Interview with Chris Crooks, White Dragon Studio Belfast
Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention - Ulster Hall Belfast

Chris is unquestionably the most well-known and talented artist currently in Northern Ireland. His Japanese work is stunning and his reverence for the art itself is plain to see in every single tattoo he creates.

How do you think NI talent stacks up compared to elsewhere?

There’s a lot of great younger artists and a lot of great established artists, and it’s hard to really answer that! I think that NI is like any other country, you’ve got the better artists but there’s obviously hundreds of artists you haven’t heard of, and they haven’t broken into the local or international scene just yet. But I think here there is that thing with young talent coming through, but it’s hard, it’s a small country. So you have people that are very well known, like any other country, but you’ve still got other artists that aren’t as well known, that are on par. The top guys are on par with the top guys, and the bottom guys are on par with the bottom guys – it’s the same across the board.

And how do you think this convention compares to others?

I think it’s a young convention. It’s definitely, definitely showing serious signs of progress with the drawing now of a lot more international artists. Hopefully next year it’s gonna bring that same level: Terry from Total Tattoo magazine is giving us that coverage, like a bigger show which is important. There’s a few wee issues that need to be ironed out like over the next few years, but I think it’s good.

What’s the best and worst part of working a convention?

The worst part is you just don’t have the comforts you have at your studio, but that’s what you would expect. The best is who you’re working with, that for me can make or break a convention – if you’re working beside someone or along side someone who are good friends it makes for a good show. And great customers! That’s what I think shows are good for, just getting out and chatting to people who otherwise don’t know you – or think they know you, through your reputation! And they have a perceived idea of who you are, then they meet you and they’re like, “oh you’re actually dead on” (laughs).

What’s your favourite thing to tattoo?

(Instantly) Japanese, straight up.

What does the future hold for you – what do you hope to achieve?

For me, I’ve been very fortunate to achieve as much as I have so young. But I wouldn’t say I’ve stopped setting myself goals; it’s just about continuing with work and being a better tattooist, learning, learning, learning, learning, and hoping that I never lose that drive. Not just getting there and thinking “oh i’ve done that now I can chill out”. For me I just wanna – there’s always someone new coming up behind you who is gonna blow the socks off you. Every convention I go to, especially London and Paris, you’re always like “holy shit” so you’ve got to keep going and you can never stop.

The Europeans seem to be streets ahead, don’t they?

I think it’s a bit like anything. I mean, if you look at NI, we have a couple of amazing sports guys, you’ve got your George Bests, your Rory McIllroys, the Eddie Irvines, because it’s a small population you’re always gonna get a small number of very, very talented people. That doesn’t mean that the country doesn’t produce a lot of talent, it produces an equal amount of talent for the population –


Yeah. You know if you go to the States of course you’re going to get more people, not because they’re a more talented nation, they’ve just got more to draw from. I think it does look like on the European scene that they’re doing so much more, – they’re not really, there’s just more of them. If I take my style for example, and you take France, you’ve got a couple of guys – Henri from Toulouse, there’s a couple of others of classic artists, but there’s only a handful of neo-Japanese artists for all the size of France. So I think it’s all relative.

What age are you Chris?

I’m twenty-nine but I was lucky to come into tattooing at a stage when it was what it was, just at the very…before Miami Ink, before it took that big turn. So although i’m only twenty-nine, all my peers have been tattooing and are in their thirties, forties and fifties, so I’m more sort of that generation, and less of the younger generation. I’m sort of in that weird, one foot in one and one foot in the other – I think my feet are in that one and my head’s in that one (younger and older), and I think that gives me a better insight into things and you tend to be more grounded. The ones that have been doing it for thirty years – they remind you every day, ‘wise up, stick your head down’.

So you’re young but you’re not one of the upstart, ‘Miami Ink generation’ that maybe think it’s easy, or fast.

Exactly, or that you have to specialise. I still get that sometimes, ‘oh that was a good choice to specialise in Japanese’ – that’s not what it was, it wasn’t a choice. It was what I wanted to do, but I did a LOT of other stuff on the way to getting to do that, and whenever I seen that I could actually make a choice, that’s when I chose to do what I wanted to do.

What I think is: it doesn’t matter about anything else that’s going on around you – scratchers or whatever – all that other stuff, it’s been around for hundreds of years, it’s going to be around for hundreds of years, you just need to worry about what you’re doing yourself!