Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

The inking of the Titanic: Tattoo tributes to the ship

Ahead of a major tattoo convention at Titanic Belfast, Stephanie Bell meets the men who love the ship so much they're having her image etched onto their bodies.

Signature piece: Tattooist Tom Kerr works on John Pollock's Titanic tribute tattoo at Grayscale Tattoo in Belfast
Back yard: John Pollock is having images of Titanic Belfast, the ship itself and the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes tattooed onto his body
David Beckham

The weird, the wacky and the wonderful will be part of an awesome display of skill when tattoo artists from all over the world take over Titanic Belfast for a unique convention of their art.

In what will be a first for the iconic tourist attraction, 75 tattooists from far and wide will descend on the visitor centre from August 15-17 for three days to create what is hoped will be a carnival-style atmosphere.

For visitors it will be a chance to see some of the very best tattoo art in the world, including one of Britain's most tattooed men, Scotland's Gerald McLoughlin. Every inch of Gerald's body including his head has been decorated except for his face and ears.

And the Dundee accountant plans to finish his body art by having his face tattooed live during the Titanic convention.

Award-winning artists from as far away as Sweden, Hungary, Iceland and Italy will be working throughout the three days demonstrating their craft.

Naturally enough, Titanic tattoos will be a main feature of the event with Italy's Marchello Cestra giving visitors a glimpse of his full Titanic chest piece.

The event is being organised by well-known Lisburn tattoo artist Julian Carson, who runs Kapital Ink.

Julian, who has been in the business for 25 years, says: "Tattoo conventions are held constantly around the world and usually in bland hotel conference rooms.

"Titanic Belfast is an iconic building and its association with the shipyard and dockers and tattoos make it a great place to stage a convention in Northern Ireland.

"The interest worldwide has been phenomenal and I hope people will come along and enjoy the display of art and soak up the atmosphere. There is always a real buzz."

A 1920s vintage barber will be among a plethora of stalls at the event and Star Wars characters will be mingling with visitors who can also expect what Julian describes as "a few more surprises".

The convention will culminate on Sunday with a 1920s themed day for all the family with live music and tattooists dressing in period costume – visitors are also invited to enter into the theme by dressing up in Twenties style.

Judging will also take place on Sunday to decide the best tattoos created during the three day event.

  • The convention is open to over-18s only from 11am-9pm on Friday and Saturday, and from 11am-7.30pm on Sunday for all the family

'It's painful ... but Belfast should be as proud of the Titanic as I am'

Titanic enthusiast John Pollock (31), from Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, is having his entire back tattooed in tribute to the world's most famous ship. The work will be finished at the convention. John is a customer assistant with Marks & Spencer and is married to Lisa (31), a housewife. They have three children – Lauren (12), Michelle (10) and Rachel (7). He says:

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the Titanic. I remember as a young child getting a black taxi into Belfast with my parents and as we were passing the shipyard they would talk about the cranes and the Titanic.

Then, at school, we would have done projects on the Titanic and as a child I would go to the Ulster Museum any chance I could get to find out more about that time in history.

When I was about 13 a friend and I would have gone after school to Queen's Island to try and find the Titanic keel plates and we did manage to find them one day just before the Harbour Police escorted us off the premises.

We also went to Carnmoney cemetery and spent ages trying to find the grave of Robert J Murphy, who died during the building of the Titanic. It took us a few days but I think we did eventually find it. It was unmarked in an overgrown part of the cemetery.

When the Titanic building opened we visited with the kids – in fact we've taken them up about four times since then.

I've always been interested in tattoos and last year got my legs and arms done. When I heard that there was a tattoo convention at the Titanic I thought it would be great to get a tattoo done on my back relating to it.

There are lots of elements; I have a picture of the exhibition centre, a portrait of Thomas Andrews, of the ship itself and the cranes. I also have the Harland and Wolff logo and badge.

We started it at the beginning of July and it's going to take around 30 hours in total to complete.

Tom Kerr, who owns Grayscale Tattoo, is doing it.

Our plan is to finish it at the convention when we will have a big final reveal of the completed piece. I sit for about three to four hours at a time and then I start to lose interest but once it heals after a couple of days I'm ready for more.

It is painful and anyone who tells you tattoos don't hurt is lying. Thankfully though, I can tolerate it. It's costing about £1,400 in total and to me it will be worth every penny. I'm paying it off in instalments which makes it easier and thankfully my wife is very supportive as she knows how much I have always wanted it.

When it's done I'll be very proud of it. Indeed, it's hard to put into words what it will mean.

It's like collecting a souvenir of something I am passionate about, although this will be with me permanently.

The convention will be a great opportunity to show it off and I think Belfast should be as proud of the Titanic as I am.

'It is like being a collector of art'

Undertaking John Pollock's mammoth artwork is Tom Kerr (34) from Newtownabbey, who owns Greyscale Tattoo in Belfast. Tom has been a tattoo artist for just two years. He says:

I have done one other full back tattoo which was of a dragon but John's Titanic tattoo is certainly the most challenging I've done in terms of size. The portrait alone is a challenge and we've worked together using images from the internet to decide on each element and exactly how it will work.

Every tattoo artist wants to have a massive piece in their portfolio so for me it's great to get the chance to do this and, being from Belfast and having an interest in the Titanic myself, it ticks a lot of boxes.

The Titanic convention is invitation-only for tattoo artists so it is pretty good for me to be accepted and have the chance to work alongside some of the top talents in the business, especially as I have been doing it for such a short time.

Conventions are a great way to get out from your own wee shop and see how other top artists work.

There are going to be some very well-known and very skilled people there and I'm looking forward to meeting and seeing them at work.

I've always had tattoos. I got my first when I was 17 and now my whole body, my legs, arms, hands back and chest are covered in them.

It is like being a collector of art, only the art is on skin, not on canvas or paper, and nowadays it's about getting good pieces done rather than a tattoo for the sake of it.

'I started tattooing with my dad in the family shop at 15'

Julian Carson (48) has been a tattoo artist for 25 years and runs Kapital Ink in Lisburn with his wife Rosie (45). He is currently having a Titanic tattoo created on his arm by Hungarian tattooist Julius Weber and is the organiser of the Titanic Tattoo convention. He has two children Julieann (27), and Jude (9). He says:

I started tattooing when I was 15. My dad, Kit, ran The Tattoo Shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast and so I grew up with it. Back then there was only about three or four people doing it in the province.

I helped my dad out and then moved to Lisburn and set up my own business.

I was in the fashion game for about 20 years and owned Pulse Clothing and Tag Children's Clothing as well as the first G Star shop in Wellington Place in Belfast.

"About five years ago when the recession hit we decided to go back to my profession of tattooing and opened Kapital Ink.

I have been getting two half sleeves done by Hungarian tattooist Julius Weber. I flew over to Hungary to get them started about three years ago and Julius comes here to work on it, too, so they are a work in progress.

I have probably had about 25 hours of work on each arm. Being from Belfast I wanted the images to reflect my home so I have pictures of the City Hall, the Harland and Wolff cranes and the little Belfast Telegraph boy with the billboard announcing the Titanic sinking.

there is probably about seven hours work left on each arm to finish them.

Full sleeve tattoos are very popular now but financially and emotionally I think people have to be prepared for it.

They need to pick the right artist and get the right images and of course they need to choose very carefully as they are going to have those arms for a very long time.

It can be expensive but the price is not something which you are conscious of because it is a lifetime thing – you are going to have it for 30 or 40 years and you can't really put a price on that.

In the last 10 years the engineering part of the profession has really improved and artists now have much better equipment and ink which allows for better results.

Portraits can now be done to the same quality as you can do them on paper or canvas.

I'm just hoping the convention is a success and the plan is to make it an annual event.

We hope people will come and enjoy it and view the products and see some great artists in action."

Celebrity works of body art ...

  • Celebrities such as David Beckham "getting sleeved" have helped create an explosion in the popularity of body art especially in the past 10 years
  • It has become so mainstream that as many as one in five of us now sport a tattoo
  • Traditionally associated with sailors, bikers and men behind bars, nowadays tattoos can be found on the most elegant limbs – the Prime Minister's wife Samantha has a little dolphin on her right ankle
  • According to local artists, everyone from government ministers to school teachers and even grannies are getting inked
  • "Sleeves" like David Beckham's are the most popular among men while women tend to go for quotes, names of loved ones and scripted tattoos
  • From the talent behind today's top tattooists to the ink and the tools that make their artwork possible, the sky is the limit for body canvases
  • While age is no barrier to people choosing to get a tattoo, according to a recent survey the most common age is between 18 and 20, with most people having their first by the time they are 18.
  • Stars such as Beckham, Cheryl Cole and Rihanna are among the most famous devotees

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Nightlife Galleries

More

Latest Food and Drink News

Latest Motoring News