As I enter the studio the internet monologue of Kendrick Lamar looms. A client waits patiently as an army of retro wrestling figures watch him from a display on the wall. Anime style paintings and a Heath Ledger Joker follow me as I walk by.
I’m here to meet Brian Tipping, the founder of one of the most popular tattoo studios in the North Down area, EyeCandy. Handshakes are performed, coffee is made, and we begin to chat.
You could be forgiven for passing by the studio without noticing, such is the subtle nature of it. Situated on Grays Hill, Eye Candy has quickly brought itself to the forefront of art in Northern Ireland. A strong client base and beautiful work meet to create a truly enjoyable experience.
Brian set up the studio in 2011 after finding it difficult to nail down full time work at previous studios. With a mortgage to pay and a kid on the way he developed the idea of his own studio and put into action. Since then the studio has come on leaps and bounds, since employing two more artists and developing a solid string of bookings.
When asked about when he was first exposed to tattoos Brian laughs. “Artists have some romantic stories, yknow; my uncle was a sailor, the likes of that. I wish I had something like that but I don’t”. In fact, Brian wasn’t exposed to tattoos until the late nineties, when he was 17. Back then Inkcastle was the place to go to get inked. Viewing tribal dragons for the first time (and a certain George Clooney in From Dust Till Dawn) igniting an interest that would soon turn into a passion.
Brian was very artistically driven from a very young age. “I was always painting windows, shop displays, kid’s bedrooms. If I could make a few quid out of it all the better!” Humble beginnings turned to infatuation, and the journey began.
“First starting out isn’t easy, you practice on yourself and your friends and when you don’t get the lines right it can be very disheartening.” Keeping faith in what he loved Brian kept going and was soon building up a substantial customer base and he hasn’t looked back. When questioned about any low points since the opening he struggles to think of one. It’s clear to see the man in front of me has a very positive frame of mind and I have no doubt this is one of the many reasons EyeCandy has become so successful.
Inspiration is what births of an idea, it can be found all around us. I asked Brian if there was a particular artist or studio that he has looked to for artistic incentive.
“There are loads of artists that inspire me, but when I see other artists name dropping it kind of annoys me. I follow anyone at the top of their game. In the past the local scene only had around three or four artists that you could aspire to, now there’s ten or fifteen. Over the last four years it’s progressed massively due to it becoming more accessible. Now you can come out of university and go get an apprenticeship, it has a more professional feel. I can see some fantastic artists coming through; I can’t wait to see what happens in the next four years.”
Maiden City, Londonderry was the venue for EyeCandys first convention, and straight away they started to impress, Brian himself winning the award for best back piece, a Transformers themed work of art that pipped some highly rated Japanese pieces to the post. “It’s always nice to be recognised, we work extremely hard here, we’ll never go out to seek recognition, but it’s always nice to know your work is being admired”.
We sip our coffee as I question about the first artist to join Brian. “Well, it was just me and Rana at the beginning, and at the time she was only doing piercings, she didn’t really have an interest in tattoos.” Brian goes on to explain that Rana just happened to ask him if he could train her as a tattoo artist. He asked her to do a few sketches and she returned with artwork ranging from skulls with knives through them to roses with the colour of a femme fatal. “I was absolutely blown away.” There is no doubt that Rana possesses a pure, natural talent. Showing the basics is all that was necessary; Rana has since gone on to produce art of exquisite precision. “I’d be less graphic, artier, she’s so illustrative. It inspires me to sometimes do that myself, you respect each other’s style and bounce of each other, you’re constantly experimenting”. Rana’s clientele has rapidly increased, so much so that nine months ago EyeCandy brought in a third artist, Neil. Such is the popularity of the art the studio produces his workload has already risen precipitously.
As the sands of time continue to saturate us our attention turns to the diversity of the art that EyeCandy produces. “I love variety, one day you’re doing black and grey, the next you’re doing a colour portrait”. Agenda is absent. “If you’re doing one style you’re not growing and developing as an artist”. It is almost impossible to develop inside your comfort zone, this is a thought that Brian maintains. You need to be forced into doing something unorthodox, otherwise how can you hope to better yourself?
Over the last four years Brian’s work has developed dramatically. “When I started out I was trying to push the boundaries at the time. There were only a couple studios in the area and it was all old school, traditional work”. Brian has since moved on to focus on realism. “If you’re not constantly progressing, what’s the point?” Realism is the peak of artistic skill amongst artists. Brian explains that neo-traditional was incredibly popular up until about a year ago, but it now “seems to have died a death.” “When you get realism right it completely blows you away”, he’s not wrong. Realistic pieces ranging from portraits of Yoda to local boxer Carl Frampton have been praised all over social media. Finding a critic is more difficult than trying to find a Slayer fan at a Bieber concert.
Our attention turns to the sex appeal of tattoos. I’m particularly interested in an artist’s perspective on this as I find half naked men and women can often distract from the art itself. We all know that sex sells, if there’s a half naked woman on a cover it’s quite obviously going to get a lot of viewers and this has been exploited since the birth of media. However, Brian has an interesting thought on this. “A lot more girls are coming in now and getting bigger tattoos, I think it’s fantastic. Before it was always just small feminine tattoos, it’s nice to be able to do a full back piece with a feminine touch on it”. Maybe sex appeal isn’t as distracting as I once thought? Its encouraging women to go for the large pieces that were once male dominated. This is clearly something that Brian and EyeCandy love, there is no pigeonholing here and it’s great to see.
As our time together draws to a close we begin to converse about the future. Is EyeCandy looking to expand? Any conventions coming up that the studio will be attending? Such is the tranquil nature of Brian this is not something that overly concerns him.
“We need to sit down and plan it, but with such a young family I don’t want to do too many.” EyeCandy will be attending four or five throughout 2016 with most taking place in the North and South of Ireland. I find Brian’s concerns about his family admirable. It’s very easy to get lost in artistry and forget about the things around you. Of course, as an artist you want to immerse yourself in your work, but balance is key. Expanding is not something that the studio is interested in. It’s not something the founder ever wanted; in fact he’s already got everything he wants, a family and a career doing something he is truly passionate about.