Tattoo Artist Interview – Joe Spaven
Joe Spaven has been steadily making his mark as one of the UK’s finest Japanese tattoo specialists. A talented tattooer, Joe is truly devoted to his craft and strives to study Japanese tattooing to the fullest extent. He has recently completed a series of 100 paintings, but this is only the beginning – Joe intends to produce 1000 paintings before he will consider this project a wrap.
The Tattoo Collective are very proud to welcome Joe to the show this March 17th-18th, along with an exclusive exhibition of his ‘100 Paintings’ series. This week, we caught up with Joe to find out more…
Can you share a little about your background in tattooing; what inspired you to follow this path, and how long have you been tattooing?
I think the majority of people start tattooing because they like to draw and want to make a living as an artist. For me it wasn’t about being an artist – I wanted to be a tattooist. I’ve always loved tattoos, ever since I was young. I remember my uncle had two tigers tattooed on his forearm and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
I started tattooing in 2008. From the beginning I wanted to do tattoos that looked like tattoos. Black lines and traditional subject matter. I became obsessed with it and have been ever since.
What sparked your interest in Japanese tattoos, and more specifically the smaller ‘one-shot’ designs which have become a trademark of your style?
One of the first tattoo books I got when I was starting out was ‘The Japanese Tattoo’ by Sandi Fellman. It blew my mind; the body suits were so powerful. It was shocking and extreme, and I loved it. After that I got hold of a lot of Horiyoshi 3 stuff and my interest snowballed from there.
As fun as it is, I don’t want to be known for the one shot stuff. My goal is to do large scale work, sleeves, backs and ultimately body suits. I’m getting there but these things take a long time. It’s slow progress with big work, which can at times be frustrating. You have to be very patient and rely on the customer’s commitment. I’m fortunate to have some great customers and I’m very grateful for that.
Since I started tattooing I’ve always been painting. I love it, you can be completely free and do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake, its all fun. The small one point paintings started out as colour studies for tattoos. I had fun doing them so I began painting designs and putting them up on social media. People were asking to get them tattooed, so it was getting people in for cool stuff. I also started taking them with me to conventions and guest spots, and using them as flash for people to choose from.
You’ve recently completed your ‘100 Paintings’ project, a huge accomplishment, and have even started on a second edition. The Tattoo Collective are very excited to display these works at the show this year. Do you have plans to release this body of work as a book and if so, when is the expected release date?
After I’d completed around 20 of the small paintings I decided to do a series of 100. Ash Davies from ‘Atonement Books’ offered to publish the series for me. The book is due for release in March, and I’m hoping to launch it at The Tattoo Collective. Ash has got a lot of cool books in the pipeline, so it’s really exciting to be amongst them.
When I was approaching the end of the series, I went to see the Hokusai exhibit at the British museum. Aside from how incredible the art was, it was the volume he produced that inspired me; 15,000 documented pieces of art! He carried on into his 90’s, right up to his death, always trying to reach the next level. I want to live like that, never giving up and always trying to progress. It was after going to that exhibit that I decided I was going to extend the series to 1000 and do 10 volumes of the book. I’m at 117 as of today, so I still have a long way to go, but I’ll persevere and have fun along the way!
Do you feel that your paintings have shaped or informed the way you tattoo since embarking on the project?
Absolutely. Drawing speed, composition, colour palette, confidence – it all improved from the paintings. I believe that painting is essential if you want to improve as an artist and do better tattoos.
You have travelled for guest spots and trips across Europe and Asia, including a visit to Japan. What was it like to visit the birthplace of Japanese tattooing?
It’s important to have a good knowledge of Japanese history, culture, folklore and religion if you want to be able to do Japanese style tattooing. You also have to study the fit and flow of the traditional layout on the body. I take this very seriously and try to learn as much as I can. It’s a massive amount to learn and I want to try my best to learn, always.
Travelling to Japan and getting tattooed there was a huge inspiration and I’m hoping to go back there and spend more time learning and having fun.
Do you have any further travel plans for the new year?
No major travel plans for this year yet but I’m always open to invitation and keen to see new places, so I dare say I’ll be off on my travels before long!
Don’t miss the chance to view Joe Spaven’s works at The Tattoo Collective, 17th-18th March 2018. Joe will also be tattooing at the event – contact Joe directly for booking information.
Advance Tickets to The Tattoo Collective are now on sale, get yours today!