The Official Blog for Tattoo Artist Magazine

The Old School Code of Conduct

By Bob Done

Reblogged from: http://www.swallowsndaggers.net

At a time when new Tattoo Studios are popping up in towns faster and more frequently than ever, I thought it would be cool to have a chat with my mentor and 20 year veteran of the craft Phil Kyle about the situation we find ourselves collectively in, and what it was like for him “back in the day”.

This is the slightly edited version because I don’t think the internet was, nor will it ever be ready for the original.

BD – Ok, what’s your name and how long have you been tattooing for?

PK – Phil Kyle, been tattooing 21 years and been getting tattooed for almost 30 now.

Where did you start tattooing?

I served my apprenticeship at Main Street Tattoo just outside of Baltimore Maryland in Edgewood. I started actually tattooing when my mentor thought it was the right time.

How many shops were in town when you first started tattooing?

 2 at most, unlike today’s carnival.

And what was the relationship like between those shops and yours?

People just did their work and got on with it.

And what would have happened if someone else moved into town and opened up a shop?

(Laughing) Well…….Back then they would’ve got a warning, and if they ignored the warning there would’ve been some action. They’d have their equipment taken maybe, or you know… But the fact was that people with no morals or ethics got served the fuck up. It’s not like today where assholes open up one street over. What’s the fucking point? And they don’t even have the nut sacks to come say, “Hey I’m opening up”, or whatever. Like we did. It’s like fast food chains popping up everywhere. Serving total shit! (laughing) People that should just be clients are opening up shops. If they really loved tattooing they should just stick to getting tattooed, and not try to be some hipster cool guy who couldn’t tattoo their way out of a paper bag. These are the people that talk way too much trash too, if they could run their tattoo machines the way they run their mouths maybe they could actually tattoo.

What happened when an apprentice had served their time and felt it was time to leave maybe? Would it have been normal for them to go and open up their own shop?

Well I moved from the Baltimore area to Atlanta Georgia…Thats a 10 & 1/2 hour drive.
686 miles, or 1,104 km. And I didn’t go and open a shop, I went to work for someone else. We had contracts which stated we had to move at least 100 miles away. That was normal. Who needs 30 shops in 1 town? Oh wait….(laughing) that is what is happening everywhere now. Brighton! (Sighs)

What would have happened if you had ignored that contract or advice?

I would’ve been blackballed from tattooing for sure. Doors would have closed everywhere; conventions, suppliers, contacts, all those folks would have just shut the door to you and you’d have been made out to be a scum bag. And if you had of opened up a shop? Put it this way, it wouldn’t of been open for very long…(Phil grabbed a ball peen hammer and goes to smash my hand – lightning quick reflexes save my mitts).

So what is the old school “Code of Conduct” in regards to opening a new shop in a new town?

First of all you go and make the rounds, you go and talk to all the other shops in town to let them know that you are there in a friendly capacity and that you intend on opening up your own shop. Like we did when we first opened up, and we still hang out with those other shops now, 5 years later. Now though people come with the bullshit, “Oh I didn’t realise that people still respected the old ways”. Someone actually said that to me recently, ‘respect’ being the key word that they just shit all over. Nowadays these people roll into town… no talking, no chatting, no meeting up, no nothing, and then you find out with the rest of the world about the shop when you hear about a posting on their fucking blog (laughing). It’s fucking dumb because now all the professionals and other local shop owners know you’re an asshole with no morals or ethics. Good job dick head. (Phil gives me two thumbs up)

How many other shops were in town when we opened up?

Easily less then half as many as there are now, there must be at least 30 shops in the Brighton area now. And the majority are bad ones, putting out shitty work. We do a lot of local cover ups: when people realise that their cheap shit isn’t good they come see us.

When did you start to notice the explosion of new shops?

When I left America 13 years ago. It was on over kill there already. I worked on an intersection where there were 4 to 5 tattoo shops. Then there were more down the street. The beginning of death to tattooing.
Now it’s hitting Europe and the UK and even the little town of Brighton. Man there ain’t but 3 McDonalds in all of Brighton but they are able to serve the whole town. Why have 30 shops? People are McDonaldizing our craft and those folks call it an industry. An industry is a factory in China making shitty tattoo equipment. Tattoo is a craft performed by a craftsman. Like a carpenter or a plumber. You would only want the best of those to work on your house so why settle for some second rate scratcher to work on your body because its £40 less then the other guys. Fuck man! Wake up people! Take more pride in yourselves!

What do you see happening to tattooing as this continues?

Governments are already digging their way through tattooing. It already hit continental Europe hard with crazy regulations in loads of countries. It’s on its way to the UK right now. Then all these people are going to start asking what the fuck happened to tattooing? And I get to say I fucking told you.

What advice would you give someone looking to open up a studio these days?

(Grabs the ball peen hammer again and I tuck my hands away) I would not recommend it in the slightest. Kids, listen, get a career doing something else, it’s not going to fucking last with 100 shops on the same street. If you’re good enough to get an apprenticeship then good for you. Opening your own shop should be the last thing on your mind, that’s what you do towards the end of your career, not at the fucking beginning. You don’t buy snazzy speedos and googgly eye goggles and jump in the deep end if you can’t fucking swim. Concern yourself with doing better tattoos and for fucks’ sake don’t be a hipster, these are the things that are killing our craft, over kill, over saturation, hipster bullshit, no ethics, no morals, no standards and obviously no respect for tattooing as a whole. It’s a damn shame. We’ll see how the next 20 years go.

(Phil hits his wizard bong and spins round on his chair).

I assume that we are done.
Interview by Bob Done – IG:@bobdone