Only a decade ago, tattoo culture was underground. Parlours were only known through word of mouth, and often located on the ‘bad side’ of town. Today, tattoos have shifted from sub-culture to popular culture; and for many, it’s hard to stop at one. For those pondering their first (or next) inking, you’re in safe and masterful hands with Todd Bailey at Thirteen Feet Tattoo. For this instalment of The Local Cast, we sat down with Todd to discuss the changing face of tattoo culture and his influences over the years.

Todd and his wife Katie opened their first tattoo parlour in Newtown almost three years ago. Lucky for us, the site of their second studio is Darling Square, where Todd does up to eight-hour sittings each day, between five and six days a week. Todd explains, “We thought the vision of Darling Square and the regeneration of the neighbourhood was really cool. It seemed like a natural progression for us to be part of the future of tattooing in Sydney.”

Growing up in Killcare Beach on the Central Coast, Todd was always into drawing. But then he left school, did an apprenticeship in carpentry, and later moved to Europe. When he returned to Australia some years later, he completed another apprenticeship, this time in tattooing. “It wasn’t easy,” he tells us. “I didn’t get paid, and worked six days a week. But it was the single best life decision I’ve ever made.” Fast-forward thirteen years, and Todd has travelled the world doing what he loves. As someone who’s been in the business for  a while, Todd has certainly seen the evolution of the industry. 
“It’s not a naughty boys club anymore. It’s more socially acceptable, and more accessible for everyone. Social media, influencers, and television shows have had a significant role to play.” He calls out David Beckham and Miami Ink as good examples, along with Don Ed Hardy, a key figure in western tattooing, known for bringing Japanese culture to America in the 60 and 70s after opening the first private, custom tattoo shop. 

“The 80 and 90s was a key time too, with a melting pot of tattooing from artists like Eddy Deutsche, Filip Leu, Hanky Panky, Alex Binnie, Guy Aitchison, Freddy Corbin, The Grime, Freddy Negrete and Jack Rudy.” “In my opinion, it’s changed for the better now. It’s become more of an art form, and the quality and standards are higher.” When we asked Todd to cast his mindback to his first inking, he gave us an all-too-familiar story.

“The first tattoo I ever did myself was when I was 16. It was an upside down cross that I did at home, and which later got infected. Homemade tattoos are never a good idea!”
When he decided to get his first professional inking, the story wasn’t any more romantic.

“My first proper tattoo was some writing across my stomach. I got that done in a biker shop in Gosford. The guy was a big, angry biker who hated the world and chain-smoked and drank whiskey the whole time. I was terrified and intrigued all at once.”

These days, Todd explains that trends in tattoos range from body suits to fine line, micro varieties.

“All tattoos are strange though. We draw things on people’s flesh for life! That’s a pretty strange profession when you think about it.” Todd’s favourite tattoos to do range from tidy black and white portraits, to colour neo-realism with bold, thick lines. As he explains, key to a good tattoo is always a sense of individuality. “Don’t get the same ink as your friend!”

Commenting on Sydney’s own tattoo culture, Todd indicates it’s been turbulent, to say the least.

“It hasn’t been until very recent years that artists like myself have been able to open proper tattoo studios that are wholly dedicated to the craft of tattooing.” We’re so glad he persevered, and so glad he found home here.