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Inked: Joe Ellis at Work

Joe Ellis is one of the UK's most talented tattoo artists. I am lucky enough to live with him. Sitting watching him draw tonight was a privilege. He has such a strong hand and real a knack for getting his ideas right first time. Quite reassuring in his line of work. Joe always has an exciting story to tell me about his clients and the meanings behind their tattoos. When drawing a new design, accuracy is most important to him. He sits for hours considering where it will placed, on whose skin and why it is going there. With music and a cup of tea, of course. I am always on tea duty.  How artists work is of great interest to my poetic practice, particularly the engravings of Newcastle based engraver Thomas Bewick. Joe's own process reminded me of Bewick's miniature engravings on boxwood, cutting out a black lined design to print an image. So much of both processes is line work.

The subjects of his tattoos are often share similar themes with Bewick. Natural history, decorative illustration and storytelling. Tattooing and engraving have two main differences: one incises images from wood, the other inks it into flesh. Like Bewick, Joe works from a mixture of firsthand life drawings and source images, teamed with a steady mix of memory and imagination. 

There's a real class and darkness to Joe's work, testament to his skill and vision as an artist. He drew and coloured a dodo bird for me, which I keep pinned above my writing desk. Watching him draw is an absolute joy, an organic process, the closest I'll come to getting a real tattoo. But if I do decide to take the leap and get inked, there's only one man I'd trust to do the job. 



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