Featured Artist – Khail Aitken

The new generation of “Big – Inkers”

During the first day of the Perth Tattoo expo, I was walking around taking a look at which artists were doing the big pieces that would be contenders for the tattoo of the day competition. There I stumbled across the Sinister Ink booth and saw some fantastic tattoos coming to life by every artist there. But as soon as I saw this 21 year old’s realistic portrait of “Iron Man”, I started to ask myself more questions. How are tattooists creating these incredible tattoos at such a young age?

It was a question I have asked many artists recently and the answer that gave me the most clarity was one that NIXX from 383 Tattoo Studio on the Gold Coast gave me. NIXX mentioned the reason for becoming a tattooist has changed over the years. He told me that in his youth when he began, he became a tattooist to be a part of that culture. The image of a tattooist was a tough/cool guy and it gained you access to a world surrounding this stigma. He said for many years people used to come into a tattoo studio wanting a sleeve or a body suit not caring about what it comprised of. People just wanted to be covered. So most tattooists in those times didn’t come from an art background, they wanted in and they learnt along the way.

Tattoos are evolving so rapidly, that the most promising aspect of this is that now we are slowly embracing them as something artistic on your skin. As the pieces of art they were always destined to be. Nowadays, tattoo studios are seeing a huge influx of teenagers with impressive art portfolios and are using that to gain a tattoo apprenticeship. Meaning these artists want to create art, not only on a canvas but using skin as their medium. Needless to say, I was very interested in hearing Khail’s story.

So how long have you been tattooing for now?

It’s coming up to the third year

What is your artistic process in the creation of a tattoo?

I like to get as much detail from the client as I possibly can. Sometimes people have trouble understanding how a tattoo works so I help them along that road and see where I can lead them into a better concept of a tattoo in general. Some people obviously come up with ridiculous things, but that’s because they don’t know any better.

In terms of actually making a tattoo, I do a lot of research on how stuff is shaded especially by other tattoo artists. I go and look it up on the net to see how they did it and how I can do it differently but still look nice. I do a lot of realism so I use a lot of references.

What’s the most challenging aspect to this process?

The most challenging thing for me is that I did a lot of neo-traditional tattoos when I first started. I’ve always liked drawing, but I’ve never done realistic work in my life until I started with tattooing. It was so challenging and I wanted to learn more. People were so blown away and amazed by it so I wanted to get that reaction from everyone. I found that was through realistic tattooing. Artists have a lot of appreciation for other artists work. But other people are hard to please.

If I look back at my Instagram I think I’ve been doing realistic work for less than a year and honestly, I’m just trying to grasp it. That’s why I’m so grateful that the guys from Inkjekta gave me a chance to come on board (sponsorship), it was absolutely amazing. I can’t even explain it. I’ve always seen their work as being in a whole other league, so I try to push myself to be like them

So now that the style of tattoos you want to be doing is realism, would you still keep doing other styles?

I have a few mates that come to me and ask if I ever think about mixing it up. They say: “I know you like your realism but I was thinking I want this neo-trad portrait”, so I’m definitely all about that. I love experimenting in all sorts of styles. But my favourite would definitely have to be realism. On my Instagram there’s heaps of different styles that I dig, but at the end of the day this is what makes me happy.

When you’re doing a tattoo that makes you the happiest, the client is getting the best tattoo. That’s what people don’t understand, I believe you go to a tattoo artist for their take on things, not to get them to do exactly what you want.

So who and what are your influences?

I’m influenced by a lot of different artists. They vary from time to time but it depends on their style. Lately I’ve been stalking everyone from Inkjecta!

But I’d have to say Benjamin Laukis. At the moment I really dig his stuff. He’s one of my favourites. (click on the photo below to see more of Benjamin’s work on Instagram)

Did you start tattooing with coil machines?

Yeah I did, I had no choice really. The people who took me under their wing in the beginning were using them and they made me use them. But I’ve tried to break away from that as much as I can.

The first machine I bought was a specific inkjekta (rotary type) and I haven’t gone back since. It changes the game.

What do you feel about tainted tattoos? I had a tattoo done by an artist who once it was finished pushed me out of the door and pretty much only wanted my money and not to make a great tattoo. It tainted the whole thing for me and now I have a negative emotion towards that tattoo, so I want to get it removed and re-done by an amazing artist, what are your thoughts on this?

I hear that a lot and that’s one of the things that I feel like I have a responsibility to be aware of. It makes life easier, everyone’s happy and I’m happy. It’s not hard to be nice you know?

Whenever a customer comes to the studio I always introduce myself and talk with them, and as soon as they get to know you they gain your trust a bit more and they see where you’re coming from and understand tattooing a little better and in general every time they come.

The thing is if you’re a mean artist and a client comes up to you and asks you for something that you may not like and say that’s stupid. They will be upset with you. I usually say I like your idea but what do you think of maybe doing this or give them a few options and see where we go from there. You can kind of read them and pick up on what they like by doing that. I don’t want anyone walking out with something that they don’t like. And that’s bad as well because they will go tell their mates.

Do you do tattoo cover-ups?

I would. Because sometimes people are so stuck. I came across a girl who wanted something covered up and I knew of the situation she is in. She’s pretty tough and doesn’t have the money to get it lasered. I felt bad because it was such a shocking piece and I really wanted to help her out. Literally it was just for me. She was a real nice chick and I said look I’ll do my very best.

How many expos have you been to and what are your thoughts about them?

I think this is my third. I was an apprentice for one. I always try to pace myself with the workload during expos, I find that every expo I go to the first day I give 110% and I feel like I cut myself short for the second and third day. The hardest thing is the time limit, especially for something super detailed which is what I like to do. As well as competing against some of the best artists in the country, you really don’t want to have to rush it.

What’s the biggest issue in the tattoo industry?

People in tattoo shops that are bad at tattooing. Some tattoo studios hire artists that are really bad and they produce really bad work which means a lot of people have bad tattoos for life. And they think to themselves: “why did I get this?” I think give it a few years and only the people that thrive will survive. I try not to think of the money much, for me it’s all about the tattoos.

Who is on your tattoo wish-list?

To be honest I haven’t really thought about this. I put my soul purpose into creating them instead of getting them. I’ve been asked so many times why I don’t have any tattoos and have never been able to give a decent enough answer. All that matters is for me to keep going, keep progressing and keep getting better. Nothing else matters.

What other mediums do you work in?

I used to do a lot of paintings and drawing when I started. But my focus now is on my realism. I like to draw realism but it takes me a very long time. And I feel like I can get a better perception of how everything is shaped in 3D if I use a full photo reference. Which is better for me.

I couldn’t say I’ve ever done a portrait before in my life. If it was a portrait it would be cartoon in style. I’ve just never had an interest in it. I don’t know how it came about but I did it and I just wanted to do it more. There’s so much I want to learn and so much I want to figure out, there’s still a lot of things I struggle with. I just keep trying to push through and figure out what I’m doing.

Why is this generation of tattooists getting so good, so young?

What pushed me, was seeing awesome work. Social media opened my eyes as to what was being created and seeing what tattoos can become. They are not what they were a couple of years ago. What you can achieve in tattooing now is ridiculous. But not many people can do it. So I wanted to do it and I wanted to keep trying to do it. I know I’ll never be happy. I was educated in what’s possible and it changed everything.

What’s your worst customer story?

Not me personally, but I’ve seen people in the shop doing weird things. Trying to get naked in the shop. I don’t know whether she was trying to hit on an artist but it was pretty full on.

From your experience, how prominent is the motorcycle club element in the tattoo industry?

Do I see it? Yeah definitely. It’s been a part of the game for so long. But personally I think that once you kind of get to know someone they are just like normal people. I think some things are blown out of proportion, but it does create a little bit of a bad impression. I mean it’s a business and people make money. I know it’s not just the tattoo industry, there are many other businesses outside of the tattoo industry that are owned by people who are affiliated. The media aren’t really telling the whole truth here, they are always going to focus on just the negative.

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