It’s 10:30am on a Friday, at the top of a winding staircase in the heart of the Guildhall and the steady, low buzz of the tattoo gun was ringing around the room. A middle age woman was getting her fourth inking – a dragonfly on the top of her back whilst the other artists were sat around talking all things tats.
Jinx Cooper and Kirsty Pryer are two tattoo artists at ‘Image Tattoo’, an increasingly popular location for Exeter University students. Last week three girls affirmed their BFF status by inking lovehearts on their shoulders, whilst the edgier crowd are opting for semicolons and straight lines. These aren’t “proper tattoos” according to Jinx, who got his first artwork aged 13 – a pin up girl on his arm which has long since been covered up. Now he estimates he has over 200 designs on his body from a dagger on his neck to a banana on his hand. Being so striking hasn’t always been advantageous. “I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t stopped and searched by security at a train station or airport. They see my face and they don’t like it.” The problem has extended further with him “having serious trouble trying to rent accommodation in Exeter, because landlords didn’t like the look of me.” Despite several requests, Jinx refused to have his photo taken.
Exeter students are the largest market for ‘Image Tattoo’s’ with the majority of clients aged between 18 and 21. Surprisingly, girls frequent the parlour more than boys these days, asking for smaller tattoos and more of them. A small design costs £30 and can take only 20 minutes, so there is good money to be made if the chairs are full. “We get a whole range of people in here, but students are probably the most moderate. It’s the old people you want to watch out for.” Jinx is able to recall the 83 year old lady who got two sleeves and then invited him to hot tub party, the 86 year old who now sports roadrunner and a Tasmanian devil on his arms, and his personal favourite “BOB” the name of a pensioner’s fifth husband. Between her legs.
“I do feel that I am in a position of responsibility, and you have to have a sense of morality in this line of work. That’s why I won’t do hands and faces unless they have already got a lot of ink.” Outside of this, however Jinx seems to be at the more accommodating end of the tattoo spectrum. The word “mum” on a male genetalia, was one of the more bizarre ones, but Jesus performing a sexual act on Adolf Hitler was his most extreme work. “If you have skin there, I’ll tattoo it.” A photo of a clients permanently blackened gums serves to prove his point. Showing me another photo he proudly recounts that “What I did for this one was put a plastic spoon under the bloke’s eyelid, tattooed the design, and left him with a black eye for 3 weeks. But I promise, it looked great afterwards.”
While it seems that Exeter Students are more responsible when it comes to inkings the overwhelming sense is that the celebrity culture has rocked the tattoo world, with David Beckham kicking it off in the late 90’s and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini carrying on the trend. Students are the ones who are embracing it the most, especially after their grants come in. “You get people in who aren’t even religious asking for all sorts of texts and crosses. It doesn’t bother me though – they’ve got the money and have made their choice – its all just good business.”
Find Image Tattoo here.