us. So you definitely see people at their extremes of their emotions! It's always great to see clients see the final piece in the mirror. What a great job I've got!

Q: Where are you located?
A: I have recently opened a private studio in the Mendip Hills about 30 minutes drive from Bristol in the U.K. It is a private studio attached to a beautiful space with self contained flats for clients/guests to stay in and several other workshop spaces. All hand built into an old quarry on top of a beautiful hill with far stretching views. The studio is completely hand built, oak framed structure with glass sides to take advantage of the views. It's a very peaceful place to get tattooed, with close enough links to Bristol which is an awesome small city. I'm so happy to finally offer a space to get tattooed, in that I want to work in myself.

Q: How long clients wait for their appointment?
A: I usually book up only three months in advance due to travel and conventions, priority, but space still comes up. People can just email for enquiries through my website. My assistant will get back to you. My webpage is

Q: What's biggest mistake when it comes to progress? What the new artists should know before they start tattooing?
A: I'm fully encourage anyone who wants to have creative jobs such as tattooing. I believe the hardest thing to try and teach people is to simply think for themselves! Try to question everything! See through everyone else's processes and be proud of your own! Which is hard with the bombardment from social media and modern day culture to work work work! Having a good portfolio, making money etc. won't mean anything without truly enjoying the process of getting there. Balancing the frustration with enjoyment, and recognising one can't exist with the other is the key. The secret is balance! Your greatest teacher is your last mistake!