I first met Stephen Byrne at Brighton Tattoo Convention and recognised his work immediately. I’d been following him for some time and loved his striking and clean traditional tattoos. I wanted to get tattooed by him but unfortunately, it wasn’t able to happen that weekend, and I stood by and watched whilst Stephen produced great pieces all day. Luckily for me, though, he agreed to take some time out to answer some questions and give us the chance to showcase his work.
Hi Stephen. So the last time we spoke properly, you were getting ready for another tattoo at the Brighton convention. How was the show for you?
The Brighton show was amazing! The atmosphere is always buzzing at that convention. I had the pleasure of working alongside some really cool guys and great tattooers; Stephen Kelly and Big Lurkio AKA TJ. It was my first time working the Brighton show so it was a real honour for me, I can’t wait to hopefully be back in the future.
What was it about the Brighton convention that attracted you enough to come down from Dublin?
I had attended Brighton Convention a few times as a spectator and loved the atmosphere there. It has such a high standard of artists, and, as U.K.conventions go, it’s one of my favourites!
Let’s walk it back for a little bit. When did you first develop an interest in tattooing and how did you make your way in?
Where to start?! Growing up in a small town in Ireland I wasn’t really exposed to tattooing that much. There was one shop owned by one of Ireland’s original tattooers, Kevin Kelien, so anyone in Wexford who got tattooed got tattooed by Kevin. I remember one of my friends at 16 coming into school with a tattoo of a skull and dagger on his arm. I remember thinking how cool it was, but being too scared to take the plunge myself! From then on my interest in tattoos grew. I didn’t have access to the internet, so I had to get magazines and the odd book I could find at local bookshops to try to find out more about it all.
I got into tattooing itself quite late. I had spent a few years trying and failing to land myself a decent apprenticeship until eventually being taken on at Tallaght Ink In Dublin. From there I did my apprenticeship and began to finally tattoo.
Who were some of the big inspirations early on?
I was inspired at the start by people like Ed Hardy, Scott Sylvia, Thom Devita, Grime, Steve Byrne (same name – I know!) and Freddie Corbin. Guys who had such amazing stories and a love for the real craft of tattooing, whilst also pushing boundaries and being incredibly creative!
If you could say one thing to a younger Stephen Byrne to give yourself a leg up on your journey into tattooing, what would it be?
Get tattooed by good people and stop worrying so much about everything!
Your traditional tattoos are what first drew me to you, but you’re clearly a very versatile artist. You have plenty of examples of black and grey and more realistic pieces in your portfolio. Even within your traditional, I see you mix to up between bold, heavy lines and more fine-line traditional. Is this out of a desire to push yourself or just a need to be a solid all-rounder?
It’s a bit of all of those things really! To me, tattooing in Ireland means I have to be able to do a bit of everything to a good standard if I want to make a living. I would love nothing more than to tattoo beautiful traditional all day long, and I am blessed with the clients I’ve got who come to me for that stuff, but it’s just not always the case over here.
At the end of the day, I’m here to give people what they ask for. I can guide them as best I can, but if they want a black and grey tattoo or something else within reason then I feel I should have the skill level to be able to tattoo that to a decent standard. Because I’m only entering my fourth year tattooing I have been going through a lot of transition style-wise. I love the Italian and European styles of tattooing with the finer lines and stripped back colours. For me, that’s the direction I would like to take my work. A very classic beautiful style of tattooing that still keeps its power and looks like a real tattoo!
What are your favourite designs to tattoo and what would you like to tattoo more of?
Anything classic I love! Girls, tigers, panthers and anything involving roses of course. Basically, anything that’s stood the test of time I love to tattoo!
I must admit, I’ve only been to Ireland once, briefly when I was younger. How has the tattooing scene shaped and changed over the years you’ve been tattooing?
As I haven’t been tattooing that long I don’t feel equipped to answer that question. But, what I can say, is there is an amazing and growing tattoo culture in Ireland. I feel at the moment it’s quite small – hidden more or getting buried under a wave of big businesses, coffee shops, and hairdressers. Having said that, if you know where to look in Ireland, you can find some really incredible tattooers and tattoo shops!
Can you talk to some of your inspirations for your work? Even those from other mediums. Music, film etc
Even though it’s not reflected in my work that much, I am inspired massively by Japanese Ukiyo-e art, it never fails to amaze me. I love the great traditional artists like Dietzel, Burchette, Grim, Wagner – I could go on all day! I love folk art of all kinds; the stranger the better. I love hunting in second-hand bookshops for old postcards or botanical books full of those old botanist drawings! I like to try and look at what the people who inspire me might have looked at to draw from at the time. Old photographs of clipper ships or the pinup Vargas girls! I’m always on the hunt for new references, it’s an obsession really.
What machines and ink do you like using at the moment?
At the moment I am using a Mike Pike for Lining and a Scott Sylvia machine for shading. I use Dermaglo and Dynamic for the most part.
What do you do with your time outside of tattooing?
To be honest, I don’t really do much that isn’t related in some way related to tattooing. I love painting and I’m a big music and film fan also, so if I can get out to see a good movie or a good band now and again I’m a happy man!
Lastly, could you tell us your favourite story from your time as a tattooer?
I think my favourite stories are the ones I hear from the interesting people that I get to tattoo. One older guy I tattooed had a bunch of Johnny Eagle tattoos from the 70s and he told me a story about a guy who came into Johnny’s shop looking for an apprenticeship. Johnny asked him “can you draw?” to which the guy said “yes”, so Johnny asked him to come back the next day with a drawing of a Viking ship coming ashore with some Vikings jumping out for battle. The guy came back with his drawing the next day and handed to Johnny who looked at it and said: “Not bad….now get the fuck out of here!” He then used the drawing for the client’s tattoo who was in with him that day! Obviously, my client told it much better than I could but I love those old stories when tattooers were scary and the shops took no shit!
You can find more from Stephen Byrne on Instagram.