Upon entering OFF KEY Studio, you are not confronted with any skin. This place is about the drawings; the sketches, the design style, the colour rendering, examples of the artists’ work adorning the walls.
There’s an air of calm, with space to breathe and walls covered with inspiring examples of established tattoo artists. Forget intimidating – you could be forgiven for wanting to hang out there.
I learn from talking to Craig, the owner of OFF KEY Studio, all tattoos produced there are custom-made and designed by the tattooists. The evidence of designs; tracings ready to be copied, stencilled and inked, are a reassuring note that these are works awaiting a next canvas.
OFF KEY was established in 2011, at first as a clothing line working alongside other brands, tattooists and designers. Craig, a local lad, set his mind to opening the Jewellery Quarter based studio, with his belief that the skills needed for tattooing, and the tattoos themselves, are the best form of art “you keep with you”. OFF KEY Studio followed in December 2012.
The studio is tucked between Birmingham City University School of Jewellery and an industrial tool shop. A subtle A-frame and hanging sign sit outside the red door. Head upstairs to a space where light floods in through the casement windows from both sides.
They produce mainly traditional tattoos with real artistic talent. Each of the two current resident tattooists – Max (explosions of intricate colour blocking, neo-traditional) and Rob (darker, detailed black work, without colour) – have a distinct style.
OFF KEY Studio is about art, respect, reputation. It is about dedication, commitment and finding that perfect (next) tattoo. With people often travelling miles to get a tattoo by an artist they respect, Craig thinks Birmingham is as good as anywhere location-wise, as it’s more about the person and reputation than the location. With guest artists on occasion coming to OFF KEY Studio, local people also get access to an artist who could be based anywhere in the country.
Next step for the studio is finding the perfect third artist to complement the skills and styles of the current two residents. Reputation and quality paramount, Craig knows he has a challenge to find someone that can match current standards. Having been around the scene for many years, apprenticing, training, working, gaining licences and meeting the standards needed for the impeccable studio, there will need to be someone out there with the same level of dedication.
If you are thinking of collecting your next tattoo, have a look on Instagram at the styles of the two artists, get an idea of what you want, head along and talk it through.
Art certainly doesn’t have to hang on walls.
Photo credit: Kate Wilkins CiB