Interview with Craig Kelly, India Street Tattoo Parlour Belfast

Craig is a self-confessed fan of traditional old school tattoos. He is slowly but surely creating himself an excellent reputation for his strong work ethic and exceptional tattooing.

Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention - Ulster Hall Belfast
1/ How do you think Northern Irish talent stacks up compared to elsewhere?

It doesn’t really, to be honest. I mean personally, I think there’s a lot of people here that, given the right opportunity, would be a lot better, but, having a not-very-rich tattoo culture, Northern Ireland’s a wee bit behind everybody. I mean you go over to anywhere else in the UK, like Edinburgh or Glasgow, they’ve got shops that have been open for years and years and years, whereas here we’re sort of a wee bit behind that, we’ve never really had anything like that. Talent-wise, in Northern Irish guys, there’s maybe a good handful of guys that are good tattoo artists, but I think there’s too many shops opening with just mediocre guys because a lot more people want to get tattooed. But there’s definitely some talent out there – in Ireland as well, there’s a lot of tattoo artists in Ireland stuck in wee shops and if they were in England they’d be twice as busy.

2/ And how do you think this convention compares to others?

It’s had a slow start. I’ve done it all the years it’s been on. The first couple of years Rob done it he didn’t really know what a tattoo convention really needed, cos obviously he has no tattoos, he isn’t from the tattoo industry, he usually runs nightclubs. But over the years he’s started to get more and more tattoo artists, getting a wee bit of inside feedback to try and make it better every year. This year has been a really successful year. It’s not easy getting something like this going – there’s been no tattoo convention here for something like twenty years. Pert (McMurty, tattoo artist) used to do this convention in the Ulster Hall and he just couldn’t do it anymore because Northern Ireland’s a funny place (laughs) – they complain when there’s nothing to do and when something starts they put it down! So I respect him (Rob) for trying. that’s why come every year cos I just want to support it.

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

The best part is you get to see other tattoo artists; you get to meet people and socialise, you’re not stuck behind the counter at your shop. You get to meet really weird people that you wouldn’t get coming into your shop, so some weird tattoos come up at some conventions. You get some good stories, like when you’re at your shop your stories are, “I was at this convention, I was at this guest spot” etc.. The worst part is people come up and ask you for “I want this crazy, really detailed tattoo on my ribs, and I’ve got £50”, and you’re like, “c’mon man!” People who come to conventions are about 50/50 because there’s so many conventions now, maybe fifty percent of them are serious tattoo people who get tattooed normally and fifty percent are just coming in for the day for something to do. So there’s pros and cons, but I love doing conventions cos they’re pretty wild! It’s not like when you’re in your studio and just banging out the same stuff every day.

4/ I suppose, the people that come on a whim, at least it opens their eyes?

That’s why I do it as well. I could have been booked up this weekend, all weekend, with just clients from the shop, but with my shop being around the corner there’s no point to that. So I would rather do a handful of walk-ups and hopefully those people will then see “oh, I like that!” and they will then become new clients to the shop. So I sort of treat conventions as a money-making business idea, more of a big advertisement, and to just have a bit of fun at.

5/ what’s your favourite thing to tattoo?

Everybody likes to pigeonhole me or pigeonhole certain people as ,”he only does this type of tattoo” but I mean I came up in a lot of street shops where we could have been doing black and grey, we could have been doing Japanese, or traditional, tribal, everything. So I like anything that will last a long time, so I love doing traditional, old school type tattoos because of the imagery and because of the history, i’m in to all of that. I love that, but at the same time, if you’re talking about large scale work Japanese works on a large scale, and I also think traditional works on a large scale as well. So I love doing anything that will be like “once I do this today it’s going to look good today, and it will still look good in then years time”. I don’t like tattoos that are like “oh I want this white outline on the back of my hand” or whatever – it’s not going to stay! A tattoo should be done to last a long time – colour realism and stuff is like…a lot of guys do it really well and it lasts for a long time but I think people are turned on by that realism to the point that they don’t really even care if it will still look good in five years time y’know?

6/ What do you think of that UV ink?

I think it’s a gimmick, it’s just a gimmick, something that people latch on to because it’s something different. Real tattoo collectors don’t have any of that stuff on them, like UV ink, five year tattoos; it’s all just gimmicky stuff, something to keep the punters excited.

7/ What does the future hold for you?

Well I just opened my shop – we’ve been open for 4 months, and we’ve got a bunch of guest (artists) coming through the shop: Tyler Monahan from the States, Dan Hartley from England, Haran Gomez from Brazil, and Stephen Kelly from Glasgow. I mean that’s a fair few guest artists for only being open for 4 months! Hopefully I’ll be bringing over some of my friends from America coming up to the London Convention, I wanna bring over a lot of international artists. All I ever wanted to do was work in, or own, a tattoo shop where, no matter who’s working in the shop, people come in and they’ll get tattooed that day and they’ll be happy with it. No bad tattoos are going to come out of my shop! I’m not just going to get somebody because I know them, and they do mediocre work. I just want to tattoo every day!