Q & A with Black & Grey Realism Tattoo Artist Leon Colley

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Meet Leon Colley.

He’s a 26 year old tattoo artist and the owner of Inkfinity Tattoos, located in Canvey Island, Essex, UK. He specializes in Black and Grey Realism, including portraits, animals and scenery.

We discovered him on our Bishop Family Facebook Group, and want to share his amazing work and advice with you.

Leon, let’s introduce readers right away to your work. Which piece of yours is your personal favorite?

I’m torn between two!

Panda Tattoo

This one because I love tattooing animals and a panda is a little different to the ordinary. I was also given total freedom in the design and my client allowed me to spend as long as I needed on it.

Scenery with Moon Tattoo

I really enjoyed this scenery piece as I feel it’s something that could look quite basic if I hadn’t gone the extra mile. I left no skin untouched to make sure the white would really pop and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

It had a great reaction through social media so I’m very proud of this one!

Leopard Tattoo

This is also one of my favorites as I love all the textures I’ve added.

I have put 100% into all 3 pieces and saturated every area of skin. I don’t feel like I have completed a piece until I have done this.

What got you interested in tattooing?

When I was 12 years old, I was standing on my doorstep with my friend, when he said he could do everything better than me. I playfully told him...

“You cannot draw as well as me.”

He laughed and replied...

“That don’t count. Where will that get you in life?”

I had no answer.

With this hurtful thought playing on my mind all day, I knew I had to prove him wrong. That night I thought of ways to develop my artistic talent into something bigger. And that’s when I came across the possibility of being a tattoo artist. I fell in love with this idea so much, from then on I knew this is what I needed to do.

What was the next step in your tattooing journey?

I started watching Miami Ink all the time. I loved their passion and ideas for things. They got to draw whenever they wanted! I remember binge watching and creating tattoo designs for people. I didn’t really know what my style would be. I just knew I wanted to tattoo.

What were your biggest challenges in becoming a tattoo artist?

Being mostly a self-taught artist.

I kept it between family and friends to start with as I wanted to get to an acceptable level before letting others know I was practicing tattoos. This was due to not wanting many people to talk bad about my work before I even started and be labelled as a "scratcher" by others in the industry.

Word travels easy where I live and one bad tattoo could ruin my reputation to ever be a professional tattooist at all.

So I kept to myself and worked hard. I researched all the information I could find to get me started on fake skins and fruits and I just practiced and practiced on my own. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right — including cleanliness — before attempting to tattoo anyone.

After 4 hard years I felt I was ready to start tattooing the public.

Which resources or experiences had the biggest impact on your development as a tattoo artist?

Lots of trial & error!

I followed many great artists to gather all the information I could. Good resources were not easy to find but this made me appreciate the journey more.

When I started tattooing clients it was so important to stay within my comfort zone. I turned down many tattoos that I would’ve loved to do because I knew I wasn’t ready for them. Quality and consistency is more important than fancy designs. 1 bad tattoo will stand out more than 10 good ones.

I wanted my tattoos to look more realistic. After tattooing for a while I realized there was no need to use line work. By taking out the 2D element I focused more on using shapes and shades to create my pieces. I realised this was a much more effective way of acheiving realism in my work.

What helped you progress in realism work?

Doing lots of roses.

They are great to help improve shading. I remember doing my first one without linework and I couldn’t believe how much more realistic it looked. I figured If I get good at this I could apply the same techniques into other things like portraits.

Which artists inspired you the most?

In recent years, the main influences in my work are Thomas Carli Jarlier, Ralph Nonweiler and David Vega. Watching those guys work has really progressed me a lot.

What advice would you give tattoo artists looking to improve?

For realism, always trust your stencil and take your time. Always refer to your reference and remember to draw what you see, not what you know to be there.

What’s a trick or technique that helped level up your tattoo game?

One technique that’s helped me in black and grey realism is using a wider bugpin curved mag and slower hand speed. Using brush strokes back and forth allows me to blend and layer my inks smoothly.

Subconsciously, I like to keep my hand speed in time with music. I feel this allows me to keep a consistent movement throughout.

What’s your favorite tattoo machine?

As a black and grey artist, the SHADER WAND is my new favorite machine for day to day use. The difference I have noticed in my work since using the WAND is phenomenal. Franco Vescovi and the team at Bishop have truly worked their magic with this one.

I would like to thank them all for their hard work and for producing such top quality products for artists like me to progress.

Is the SHADER WAND your first Bishop Rotary machine?

When opening my studio, I was looking to invest in a machine that would be reliable and allow me to progress as an artist. I heard many great reviews about Bishop Rotary, so I had to experience it for myself.

I decided to go ahead and purchase the Nikko Hurtado Gold Magi. I’ve followed Nikko’s work since day one. He is a well-renowned tattoo artist and with his name put to this machine, I knew I was to expect good things!

Over the years I’ve collected many other great machines including the Fantom, the EL CHAPO Deluxe and now 2 of 3 WANDS, the SHADER and the LINER.

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What do you love most about the SHADER WAND?

The motor is what I love most about this machine! With built-in give, the SHADER is a perfect balance between hard and soft to give me the solid black I need and a silky smooth finish. It allows me to build up depth without working the skin too hard. My clients’ tattoos have been healing great!

Also, being a well-balanced, lightweight pen-style machine, it feels great in the hand (I barely need to grip and it just stays put!). This gives me so much freedom of movement, making it very easy to get into those positions I usually find uncomfortable.

I like saving as much time as I can when tattooing and this machine definitely helps me achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort.

The SHADER WAND is a must have for any black and grey tattoo artist!

What's next for Leon Colley? :)

I’m looking forward to doing more conventions and guest spots! I would love to see how other artists do things and share some knowledge with each other. And make some friends along the way.

There’s still so much to learn so I’m really excited to see where my art takes me in the next couple of years.




We hope you enjoyed our interview with Leon Colley! Make sure to follow him on Instagram: @leonjaycolley.

If you want to be interviewed next, make sure to post your work in our Bishop Family Facebook Group! We’re looking to discover amazing artists like Leon Colley who are under the radar and deserve more recognition.


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