This week we’re welcoming the latest tattooist to join the Barber DTS Pro Team, Mike Gibson, AKA Gibbo

Gibbo Sponsored Artist for Barber DTS

Based in Leeds at Northern Reign Tattoo, Gibbo is known for his bold neo-traditional style and incredible colour palette. If you’re after a stylised portrait (dogs in particular), he’s your guy!

We caught up with him at the Brighton Tattoo Convention to find out about how he got into tattooing, how his style developed, and also his take on guest spots and conventions…

Tattoo by Gibbo for Barber DTS Sponsored Artist Group

How long have you been tattooing for?

I've been tattooing for 8 years which involved an apprenticeship for around 2 years!

When did you get your first tattoo?

My first tattoo was a small classic nautical star on my stomach. I was 14 years old, listening to heavy music and thinking I was cool. I just wanted something that I saw a lot of. I was not cool. It’s still there today and I’ll probably never get rid of it.  

What led you to tattooing?

I firstly became interested in tattoos when I was much younger, going to shows and watching bands play music! A lot of the people I looked up to in many bands were all covered in tattoos and at first it was the thought of keeping an image under the skin which intrigued me the most. I started buying tattoo magazines and getting tattooed myself when I was 14 years old and I've been obsessed with the whole tattoo culture ever since. 

What drew you to your neo-traditional style?

I learnt how to draw through school but I’ve narrowed down my current style of work over the most recent years where I've discovered influences amongst the tattoo scene. I still feel like I’ve got more to learn but so far I'm happy with the direction my work is going. 

I would say my style is neo-traditional but relies on a huge influence from the traditional side. I keep my work simple and bold like a traditional tattoo would be but use a more complex approach when it comes to shading and colouring. As you can see from my work, colourful tattoos are what I mostly enjoy! I like the different colour choices you can make and all the different combinations you can use to create such unique pieces, even though I have quite a limited consistent palette. 

What makes an important tattoo for me is something solid and clean. I try to make each tattoo I do cleaner and neater than the previous one. That a tattoo can be read from across the room is important! 

Tattoo by Gibbo for Barber DTS Sponsored Artist Group

Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I first started in the industry I got my influences from local artists and others working throughout the UK from tattoo magazines. A few years in I came across tattoos from European artists and it blew me away. The imagery and the way they applied their designs really stuck with me and it made me look further into the work coming out of the European scene. This goes alongside the boom of social media that really helped me discover a lot of talented tattooers from further afield. 

These days I tend to take a lot of my inspiration from things outside of tattooing. Mainly illustrators and graphic designers who work in a variety of mediums that are far removed from the tattoo industry. A lot of digital artwork grabs my attention and I feel like I’ve taken more of a graphic route within my own work.

Have you got any designs that you’d love to tattoo but not done yet? Or what would you like to tattoo more of?

Designs I’ve always wanted to do is a tricky question. I’ve always been rubbish at thinking of cool stuff to draw unless I’m given a brief. I do a lot of portraits and really enjoy doing them but sometimes it’s nice to do designs that aren’t portraits that take a little more thought into the composition side of the design. If I could choose anything, it would probably be more animals,probably birds as I enjoy drawing them. 

What’s your favourite tattoo you’ve ever done?

My favourite tattoo I’ve ever done was probably a thigh piece on my friend Simon. It was my take on a classic eagle. I drew it perched on top of a skull with a rose which sounds< dull when I describe it but I was super happy with how it was composed and it ended up being super solid and healed great! The skull was purple and there was a solid gold Wu-Tang thrown in there for good measure. It always puts a smile on my face when I see it. 

Tattoo by Gibbo for Barber DTS Sponsored Artist Group

What about conventions, what draws you to them?  

Conventions are a daunting prospect early on in anyone’s career. They’re still not the easiest things to work but 8 years in you do sort of get used to them. I enjoy the buzz of a good convention. Being surrounded by a good bunch of artists and close mates also makes for a good time. I think the draw of a convention is the social side. It’s nice to be able to catch up with fellow tattooers you maybe only ever speak to online and meet new people. It also helps to put faces to names, especially in this day and age with social media! 

What is your favourite convention?

My favourite convention is probably Brighton. It’s miles away from Leeds BUT the artist list always seems to be spot on. I know Woody and Em quite well so it’s always nice to support their show. It’s also a fairly big show and always seems to have a buzz about it. I’ve not worked a bad convention yet down in Brighton and I can’t see it happening!

A very close second would be the Scottish convention in Edinburgh, for slightly different reasons. The show is equally as amazing but it feels slightly smaller and more relaxed. The conventions to me are sort of chalk and cheese when it comes to working them, but both are amazing for different reasons. 

Do you have any other conventions

The only conventions I have planned for the past couple of years are Brighton, Edinburgh and Leeds. I know these shows really well and I feel comfortable working them. I have been thinking about branching out and maybe trying some European shows one day. Possibly Krakow and Paris but who knows! 

How about guesting, do you have any favourite studios to visit?

I started guesting in my career very early on. I wanted to push myself and learn as much as I could. One of my favourite places to guest is a shop in Berlin called ‘Sticks and Stones’ owned by my friend Brian Povakwho I met and became good friends with maybe 5/6 years ago. The studio has such a relaxing, chill vibe and houses some really amazing, friendly tattooers. It’s a zero-ego studio and I always end up having the best time! 

What are the benefits of guesting?

Guesting is really good for socialising within the industry but also for self-development.

I feel like getting tattooed by artists you like and/or going to work with them
in their studio helps massively with progress. You can discuss techniques, or talk about certain things within a style which I felt really helped steer my
work into the direction it’s gone in. I think everyone can learn a little
something from someone.

Tattoo by Gibbo for Barber DTS Sponsored Artist Group

Do you ever get homesick?

If I’m guesting for more than 3/4 days I don’t really get home sick but I do love walking back into my own shop, Northern Reign. I love Leeds and the comfort of our studio! You can’t beat the feeling of getting back home after working hard on a guest spot in unfamiliar surroundings.

Any guest spots planned for the near future?

For the time being I don’t have any guest spots planned. I stopped for a while whilst we were busy setting up our own studio but now that’s up and running smoothly I may look to start guesting again towards the end of the year.

Tough one! But which five artists do
you look up to?

The five artists I currently look up to are always changing because there are so many artists that are pushing the game so much! But if I had to choose in no particular order...

Dave Wah / USA

Jean Leroux / London

Chad Lenjer / USA

Rodrigo Kalaka / Barcelona

Jacob Gardner / Australia

Tattoo by Gibbo for Barber DTS Sponsored Artist Group

What do you do when you are not tattooing?

If I’m not tattooing I’m really into bouldering/climbing. I’ve been doing it for around 4 years now and it’s something I do that makes me not think about work! With tattooing, work always comes home with you whether it be drawing, sorting appointments or updating any sort of social media. Whereas with climbing, I’m there and fully focused on that so it’s a nice break from work.

I’m also currently building a motorbike with a couple of friends and fellow local tattoo artists so that in itself is taking up a lot of my spare time.

You’ve come so far already, what are
your plans for the future?

A big part of my career happened last year; setting up my own studio! I run it with one of my best friends Adam Cornish and it’s the best decision we’ve ever done in terms of career choices. A year in and it seems to be running smoothly, we’ve managed to take on a couple more artists, Daryl Watsonand Sam Nancyand it feels complete! The balance between all 4 of us is perfect, making for a really relaxed place to tattoo from! 

For future plans I don’t have anything set in motion but now the studio set-up has settled down I’ll probably start looking into more guest spots and possible travel plans.

Keep an eye out for Gibbo across our social media Instagram, Facebook and Twitteror follow him here.