Introducing Nic Lewis as our featured Tattoo Artist. We take some time to talk to Nic about his career as a professional tattooer, his introduction into the trade, his style of work, and more…
Brought to you by Zappa.
Full name: Nic Lewis
Shop: Trade Mark Tattoo
Years tattooing: 9 years
Tattoo style: Neo Traditional
Hourly rate: R1200, but usually quote per piece
Give us a brief rundown of your journey into becoming a tattoo artist?
My grandfather was in the British Royal Navy, and he had this really cool navy insignia tattoo on his forearm. It was my first exposure to tattoos, and I always thought it was the raddest thing I’d seen as a kid. As a teenager, I got into graffiti, and spent a lot of time drawing and painting. I tried getting a normal 9 – 5, but that slowly started wearing me down. I was completely over it by the time I turned 30, and with our first child on the way, I needed to make a career change that would positively impact my head space, and ultimately our family life. I was getting tattooed at the time, and having spent a fair amount of time in shop, and missing having a creative outlet, my incredibly perceptive wife suggested I look into tattooing as a career. After a lot of praying for direction, and many rejected requests at an apprenticeship, those prayers where answered and Mully from Electric Eye took me on as his apprentice.
What was the defining moment when you knew that this would be the profession for you?
[Laughs] Ummm, I guess I knew this was it for me. I didn’t have time to test the water and see if I liked it, or if it was for me. I will say though, once I pulled that first line, it was pretty much tickets for anything else – I was instantly hooked.
How much, for better and for worse, has the industry changed since you first started out?
Good question. I think overall, from an industry point of view, it’s changed for the better. We’ve never had access to better machines, pigments or needles than we do now, and it’s easier to link up with artists from all over the world through social media. But, industry, is a dirty word. Tattooing is and should be seen as a trade, where you earn your place in it through hard work and dedication, and not how much money you can make out of it, which I think has changed it for the worse. It might be a gross generalisation, but from the limited exposure I’ve had to it recently, people get into tattooing to feed their egos and become Rockstars, to get endorsements/ sponsorships out of tattooing as if it was an extreme sport, with very little regard to the sometimes life changing experience they are giving their customers.
What do you feel is one of the most important lessons you’ve learnt over the years tattooing?
To not underestimate the power or significance that a simple tattoo has for its wearer. We sometimes take for granted that we have one of the best ways to pass time and make money in this lifetime, that we don’t consider that even though we have tattooed a thousand *insert design here*, Kelsey has only ever wanted that *insert design here* because she has a connection to it.
What does a day in the life of Nic Lewis consist of?
It’s a mix of domestic and work responsibilities. Drop my kids at school, exercise, run the dog, draw, tattoo, help with homework, making school lunches… [Laughs], super exciting stuff.
They say that getting tattooed, or getting tattoos is addictive. How would you best explain this?
I don’t think it’s addictive. It frikken hurts [laughs]. I think what it is, you get a tattoo and realise it’s not that bad, so you contemplate the next one. Then what happens is, you get a few more, and then the gaps start bugging you, so you need to fill them. At least that’s my story [laughs].
What style of tattoo to you enjoy doing the most, and why?
It’s constantly changing. I like the challenges that come along with the different styles, except realism [laughs]. My brain isn’t wired for realism. I love the mixed line weights and colour blends of Neo Traditional. I enjoy soft black and grey as well, and the boldness and solid colour of traditional is what I’m trying to get more into now.
What do you like to do to ensure you keep progressing as an artist?
Travelling for sure. Being around other artists, and sharing approaches and ideas. We have a solid team at Trade Mark, we’re constantly asking each others opinions on drawings/ tattoos/ placement, etc. Each one of those interactions brings learning opportunities which help you progress.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
That’s a hard one. I’ve always found it difficult to put my style in a box. I take bits and pieces from everything and kind of mash it all together. I’m very inspired by my peers. I’ve been extremely blessed to work closely with some (in my opinion) heavily underrated tattooers, @lukejsmithtattooand @el_duderino87who have been monumental in my tattooing development. I’m constantly pushed to put out quality work, it’s kind of friendly competition, which keeps you from becoming complacent and pushes you to move forward. There are also a number of South African guys (local and abroad) that I’m fortunate to be friends with that inspire me daily, in different ways.
How would you best describe the style and vibe of your shop, Trade Mark Tattoo?
I’m really proud of Trade Mark. It’s been 7 years in the making and we have established a studio that is not only home to Durban’s finest tattooers, but also constantly hosts both local and international artists. It wouldn’t be right to mention Trade Mark Tattoo without acknowledging how instrumental @txrzxnhas been in creating the space and the vibe we have today. With six very unique artists, we cover all styles from realism to fine-line and put heavy emphasis on the customers experience. You’re paying us to hurt you, the least we can do is show you a good time while we do it [laughs].
For anyone wanting to book and appointment with you, what’s the next step?
Best way to book an appointment is to email the shop firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of what you want, how big, and where you want it. Attach as many reference pics as you like, it helps give us an idea of your expectation. Emails are usually answered within a few hours.
Tattoos by Nic Lewis
Photos by Ballyhoo Agency.