His style comes from within; it’s a reflection of his personality, interests and emotions. A cautious person and far too humble when it comes to himself, Neil Dransfield uses neo traditional like a springboard to his inner depths, revealing and expressing his inner world through tattooing – just as he’s already done with other art forms.
What emerges is a style in which black has taken the place of colour, neo traditional can be seen here and there, and we sense the echo of a distant past, in which a certain masculine elegance and aesthetic was expressed through words, gestures, and objects. Neil offers all of this to his clients, creating polished tattoos that someone once defined as “moments in time”.
The full interview by Meggie Whales is published on Tattoo Life May/June 2019 issue.
Neil, we’d like to start this interview with an observation on your style, which is partly neo traditional and partly a mix of dark and surrealist reflections.
Hello – and a shout out to everyone who’s reading this. I’d like to be able to answer this question in a specific way, but I’m not quite sure what my style is. I’ve never really thought about it, but I’d say that it’s neo traditional. I’ve always been a neo traditional artist, so I guess that’s where the style’s come from. That said, I prefer to use darker and more surreal themes which aren’t normally what people would consider as classic neo traditional. I like to try to mix the two together now, but in my own way.
How did you get into this style?
I started out doing colour neo traditional for many years. But after a while I started to find it really hard; I was struggling with my tattooing, and what I should or shouldn’t do. I reached a point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tattoo anymore, so I had to question why I was tattooing and for what reason. When I was at art college and then at university, art was always self-reflective for me. I created things that came from inside, from my inner emotions. Years later, I wondered why I wasn’t doing that with tattooing, and I felt I had lost part of myself in the work for many years. I needed to bring this back into what I was doing.
Now I try to create art and tattoos that are self-reflective, that come from inside.
I also decided to drop colour from my work because of the stress and anxiety it was causing me. I started to draw in pencil again and continued to paint in black. I thought,’ why don’t I just tattoo like this?’ and I got into exploring myself and my work again, with darker subjects. I’m drawing a lot again, but drawing for myself, as I explore my feelings and thoughts, and get into the more dark, emotional side of who I am – just like what I did while I was attending art college.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from your clients?
Even though some of what I do is quite self-reflective and the subjects are dark, I think a lot of people can relate to what I do; someone once told me that my drawings were like
moments in time, and I like this thought. I think everyone’s had these kinds of moments and feelings at some point in their lives.
So has your tattooing and role as a professional tattooist evolved gradually over time?
I started tattooing about ten years ago in a street shop where I did my apprenticeship; I’d done an apprenticeship about two years before that in another tattoo shop, but at the time I found it really difficult because I’ve never been a very confident person, and I’ve always struggled with talking to people.
I’d decided to stop tattooing because I didn’t think I was strong enough to do this job.
I’d never thought about it as a career anyway, so I decided to stop. Then, after two years I decided to give it another go, and found another apprenticeship in a shop where I felt comfortable. I had a great apprenticeship there: I learnt how to do a bit of everything there – most styles – and I will always be grateful for that. Then a few years later I had the opportunity to work with two friends – Tom Flanagan and Scott Mustapic – so I decided to make the change and go work with them. We all opened a shop together and called it ODD FELLOWS. There I had the opportunity to work with some great artists and learn even more, while having the best time with everyone in the shop.
How long did you work at ODD FELLOWS?
We had the shop for 5 years and then we all decided it was time to move on and do new things. So I made the choice to move to a private studio in the centre of Leeds called
Heartache and Heartbreak, where I could work on my own and have some time to myself. After working in busy shops for at least 8 years, it seemed like the right thing to do for me and my work. This has given me even more time to concentrate on and develop work which reflects me as a person.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I like old film and old times. I think they were better times.
Why is that?
Because people talked better; I love the dialogues from old movies and how people spoke. People always dressed better, men took more pride in their appearance. I think that’s where I get my inspiration from, and the black and grey style translates very well. I don’t really find my inspiration from old movies, though; it comes more from myself, from music, or sometimes photography and other art forms. Anything I get a feeling from, that provokes an emotion. Sometimes just watching other people inspires me, as strange as that may sound.