Thinking Ink with Tattooist to the Stars Kevin Paul
Kevin Paul is no stranger to ink, having been in the tattoo game since the tender age of twelve. His passion for the craft and incredible artwork has seen his reputation grow as one of the best tattooists in the world, gaining him an A-list celebrity client list that boasts the likes of Harry Styles and his pal Ed Sheeran. We recently caught up with tattooist to the stars and NEW NIVEA MEN Body Shaving range ambassador to talk about bad tatts, caring for your new ink and how Ed Sheeran’s uber famous lion tattoo came about.
The MALESTROM: How did you get into tattooing?
Kevin Paul: I got into tattooing from a young age I was about 12 years old. I always loved art and drawing, then one day I spotted one of my Dad’s friends tattoos. I went home and kept trying to copy it. Then I just started to draw tattoo ideas from that point on. I brought tattoo magazines and copied the art work and would spend every day doing it until I got I perfected it. I then got told by somebody how tattoo machines are built, so I built my own one, the rest is history.
TM: What are your influences?
KP: Back in the early 90s when I started, I would look at the tattoo magazines for ideas and I always loved the work of a guy called Paul Booth. It was dark horror style work in black and grey. I think most of my career is thanks to him and the style he made back then.
TM: What do you think are the worst kind of tattoos you can get, style wise?
KP: I hate fashion trends and that’s what most people follow these days. I can’t stand clocks or pocket watches, names or script, clouds as background. I’m getting a bit sick of lions as well to be honest, although I know I’m a big reason people have started to have them over the last couple of years. There has become a big fashion trend in micro tattoos, so really small thin line tattoos. They look good for an Instagram photo, but after a year or two it will fade out and doesn’t look so great.
TM: You’ve covered up a lot of bad tattoos, any particularly bad ones spring to mind?
KP: Yes, I didn’t mean to set out to do cover up tattoos, but in the end I’m spending half of my week helping people with their tattoo mistakes. I think the clients who’ve been on a TV show called Tattoo Fixers are the worse I’ve ever had to fix.
It’s more the fact that they went on there as a last hope to sort out a bad tattoo they were unhappy with, only to then need me to step in after to fix it as it actually ended up looking ten times worse after appearing on the show. It’s shocking their still on TV and telling public these people are the best tattooists around. If they’re the best then I need to give up.
TM: What’s the worst celeb one you’ve come across?
KP: Well it’s hard to say really, James Arthur’s tattoos where shocking when I first met him after he won the show (X Factor). He let his mates tattoo him in a bedsit. They really messed up his arms. It took a lot of work just to see what it all was, never mind make it any better.
I know most people think Ed Sheeran’s tattoos are crap and to be honest I understand why they say it. But everything he gets done is how he wants it and they have a lot of meaning behind them, and that’s a lot more than you can say for 95 per cent of people out there copying trends.
TM: Do you see trends coming back into fashion like the tribal band tatts from the 90s?
KP: No I don’t think tribal will come back into trend, thank God. But fully blacking out body parts is now a big thing. But it’s really hard to find somebody who can do it well. People think anybody can colour a load of black in. It’s really not that easy at all, that’s why people can end up with blue patchy arms when they get it done.
TM: What’s your advice for someone thinking of getting inked for the first time?
KP: Always have something personal with meaning for the rest of your life. Don’t ever follow trend tattoos because you will just have to pay loads to cover it or laser it off in a couple of years. Then check the tattooist is professional and good at the style you want to get. Research them on social media and check the comments about them.
TM: Can you advise on the best way to care for your ink over the years?
KP: Having had an amazing piece of artwork done, you want to make sure it looks as good as possible for as long as possible. Once you get home you will have an extensive aftercare routine to follow and as soon as your tattoo has healed (which may take up to a week), you will finally be able to shave – ensuring your tattoo looks vibrant, smooth and at its best.
Once the tattoo is fully healed you will be able to start shaving the hair again, which ensures your tattoo looks vibrant, smooth and at its best. My recommendation is to use a product that’s delicate on the skin, which may still be sensitive following having the tattoo. Depending on the area of the tattoo and your preference in shaving, NIVEA MEN offers an anti-irritation shaving gel, which protects your skin, allowing you to shave as regularly as you like to really show off your body art.
Having a tattoo can often dry out the skin so it’s really important you keep the tattooed area full of moisture straight after the tattoo is healed and on an ongoing basis. As well as locking moisture in, it will also help sustain and enhance the colour and vibrancy of the tattoo. NIVEA MEN Creme’s light formula is ideal as its non-greasy and absorbs quickly whilst giving your skin a boost of hydration.
TM: Who was your first celebrity client? And how was their pain threshold?
KP: The first celebrity you’ll know was the Rizzle Kicks guys, and they were OK getting it done, more than I can say for me when I let them tattoo me afterwards!
TM: You famously tattooed that amazing lion onto Ed Sheeran. You must be proud that your artwork being used as a backdrop to his gigs…
KP: I don’t really think about it. I do my job to the best I can and then move on to the next thing. When I did the lion it wasn’t planned. We were having a chat one night round his house about it. Then the next morning we ending up doing it! It was a bit of a shock when the world went mad about it. I had already covered both his arms by that point, I didn’t think anybody would care, but it ended up all over the papers and news channels for weeks. Everybody had something to say. It was on big chat shows all over the States too, it was mad. People still talk about it now. The Sun newspaper said it was the most famous tattoo ever to be done. The best thing is it’s not even finished. I just did the base coat of the colour then Ed said he liked it like that, so didn’t let me finish it. It’s funny because the world all judge me on a half-finished tattoo.
TM: How does he handle the pain of all the hours you’ve worked on him?
KP: Ed sits really well I think we did about 9 hours one night and I gave up, he wanted to keep going. He don’t take as much these days, he has around 3-4 hours tops.
TM: Is there anyone that’s been a really bad sitter when it comes to getting done?
KP: My wife is by far the worse person. I hate tattooing her. Celebrity wise I would say Dappy, he can’t sit still.
TM: Have you ever refused a celebrity client because you don’t like the design?
KP: Yes, I was on tour with a female artist from the States who asked for something on her hand as a cover up. I could see it wouldn’t work, so I said no. They ended up getting it done by somebody else and it didn’t work at all. I was glad I didn’t t do it.
TM: Tattoo shows are all over the telly these days, do you think because of them you’ve seen more cases of DIY tattooing?
KP: Yes, I don’t like tattoo TV. They are made my companies that know nothing about tattooing or who’s good or bad. I did one on channel 5 for a couple of years fixing bad tattoos, but that was not great. The other artist on the show didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Tattooing on TV has had a massive impact, just not in a good way. It is it educating people in a bad way and people now think a light grey rose will cover a big black tribal tattoo. It doesn’t, it just makes a bigger mess that will need laser removal.
TM: Have you got a piece of wisdom you can give our readers from your time in the business?
KP: If you want to get into tattooing, draw every day and make sure you can put everything into it. If you can’t, then it’s not the job for you. Getting tattooed, make sure you’re going to want it when your older and don’t follow trends, use your own brain and think about what means something to you.
Just launched, the NEW NIVEA MEN Anti-Irritation Body Shaving Range ensures the best body shave for optimal care against irritation. The range starts from £4.50 and is available at Boots.