31 Oct Black N Gold Artist Profile: Rupert Cleaver
How long have you been tattooing for?
I’ve been tattooing for around 7-8 years, but properly more like 5. I kinda started out trying to teach myself how to tattoo, and then I went to get a tattoo at Black Garden. I was booked in with Ceasar – I didn’t realize that he was the owner of the shop – we got chatting whilst he was tattooing me and he discovered that I was learning and also that my career at the time was as a graphic designer. He said he needed some design work for Black N Gold and said if you do some design work for me I’ll teach you how to tattoo properly. Off the back of that I’ve done all the design work for Black N Gold, all the packaging, logo, everything.
Cool! So that was in exchange for an apprenticeship, basically?
Yeah, but obviously I was working and I’m not a youngster starting out, I had to carry on doing graphic design so I was kinda burning the candle at both ends. I used to finish work and go over to the shop and watch Mills and Alex who were apprentices at the time, and watch them tattooing. Then when they started tattooing full time I came and started working in the shop on Sundays, you know working behind a desk and doing all the apprentice stuff. Then it just sort of blossomed from there, as much as I could get in there I’d be in there, learning as much as could. It kinda went from there and obviously it blossomed more and more and I ended up doing less graphics and more tattooing and eventually took the plunge and started doing it full time.
That’s great! Not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re coming into it a bit later than most people.
Yeah sure, but it’s been a passion of mine ever since I was a young lad and my older brother came home with his first tattoo. I saw it and thought wow that is so fucking cool
Can I have some of that action! So ended up obviously getting tattooed myself as soon as I was old enough. I was quite close to doing an apprenticeship when I first started college, back then obviously it wasn’t as popular as it is now and I wasn’t sure if I’d make enough money doing it and decided to go down the route of graphic design rather than taking the apprenticeship. It was something that I’d always kinda regretted not doing, so when I was getting tattooed by someone else and chatting about tattooing and saying how much I loved it and wished I’d done it earlier and he said “Why don’t you just start?!”. So I got a couple of machines.
Out of curiosity that first tattoo your brother came home with, that opened the door for you, what was that?
It was either a swallow or a tiger head, I think it might have been the swallow that he had like on top of his shoulder.
Oh yeah, like a traditional type thing?
It might have been Dennis cockle who did it but I’m not sure.
What about you? What was your first one and how old were you?
My first one was a Chinese dragon on top of my shoulder done by a skinhead mate of mine in his front room when I was 17 years old.
So, on to a bit about Black N Gold. Which products do you use?
I use all the products, to be honest. I’ve got about 5 Black N Gold machines which I use on rotation daily and you know, I can’t fault them there. I use the quick-lock grips with the clear tips, which are super precise. I do use the disposables as well occasionally, but that’s kinda more like if i’m gonna go to a convention. I do have some in stock just for backup, when I got my other tubes in the autoclave and stuff.
I can’t fault them, all their products are top quality. Why would you use something else when, like I said before, the back stems are so strong? Other disposables I’ve used you tighten the tube in the vice too much and they just split whereas because Black N Gold are so strong It’s almost like using metal, but a lot lighter.
The style that you’ve got, has it always been that way?
I’m not even sure I have a style but when I first started out I was very drawn to Japanese, but working at Black Garden and seeing how fantastic those guys were, I felt I wasn’t experienced enough to do that kind of tattooing. There were other traditional artists at Black Garden so I kinda watched what they were doing and I felt like with my graphic background and the kinda look of that traditional style tattoo, that would fit my background better. So I kinda started going down that route drawing traditional flash and like any artist, you see a style you like and you try and copy it but your own style comes through without you even trying to. Try as hard as you might to make your drawing look like someone else’s, it’s always gonna have your own spin on it, so that’s why I went down the traditional route but I also really love drawing flowers, doing flower tattoos, kinda black and grey style with dot work.
Would you rather have a hand in a lot of different styles than specialise in just one?
I mean obviously it’s really nice to be tattooing your own designs but I feel like at my stage of tattooing it’s better for me to be doing a whole range of different styles of tattoos because I think it makes you a better tattooer. Those tiny little tattoos you do, that’s what makes you concentrate on your line work being crisp and clean, which is what you want in any tattoo.
Yea definitely, it all adds up towards your progress I suppose it’s nice, so if you’re getting challenged on a daily basis, it’s gonna bode well for you for the future.
Of course, like in anything, it’s always beneficial to push yourself, get out of your comfort zone and do other things, because it makes you all around better at whatever you’re trying to achieve.
Absolutely, I agree with you on that one. You’ve done a lot of tattoos, and a lot of different styles, do you have a particular favourite piece that you’ve done?
Yea I’ve got a few, I did a shark with a spear going through it a few months ago which I think was featured from our shop in Tattoo Artist Magazine. I did a trad snake and skull back piece when I was working at Black Garden which was one of my favourites. The same guy also asked me to do a biker girl head, she had a black leather cap on and a rose wrapped around the side of her face. That’s another one of my favourites.
So you started off at Black Garden now you’re at Electric Punch, Do you have any plans going forward?
I am happy where I am, I don’t have any specific plans to move anywhere just yet. I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing and see what the future holds.
That’s a good way to approach it. What took you to Electric Punch in the first place?
Basically I was doing a few tattoos at Black Garden but I wasn’t getting the amount of tattooing that I needed to progress. So I started looking around where I live, in Hertfordshire. I knew of Electric Punch, and I’d seen they’d been advertising for a tattooer but they’ve just taken one on, so I didn’t bother trying to contact them. I was chatting to a close friend of mine and he said that Terry (Electric Punch owner) mentioned about looking for a tattoo artist, why don’t you just give him a call and see what he says. So I messaged him and he agreed to meet and I explained my situation. He said, “I’ve got a spare position in the shop if you wanna come and just do a couple days a week, see how it works out”, so I started doing Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well as working at Black Garden 2 or 3 times a week. That was going well so he offered me a third day and in that time the girl who had been employed left. So there was definitely a space available and then he said to me “If you wanna come work here on a regular basis there’s a position available for you”, so I had a chat with Cesar. Explained the situation, he said “I can’t offer you that amount of tattooing at the moment, so I’d take it.” So that’s what I did.
Do you ever still get back to Black Garden just to pop in?
I do whenever I’m in London I usually pop in and say hi to the guys. I just recently got a tattoo from Mills a month ago, yeah if I’m ever up there I always pop in and say hi. Obviously when I’m at a convention I’ll pop by to see them. I still consider them almost like family, they’re such a nice bunch of guys to work with. I think we’ll just be life long friends basically.