Tattoos. No matter how mainstream they are slowly becoming, the word alone still conjures up images of regret and rebellion. A drunken teen stumbling his way down a dark alleyway and into a dingy hidden tattoo shop. A hulking biker, his matted beard highlighted by the single bulb swinging above his head, asking gruffly what the kid wants, as an inch of ash teeters off the tip of his cigarette. A boy flicking through the worn pages of the tramp stamp book, deliberating between a tribal design or a cartoon character. A dark room smelling of sweat and mistakes, the bearded man jabbing away with a dirty needle, blood dripping on to the sticky carpet below as the trembling boy realises it’s too late to back out now. Those images are from the past, perhaps they never even existed and were conjured up from the prejudice fears of our forefathers. Tattoos are big news now. They are safer, prettier, more acceptable and they aren’t going away.
I’m standing in a bright and spacious studio in Fuengirola, surrounded by rails of rock clothes and cabinets of cool accessories. Nina greets me behind reception. She speaks five languages and has a degree in the cognitive sciences. She is also a highly talented tattoo designer and piercer, and for nine years has managed Fido Tattoos – the biggest and most popular tattoo studio in Andalucia.
Behind her are two rooms, doors firmly shut, where Fido and Raul are busy at work. I idly turn the pages of a tattoo magazine on the desk while I wait. Where are the photos of burly sailors and cheap tarts? These tattooed people are beautiful. Women with cascading manes of dark hair and blood red lips stare back at me off the pages, reflections of the 1940’s pin-ups painted on the side of war planes. They are buxom, they ooze sexiness and they have their arms covered in bright pretty pictures. The men are healthy, tanned, muscular and confident – their tattoos jumping off their skin, making their already perfect bodies a rippling gallery of uniqueness.
After a few minutes Nina ushers us into one of the clinic-like rooms, bright white and gleaming. The masked man inside is Fido and he is busy deftly applying ink on the back of someone’s leg. The last thing I want to do is interrupt a man piercing the skin of another, so I stay quiet and watch him lose himself in the moment, the only sound the quiet hum of the tattoo gun. The design is forming and it’s one of hundreds that have been sketched in-house first. It’s in a Polynesian style and within it are the initials of the man’s children. ‘It doesn’t hurt, it’s more than bearable,’ the prostrate taxi-driver father of two assures me, straining his neck to look up at me. I ask him why he chose this one as his first tattoo (although I doubt t will be his last). ‘I thought about it properly, I wanted it to mean something, to reflect me and my love for my family,’ he tells me. ‘I dismissed lots of designs until we found the right one. This is forever; you need to think about it properly.’
Fido looks up at me, lowers his mask, and smiles. I finally get a chance to talk to the protagonist himself and ask him how he got into this line of work. ‘It was my mother’s fault,’ he laughs. ‘As soon as I could hold a pencil I was drawing. On every surface I would doodle, I love sketching and painting, and my mum said that I would have to turn my art into a profession. I’ve always loved tattoos, and now have my dream job.’ He most certainly has. Fido’s specialities lie in portraiture and freehand drawing straight on to the skin with special tattoo pens (most designs in regular salons are template based), and his work has taken him to conferences and exhibitions world-wide. A tray of torture-like instruments are lined up before him. I discover that the different tips of each tattoo gun are used to create different effects, much like paint brushes – different ones for shading, fine lines and block colours. I watch the artist at work, how confidently he creates the image, then after each application wiping the tattoo dry and applying a layer of Vaseline to keep the skin hydrated. So where does he gets his ideas from? ‘Everything and everywhere!’ he tells me. ‘I don’t stop, I just want to get better and better with each tattoo. I work over twelve hours a day, but for all of us here it’s not like working, it’s our life. My name may be above the door, but what makes us the best is that we I have a tight and talented team. We love working together.’ Music is Fido’s biggest inspiration; his team are all musicians (Fido is a drummer) and they all have other uber-cool hobbies outside of work such as motorbikes, racing and extreme sports. So it’s true then, tattoos do make you way cooler than the average person!
As we prepare to leave, both Jeremy and I eagerly discussing what tattoos we now want and where, Nina sums up what tattoos mean to their customers.
‘They are symbolic, like life’s branding,’ she tells us. ‘Everyone has a story to tell and we can’t think of a better way of displaying those moments. A tattoo makes you unique. It makes you forever interesting.’ And you can’t argue with that.
Please check out the slideshow at the top of the page to view all images.
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