I guess the first thing I must do is pander to the pedantic amongst you, who are currently sat reading this, thinking; ‘Handforth ain’t even properly in Manchester’! Technically you’d be right of course. But as I write this on a standard chilly evening in the city centre, I think back to all my experiences at Sharp Art Studios, and how in many ways they epitomise everything that is good about Manchester, and about being a Mancunian. City United banter; lads constantly trying to get a rise out of each other, and drinking more tea than you actually want. All whilst listening to a unique blend of 90’s hip-hop, fused with the melancholic tones of Ian Brown and occasional nods to Marley.

When visiting the shop you are always greeted with a smile, and made to feel welcome in a way that seems to come naturally to Mancunians of my generation, and the generations that came before me. Maybe I’m doing that thing people do when they get older, in overly criticising the next generation: but I do feel like that element of natural social flair is fading from Manchester’s youngsters.

Of course, there is nothing more Mancunian than staring adversity in the face and sticking two fingers right back at it. That is what we did last May, when our city suffered a horrific atrocity. Once again we’d have to step up and showcase our steely solidarity to the rest of the world. Thousands of people did this by getting the Manchester bee emblem inked on to their skin; paying tribute to the victims whilst raising vital funds for their families in their time of need. Sharp Art Studios was very much at the forefront of the campaign in the South Manchester, Stockport and Wilmslow areas, raising a staggering £19,000 in much needed funds.

A selection of bees we produced for the Manchester Bees campaign, in honour of victims of the Manchester arena terrorist attack, in May 2017.

It was around that time that I first went into Sharp Art. I’d had a tattoos done elsewhere in the past, but I hadn’t developed any sort of loyalty toward either of studios I’d been. It isn’t my style to name and shame; but one of the places I had been previously was particularly poor. About the only thing positive thing you could say about it, is that it looked hygienic. The whole process hadn’t been pleasant: especially since it was my first time in a tattoo studio. The atmosphere was cold and I felt like they just wanted people in and out the door as quickly as possible. A lot of the photographs of previous work that were around the studio appeared to be great, but thinking back now; I’m dubious as to whether it was actually their own work. I got my ink done there nonetheless, and on completion it looked at least something like the tattoo I wanted. The line work wasn’t fantastic, and the shading very amateur. To make matters worse I wasn’t offered a fucking brew the whole time I was there.

Years after my first tattoo studio experience, I visited a place recommended by a friend. She had been pleased with some work they had done on her, so I figured I’d give the place a try. It was certainly friendlier than the first place I’d been to. I discussed the kind of design I wanted with the artist, and after my second appointment, a tattoo very similar to the one I’d chosen had become a feature on my right shoulder. All the artists working there had been pleasant, and a one or two had stood out as being pretty talented, but the fact is that I left the studio unsatisfied with my new ink.

I saw this tattoo of a tigers head on Instagram and was immediately impressed

My first encounter with the work done by the Sharp Art team, was on Instagram, when a tattoo of a tiger popped up in front of me. The quality of the work was top drawer, and I remember thinking it looked like something you might see on the realty show, LA Ink. I was pleased when I noticed that it was done in the UK and not the USA, and even more so, when I found out that the studio that did the work was less than 10 miles from my home.  

A few weeks later, I emailed the studio and booked a consultation. As I walked in, the owner Nick glanced up from the work he was doing on a clients sleeve, and nodded. There were four artists present, and the fact that three out of the four were busy working on clients was certainly a good sign. I was ten minutes early, so I sat down on a black leather sofa and waited. Moments later, Nick finished the work on his clients arm. Before wrapping the arm in cling film, a photograph was taken. As the lad Nick had been working on reached into his wallet to pay, a few laughs and jokes were exchanged, as if they had been friends for some time.

Tattoo sign at the front of Sharp Art Studios

When the client left I asked Nick whether he was a friend of his, and I was surprised when he explained that they’d never met before that day. This was the second indicator that I had found the right place. The next followed immediately, when I was asked whether I took milk or sugar. When I said that I’ll have it black as I don’t drink cow’s milk, I was overwhelmed to get the options of soya or almond dairy alternatives. This place was amazing!! It was a fucking tattoo studio with more dairy free milk options than Costa

Brew in hand, we sat down to discuss ideas for my new tatt. Nick was intuitive and we got on the same page very quickly. My main priority was to get my first tattoo mistake, covered up. I was really happy to learn that there would be few limitations when deciding on a design we could use to do this. In the end I choose to go for a depiction of a Native American, and Nick said he would draw something up and it would be ready in a day or two.

He contacted me when it was complete and sent me the design on Facebook messenger, explaining that it would take about two sessions of four hours to get it on to my skin. The design was even better than I’d hoped, so right away I agreed and booked my first session.

On walking in for appointment number one, I was greeted by Loz, Nick, James, Finn, and Alex. Finn asked me if she could take my coat and offered me a hot drink. Seeing the design for real, it was even more impressive. Even now I struggle to understand how he was able to work it over the shitty thing that I had etched into me already.

Nick working on my latest ink

Only minutes after arriving I was sat straddling one of the chairs, and Nick began to transfer the stencil he had prepared, to my skin. During the four hours that I was getting tattooed, I was assured I could take a break whenever I wished, and was kept well hydrated throughout. I even got to listen to ‘Moment Of Truth’, by Gang Starr, while I was being inked – one of my favourite albums of all time.

A few weeks later, I went back to get the work completed. I was made to feel really welcome once again. This time I realised that the crew at Sharp Art weren’t just putting on some customer service routine for my benefit. They were in fact a group of genuine, friendly, and super talented people.

The team at Sharp Art Studios

Work complete, and I take a look in the mirror at my shoulder. I was ecstatic! The two previous times I’d been tattooed I was unable to fashion a fake smile when I saw the work that had been done. This time I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.

It was a great experience from start to finish; and the best part was, the eight hours work had only cost me a few quid more than my first tattoo had cost, over ten years earlier. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of the artists at Sharp Art Studios to my friends and family. As I mentioned before, it was seeing Nick’s work on Instagram that lead me to book an appointment with him. Having now seen the quality of all the work produced at the studio, I’d be happy for any of the artists there to work on me.

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