Opening an interview is always a bit strange! Shall we open with your background in art and tattooing? Were you a young fan or did tattooing arrive in your life later on?
I’ve always had an interest in art from a young age, my uncle Michael Collins is a painter and he would sit me down and give me lessons as a kid. I think it’s these early lessons and the support from my parents that definitely guided me to what I’m doing now. I didn’t find tattooing until later in life and started my apprenticeship at 26. It was Chalky, my mentor, who gave me a shot and guided me through my apprenticeship and set me up with a solid skill set to start my career. Being part of the skateboard and motorbike scene, being surrounded by good people with the same interests guided me towards tattooing.
Can you pinpoint moments throughout your tattooing life where you walked away downbeat – but still left having learnt valuable information about the craft, and yourself?
Definitely, there have been times I wanted to quit, particularly when I was working a full-time night job alongside five days in a studio, It was my wife that kept me going and pushed me to drop the night shifts and supported us financially so I could concentrate on tattooing, no matter how tough it got or how many chances I take with my career she always supports me, I’ve learnt over the years it’s the people you have around you that make you who you are.
Your tattoo art is very expressive and vivid – whether in black and grey or full colour. When working on a design, what do you feel is the most important area to focus on? For example, the placement and composition or the balance of colour and shadow?
That’s a tricky question, I think the most important thing is a tattoo that suits its wearer. One of the things I love most about my job is working with my clients and developing the design together, it’s this process that steers the design in one particular direction whether it’s high contrast, dark and broody or light, warm and flowing.
What kind of tattoo gets you most excited to work on? If someone was to come through the studio door with a blank slate and total freedom on your behalf, what would you tattoo?
When given total freedom I tend to lean more towards the darker things in life. I’ve always been a big horror fan but going to my previous answer, sometimes it’s my clients that lead me in a direction I would never have considered and I produce some of my best pieces.
You’re consistently knocking out amazing tattoos in all shapes, sorts, and sizes – yet you haven’t lost any of the passion of a young artist. How much of your time spent away from the tattoo machine is devoted to the art and how does one manage their life around it?
Thanks very much, the process I use to develop each tattoo is longer than it’s ever been in my career but it’s a necessary evil to keep pushing forward, there’s always so much to learn and I believe there’s always new, better or just different directions to go in. Finding that balance between work and family life has always been tricky and will be forever grateful to my understanding wife who says I am obsessed – I just don’t think it’s a job you can do without passion and a little bit of obsession.
Your bold realism often turns into a sort of “hyper-realism” in some of your work, how did you come to adopt these techniques and quirks into a style that you now succeed so well in?
I think it stems from drawing a lot of observational sketches and paintings, when I was apprenticing I used to do a lot of commission work for extra money – mostly peoples kids and pets, doing those drawings definitely helped me pick up a lot of the techniques I still use today. I was even asked to draw a dinner once for a chef, apparently, it was his signature dish.
Everyone loves a skull tattoo and you are stranger to a striking skull here and there! Why do you think it’s remained such a key component of tattoo art? Do you have a skull tattoo on yourself!?
Yes, I do have a few skulls on myself – you can never go wrong with a good skull! I’ve always thought it comes down to the strong imagery and how we recognise certain images easily from a distance, there are certain images that get repeated in tattooing time and time again, anchors, roses, women’s faces, skulls… Tattoo art relies on being bold and clear and most important of all you need to be able to see what it is at just a glance, let’s face it there’s nothing more recognisable as a human face, combine that with the hugely varied symbolism that the skull holds to so many people and cultures, it makes for the perfect tattoo reference.
What’s next for Colin Whitfield? What can we expect from your art in the future?
I have a lot I’m hoping to do this year. There’s always something new to learn but mainly I want to work with other artists on different projects and take in as many different techniques as I can and keep pushing to make my work better. Hopefully, this will keep me and my art evolving.
This interview for Tattoo Fan Magazine was conducted by Matt MacLennan
All images used courtesy of Colin Whitfield