Keeping family ink alive

Carl's portrait tattoo of his son Lewis by Mark Gibson at Monki Do Tattoo.

Carl’s portrait tattoo of his son Lewis by Mark Gibson at Monki Do Tattoo.

Carl Lowe is from a small town called Belper, located just a few miles outside Derby in the heart of the UK. He’s endured the loss of his son, Lewis Lowe, and now one year later, seeks solace at Monki do tattoo by having Mark Gibson ink his late son’s wolf tattoo on his (Carl’s) back. This wolf is soon to be the center of a full memorial back piece. Carl talks a little bit about the tattoo and why it’s important to him. Still, what better way to memorialize a loved one than to revive their ink on living skin.

From Carl Lowe:

“My son Lewis awoke one day when he was 13 years old to find he couldn’t walk. Over the next two years, Lewis underwent every test imaginable to find the cause, but the doctors were perplexed. Lewis lost weight rapidly and ended up in the hospital for the better part of a year while the doctors scrambled to find the cause of his condition.

Despite their efforts, Lewis slipped into a coma, kept alive only by life support in the intensive care unit for nearly two months. During this time, he died once for several minutes, but by a miracle, the doctors revived him. Two days later, they called us, his family, and stated Lewis only had a ten percent chance of making it through the night.

Lewis's tattoo of a wolf, later revived by his Dad, Carl. By Mark Gibson of Monki Do Tattoo.

Lewis’s tattoo of a wolf, later revived by his Dad, Carl. By Mark Gibson of Monki Do Tattoo.

Lewis’ girlfriend, Sarah, sat at his bedside and held his hand, whispering into his ear, “You have got to pull through. I want to marry you.” Lewis made it through the next 12 hours and was put on a drug called Anakinra, which was still a test drug at the time. They slowly took Lewis off the lift support and kidney machines.

He continued to improve with the aid of the drug, but it was obvious from then on he had to have it every day to stay alive. He recovered enough to come home. He put weight back on and started to walk again. When he turned 18, he was looking forward to his first tattoo, as Mark Gibson had told him three years earlier,  “Keep away from your mates with tattoo guns! I will be waiting to do yours.” He kept his word and tattooed the wolf on Lewis’ upper arm.

Lewis was doing really well and wanted to go to Scotland to spend time with Sarah and her family. While there, on the 4th of May 2012, he was walking along the cliffs. They gave way and Lewis fell to his death. Yes I know, you sit there saying to yourself, “You must be joking!” This is the reaction I get whenever I tell the story.

Mark has been a good friend for several years, not only to Lewis, but also myself.   He is my tattooist and I have set Mark to the task of doing a full back piece in my son’s memory of the wolf (just like the one tattooed on Lewis’ upper arm) with the rebel flag in the background. Lewis loved the band Lynyrd Skynyd. They were his favorite band and he even met them backstage while he was ill. This tattoo represents my son and his love for the band.”

The beginnings of Carl's full back tattoo, representing the wolf previously tattooed on Lewis's arm.

The beginnings of Carl’s full back tattoo, representing the wolf previously tattooed on Lewis’s arm.

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Mark Gibson from Monkido Tattoo Studio explains the bio mechanical sleeve tattoo

Bio mechanical sleeve tattoo by Mark Gibson of Monkido Tattoo Studio.

Bio mechanical sleeve tattoo by Mark Gibson of Monkido Tattoo Studio.

You may have seen the bio mechanical sleeve I posted earlier by Mark Gibson. I was blown away how Mark was able to weave an amalgam of complex, mechanical motorbike-inspired parts onto his client’s arm in a way that yielded a flawless and fascinating piece of art work on living canvas. I was able to chase Mark down and find out a little bit more about this tattoo, which I later learned was based on Ducati parts. Not bad for an artist from a small European town. Read on to find out more from the interview.

Tell me a little more about the client. What was the inspiration behind this tattoo?

His name is Matthew Buckley, and he lives a few hours away from our studio in Oxford.  He’s a collector of awesome tattoos, and has some awesome work by many talented tattoo artists from around the UK. I was lucky enough to receive his full right arm to tattoo. His inspiration would have been his own Ducati, and also a mechanical sleeve I’d previously done based on car parts on a different client.

I saw that this tattoo took about 30 hours of work. How many sittings did the client do?

Thirty hours was a rough estimate by the time we had finished tattooing, not including tea breaks and the odd sandwich here and there. Thirty hours was just for the tattoo application, if you added on another sixty hours in design preparation you wouldn’t be far off.  The thirty hours was broken up into full day sittings at around five hours each, this meant six day trips for Matt to make.

How did you come up with the sketch? Did you freehand directly to his arm? Or did you come up with a stencil ahead of time?

This tattoo had a slightly different approach to the rest of my work, due to its complexity and it’s importance that it looked like a robotic arm instead of a motorbike engine.  We started with a lengthy consultation which included all measurements and tracings of Matthews arm/muscle shapes/joints etc.

At the consultation I received a CD from Matt that included hundreds of high quality photographs of his motorbike from all angles and details that you could imagine. From those images I basically chopped them all up, picked the bits that I wanted and ‘photoshopped’ a rough guide together. This was printed off at full scale and traced over a couple of times making adjustments and re-drawing parts  to create an image that would work on the body. Once Matt had approved the tracings a few weeks prior to his first sittings, they were carbon copied directly onto his arm.

What type of tattoo work do you typically do? Black and grey? Color? Portraits?

I really don’t like to limit myself to any certain styles, and will enjoy any piece regardless of colour/black and grey as long as my client is happy to collaborate with me on the artwork. I believe any idea no matter how rough or basic it may seem at the consultation, has the potential to be an awesome tattoo.

Do you ride motorcycles at all? If so, what kind of bike do you have and what do you love about riding?

Unfortunately I’ve not ridden a motorbike since my teens which was just a field bike. I have a lot of good friends who ride and I can certainly appreciate the custom builds that they have. A lot of their work is done by Steve Hackett who owns Hack Shack  Customs, you can see some of their stuff via http://www.facebook.com/hackshack.customs

What tattoo studio do you work for?

I work for Monki Do Tattoo Studio, we are situated near Derby in a small town called Belper. It’s pretty remote here so fortunately our clientele are happy to travel to us. I’ve never worked for any other studio as I apprenticed under Andy Bowler who is the owner.

Do you have personal website or does your tattoo shop have a website people can visit?

We have www.monkido.com for the studio, and I have a personal website on facebook, you can find me on there via http://www.facebook.com/mark.gibson.585

Mark Gibson with his mentor and boss from Monkido Tattoo Studio, Andy Bowler.

Mark Gibson with his mentor and boss from Monkido Tattoo Studio, Andy Bowler.