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Kieran Williams – Black Is Back

Kieran Williams – Black is back

I first came across Kieran Williams’ work whilst browsing artists on Instagram. Blown away by this intricate, large-scale blackwork, I had to find out more about him and Sixtysix tattoo…

Interview – James McCauley
Photography – Provided by Kieran

Hi, Kieran. So let’s start at the beginning. When did you first become interested in tattoos?
Not until I was about 18, I never really had any interest in tattoos or any kind of art growing up. After I got my GCSE results a friend and I randomly went to the first tattoo shop we could find and got some dodgy stars done. After that I got the bug started getting tattooed most weekends by Steve Graves and Ped Simmons at The Tattoo Shop in Folkestone.

How did that evolve into you wanting to be a tattooer yourself?
I was working in a call centre at the time, and between phone calls, I would draw stuff in my book. A few people I worked with started asking me to design tattoos for them, and some would go down to Steve and Ped and get tattooed. I started hanging around the tattoo shop more and more, whether I was getting tattooed or not, to work on my drawings. I did that for about a year, just making it obvious that I was interested in learning to tattoo.

Chest piece Kieran WilliamsLeg tattoos by Kieran Williams

Did you do a more traditional apprenticeship? If so, under whom?

One day Steve text me and told me to come down the shop after I had finished in the call centre. He told me to draw a butterfly, and then that I had to tattoo it on my leg. After that I just thrown straight into it, tattooing myself and a few of my friends. The philosophy was to learn by actually tattooing, which was pretty scary but I’m glad it was like that. There was a lot of ups and downs but I really enjoyed my apprenticeship, Steve and Ped both taught me a lot and I am very grateful, I owe them both so much.

“It’s important for me to build trust with the client and I think working together on the best design is a great way to do that”

How were those early days? Was it hard to find your feet in the craft?
The first couple of years was really hard, I was doing tattoos but they were never coming out the way I had intended. At first I preferred doing traditional work, but being in a busy walk in shop I was doing more or less whatever came through the door. I still have a lot to learn now and I’m focused on trying harder every day to do the best I can.

How did your art evolve into the style of tattooing you produce today?
Steve started getting tattooed by Curly, and I immediately was fascinated by his work. I couldn’t work out how he could freehand the most perfect looking tattoos, so that was definitely a massive eye opener for me. I started doing some patterns and mandalas, but I would make the work way to complex, with tonnes of lines. I started to realise that the best pattern work is the really simple stuff, so over the last couple of years, I have been simplifying my work more and more. Since we opened Sixtysix I have done a lot more freehand work, which I think forces the work to be very simple.

Working with so many talented people at Sixtysix tattoo must be a constant source of inspiration?
Ped and Ben are great, they are my best friends and there is always a really good atmosphere in the shop. Ped and I have worked together from day one and he has helped me so much. Ben and I both started our apprenticeships at pretty much the same time so we helped each other out a lot in the early days with tattooing and painting. We would tattoo each other all the time just to try and work out the best way to do things. I love both their work and we all push each other to be better everyday. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished in the last year and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for the shop.

Kieran Williams frontpieceBackpiece Kieran Williams

I noticed your links to the Dravet foundation ( is that something that’s important to you?
Ped and his girlfriend Rachael’s daughter Isla Rose was born with Dravet Syndrome two years ago, it’s been a very up and down couple of years but Isla always comes out fighting. She is the toughest person I know and a massive inspiration to me and everyone that knows her. Dravet is a rare form of Epilepsy and her seizures sometimes last hours, they take a massive toll on her but she bounces back everytime. The family got dealt a really bad card but they deal with it amazingly. I’m going to do another flash day this year with the proceeds going to the Dravet foundation, I’ll post the dates on my social media pages.

What is your favourite way to collaborate with clients over a tattoo? Is it the ‘free reign’ kinds of clients you like working with the most?

Obviously, it’s great when someone comes and gives you totally free reign on a tattoo, but I find it helpful as well when the customer has some contribution to the design process. It’s important for me to build trust with the client and I think working together on the best design is a great way to do that. If someone says to me ‘just do what you want’ it always creates a small sense of doubt in my mind as to whether or not they are totally into it. Even just a small sense of direction is very helpful.

Painting by Kieran WilliamsHand tattoo by Kieran Williams

Most of the tattoos you do are, well…huge. Are you surprised how many people trust you with so much coverage of their body?
I really am, it’s been great starting some big projects. I have a few large scale pieces in progress at the moment and I’m lucky to have such committed clients that can book in regularly. It’s nice because you spend hours with people every couple of weeks, you just end up tattooing your friends. It’s a constantly evolving process as well, over the sessions a lot of ideas and designs change. I definitely prefer working on a larger scale, I have plenty of ideas ready to start and am always looking to start new projects.

What do you do outside of tattooing to unwind? It can be a round the clock job sometimes with all the designs to get ready.
To be honest, since we opened the shop last year, I don’t really have a lot of downtime. I work very long days in the shop , normally 12/13 hours a day, sometimes longer, but I like working that way. I think that is just something that comes with doing large work, especially on people that travel far to get tattooed. They want to get the most out of the session, and I’m happy to work long hours. If they are willing enough to travel 4/5 hours to get tattooed the least I can do is give them the most I can out of the session. I try my best to have one or two days off a week to spend time with my girlfriend.

Kieran williams head tattoo freehand mandalaKieran williams hand tattoo freehand blackwork

Will you be attending any conventions in the near future?

We are hoping to be at the Scottish convention, Maidstone, Brighton, and the Tea Party next year. Maybe some more! Ill be regularly guesting at Custom Inc in Glasgow as well, I love it there, and ill also be guesting at Parliament Tattoo in London.

What machines and ink are you using?
At the moment I’m mainly using Andy Dykes and Chris Gove machines. Also Wayne Taylor and Mike Metaxa rotaries. And Dynamic ink, I don’t have a large colour palette!

Lastly, can you tell us your favourite story from your time in tattooing?

Probably the best experience I had was tattooing Curly, he asked me to do some crosses on his forehead. I had just had my hand tattooed by him and I was so so nervous, I remember shaking while drawing them on. I’m pretty sure he has had to adjust them since I done them as they definitely weren’t perfect!

You can find more of Kieran Williams and Sixtysix tattoo at:

Sixtysix tattoo
Kieran Williams on Instagram
Kieran Williams on Tumblr

kieran williams blackwork back piecehand painted geometric mandala painting

James McCauley

James Mccauley has helped out with Nine mag since its inception and nurtured the transition to a free, web-based format. Now he is responsible for writing the features and interviews for the site.