It should have smelt of cigarettes, beer and more cigarettes.
It didn’t. The air was crisp, sterile and dangerously clean. The floor was checkered floor, customers sat on a leather couch waiting for their turn as tattoo artists turned to a wall with jars of Vaseline and colours, candy and portfolios of tattoo patterns and designs.
Joel Pin, resident tattoo artist, was busy inking a client’s arm when I walked into Eastside Tattoo Studio on Bethnal Green Road. The client had wanted to get a complicated piece of art on his upper arm for a while now, and was finally getting it done.
Beads of sweat gathered on Joel’s forehead as he wrapped up his latest art piece in cling film. Pin told the client to be careful and helped him with his shirt before preparing the bill.
Once everything was settled, Pin sat down with a bag of sweets and started talking about how he got started.
“I used to paint and this was like painting on a larger canvas. Much more realistic. I used to go around town every day and ask tattoo artists if they wanted to teach me or keep me as an apprentice. But they all said no.”
The 27-year-old decided that if he wanted to learn how to create art on a human canvas, he had to move. His first apprenticeship in London was at a place called Dan’s Tattoo.
Pin’s first client was his sister who wanted a red rose on her lower back. He said it was an unreal experience. Softly scratching the tattoo of a cross on his index finger, he said: “I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. It was as if the rose was blossoming in front of my eyes and I made it happen.
“After that I have had many interesting experiences and bad ones too. One time a guy fainted and peed in his pants. It was awkward to say the least.”
His boss was a piercer and a tattoo artist. After working with him for a year or so, Pin realised that he was not a traditionalist and liked more realistic tattoos.
For Pin, it was a fun learning experience but he says: “It didn’t last long. Creative differences, you know. It gave me the push I needed and slowly I started building a good portfolio.”
When it comes to getting tattooed himself, Pin is very particular. “My body is telling a story,” he said. “I have tattoos everywhere [pointing to the rose on his neck and spider web on his hands]. Whenever I want to get one, I go to this Hungarian called Boris. He’s the only man I can trust to ink my body.”