Tat­tooists still at the sharp end af­ter 30 years

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - An­niver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion - By Vicky Cas­tle

Fam­ily-run busi­ness Ash­ford Cus­tom Tat­too Stu­dio is prov­ing to be as per­ma­nent as its de­signs af­ter cel­e­brat­ing 30 years of ink­ing in Ash­ford.

Twins Ben and Sam Ste­wart coown the busi­ness in Queen Street and both work along­side res­i­dent body piercer Dan Bid­dle and tat­too ap­pren­tice Chris Dixon.

The pair said the trade has seen dra­matic change since their dad Howard “H” Ste­wart first opened the stu­dio doors in 1984.

Ben said: “The artis­tic side and stan­dard of tat­toos is bet­ter than ever. The ink is bet­ter, the equip­ment is bet­ter, the ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion is bet­ter and de­signs last a lot longer.

“I ap­pren­ticed un­der my dad and I’m much bet­ter than him now be­cause the in­dus­try has pro­gressed so much fur­ther, ar­tis­ti­cally and me­chan­i­cally.

“But it’s a dou­ble-edged sword. When dad started and up un­til 2000 he was the only one in Ash­ford.

“Now there are four other stu­dios in the town, which means you have got a lot more peo­ple do­ing tat­toos than there were in the 80s.”

Ben, who has been tat­too­ing since he was just 14, ex­plained that what started out as an non-con­form­ist state­ment has be­come a must-have fash­ion ac­ces­sory.

He said: “When my dad was tat­too­ing it was bik­ers, skin­heads, yob­bos, weirdos, punks, crim­i­nals and foot­ball hooli­gans.

“But now ev­ery­one has one. We get women com­ing in with their nans to get tat­toos. It is Top­shop, it is high-street and it is trendy.”

He added that the price of tat­toos has barely in­creased as his Dad was charg­ing £50 an hour in the 90s and the twins still only charge £60 an hour to­day.

But de­spite some pro­fes­sional prices re­main­ing low, the com­bi­na­tion of a rise in pop­u­lar­ity and lack of reg­u­la­tion has seen dan­ger­ous home-tat­too­ing, or “scratch­ing” in­crease.

The re­sults are usu­ally botched and messy tat­toos that give the in­dus­try a bad name.

While it is il­le­gal for any­one to tat­too you if you are un­der 18 any­one can still or­der a kit from eBay for £30 with enough equip­ment to carry out a full, per­ma­nent tat­too.

Sam said: “The scabby bloke in his house that is do­ing it for a fiver is the kind of scummy, un­der­ground part of the tat­too in­dus­try that has got worse and worse.

“When I did an ap­pren­tice­ship there were prob­a­bly two or three com­pa­nies in the en­tire coun­try where you could buy equip­ment from and you def­i­nitely couldn’t find a YouTube video on how to do a tat­too.

“I think the read­ily-avail­able pre-ster­il­ized tat­too nee­dle was the pin­na­cle of, or at least part of, the de­struc­tion of the tat­too in­dus­try.

“But if the in­dus­try does sur­vive an­other 30 years, this shop will def­i­nitely still be here when it is un­cool again.”

Pic­ture: Gary Browne FM3338107

Ben Ste­wart, Dan Bid­dle, Sam Ste­wart and Chris Dixon

Ben Ste­wart with one of his first tat­toos cre­ated by his dad ‘H’

Pic­ture: Gary Browne FM3338140

Chris Dixon work­ing on a de­sign

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