Tattooing is no longer a back street business associated with dark dingy studios; full of intimidating folks who make you wonder why you’ve even stepped through the door. In fact walking through the front door of the Stained Nation Tattoo Lounge is a wholly enjoyable experience, not only was I offered the chance to help myself to a selection of sweets, (this was possibly a one off as they were left over from Ash’s recent wedding to his wife Sarah, but I have suggested they make it a feature), but the place is bright and airy and the walls are adorned with beautiful artwork, mainly produced by the artists who work there.
But I’m not here to admire the scenery or to get a new tattoo, I’m here to meet the rather fabulous Ash Lewis and why? Because despite being a relative newcomer on the tattooing scene, he only became fully ‘qualified’ in November 2013, his exceptional talents have already been rewarded with a nomination from the UK’s best selling tattoo magazine Skin Deep for their award for Best Newcomer 2014. “I know that everyone says it but I’m really not expecting to win, but it’s amazing what it has already done for me as far as profile, especially in the UK and the others in the category are really good, I’ve been scoping them out and I think I know who’ll get it…’
Having spent six years working as a Trust and Company administrator Ash realised that sitting behind a desk really wasn’t for him so the frustrated artist took a massive leap of faith and with the support of his family and friends he pursued his dream. He explained, ‘Tattooing is a notoriously difficult industry to break in to, securing an apprenticeship is the best way to start, but they are really hard to find anywhere, but particularly here in Jersey. So I took a slightly less traditional route and opted for a tattooing course, which isn’t something I’d immediately recommend, you can’t learn all you need to learn about the business and the techniques in just two weeks and it’s an expensive way to learn, the hard way.’
After the course he found it difficult to find a studio to work in as he was considered to be a ‘scratcher’ after his non-traditional route into the business. So, undeterred, in January 2012 he took a further leap of faith and set up on his own. Ash’s Ink could be found on the top floor of Blades in Halkett Street. ‘I knew this was something I really wanted to do, so although setting up on my own wasn’t totally ideal, it meant that I was getting to do what I loved. The environment was tough as I was working on my own, which was difficult at times and totally different from working here, where I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by talented people.’
This takes us up to June 2012, when unfortunately Ash fell ill, this life changing five months saw him having to give up his own place, but once again thanks to the support of his friends and family and the arrival of Samael Cahill (his mentor) and Fliquet Renouf, co-owners of Stained Nation, he was able to continue along his pathway to becoming a professional tattoo artist, when he started working with them in April last year. Whilst undertaking his apprenticeship, under the watchful eye of Samael, who’s invaluable guidance and support has helped Ash to really hone his love for black and grey tattooing ‘Sam has really helped me to become the artist I am today. He and Flic have also helped me to learn the ins and outs of how the business works too.’ Which does still included sweeping the floor!
Earlier this year he decided to venture on to the convention circuit in the UK, which is what ultimately led to his nomination. If you’re unfamiliar with conventions, they are basically like conferences but for tattoo enthusiasts rather than bankers. You can book slots with artists, watch those you admire work, or just go and enjoy the music and entertainment. ‘You have to send a portfolio of your work for the organisers to scrutinize and if they like it you get offered a chair. It’s obviously a financial investment as you have to pay for flights and accommodation, but the experience and the exposure is amazing.’
Here at gallery we all wanted to know if he’s ever made any mistakes ‘If you ever do then it’ll be spelling, which is why you get people to triple check the transfer before you start.’ Ash laughs before saying ‘this is about the only industry where the customer isn’t always right! Because despite, checking and rechecking mistakes do happen and if that’s the case you can only apologise and try and rectify it, if possible. Thankfully mistakes don’t happen often, but everyone is human!’
It sounds like Ash has got some interesting plans for the future too, ‘I love what I’m doing now, people trusting me with their memorial portraits is a real honour, but I don’t want to just be always doing portraits, so I have some plans for moving this forward over the next year…’ He wouldn’t fill us in on the whole picture as understandably he wants to work through the idea fully first, but he did mention a potential sponsorship deal that is on the cards, which will mean ‘attending more shows to represent their brand and a fair amount of free stuff.’
If you want to check out the other artists that have inspired Ash to focus on black and grey art, he suggests you check out the work of Rob Richardson, Dean Taylor, Niki Norberg, Sonny Mitchell, Teneile Napoli. Being fortunate enough to grab some of Ash’s precious time was a real pleasure, he’s obviously an incredibly talented, hardworking, humble guy, who is set to do big things, the award nomination is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as far as his career is concerned, he’s definitely not just a ‘scratcher’ now. Be sure to get in quick people; Ash’s diary is already be booked up until the end of February next year, but it’ll definitely be worth the wait!
Stained Nation are based at York Street, St Helier, Jersey JE2 3RQ