The Anatomy Lesson, photograph by George McLeod, featuring tattoo artist Nick Horn at Storyville Tattoo

The Tattoo Collector: Martin Dobson

Tattoo devotee Martin Dobson came up with a unique solution to collect tattoos from an abundance of artists. Decorating his body with a blank hexagonal pattern, each artist fills a hexagon with a small piece in their own style. This patchwork of varying ideas and styles has been adorned by some of the best in the business – and Martin is still working through his dream list of tattooers to add to the collection.

How did you discover tattooing and when did you realise you wanted to be tattooed? What was your first ever tattoo?

I discovered tattooing early actually – I got my first tattoo when I was 17 in a shop in Milton Keynes, where I grew up. It was the late 90’s and of course I got some tribal flash off the wall. I don’t remember having strong feelings about it but I was in a suburban state school where there wasn’t much culture – all very bland – I’m sure it was a typical rebellion thing. My dad had been dead against me getting a tattoo but he knew I’d get one as soon as I went to university, so I used the argument that he was going to let me sleep under his roof during the holidays, so he may as well let me get one then and there. It worked apparently! Over the next 5 or 6 years I got a lot of pretty average tribal, mostly completed in Thailand as I lived there for a year in 2003.

London Tattoo Convention - Martin Dobson, tattoo collector

When did you come up with the idea of collecting tattoos in a hexagonal pattern?

I had a hiatus from getting tattooed for about 12 years, between 2004 and 2016. When I first got a tattoo, I was the only person I knew who had one; as the years went on more and more people were wearing them and showing them off. Also, I was getting exposed to more colour and modern designs (I know now most were Japanese or Traditional but at the time I was clueless). Over the years everything I was seeing seemed much more interesting to look at. With all the tribal I had, I didn’t think colour would fit that well so I had just always avoided getting more.

I travel a lot with my work and had an idea subconsciously percolating in my brain for a while. I was on a big work and personal round-the-world trip taking in LA, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore and when I arrived in NZ it hit me – I should get tattoos from shops in all the places I visit over my life. My initial idea was to have each shop tattoo their logo in a small circle on my leg, kind of like a passport stamp – I’m glad that morphed into having each artist do whatever design they wanted. My wife came up with the hexagon idea so the designs tessellated and then on the 3rd of Jan 2016, at the bottom of the South Island, I got my first hexagon.

London Tattoo Convention - Martin Dobson, hexagon tattoos
London Tattoo Convention - Kobe Bryant tattoo by Steve Butcher

Do you have a favourite hexagon – or a favourite memory attached to a particular piece?

I say they are like my children, you can’t have a favourite! To be honest the last one I get is usually my favourite for a while. So by that I mean the batch of 3 I just got in LA before the lockdown by Nene, Goldlagrimas and Jesse Manchester would be my current faves. I love that after spending days adding 90 new hexagon outlines to a full leg sleeve for me (not a mean feat), Nick Horn, a very experienced and hugely talented trad Japanese artist, just filled his hexagon in orange – that’s definitely a favourite. Then there’s the first one by Chloe of course, it’s where it all started. Getting tattooed by Chris Garver in NYC was a big highlight, same with Eddy Deutsch in LA – two proper legends. The craziness of having a Kobe Bryant tattoo in summer 2019 when I don’t even follow the NBA (of course when you give Steve Butcher a choice you are going to get something Kobe!) and then seeing the huge outpouring from his fans when I posted it again at the start of this year after his tragic death. Then there’s the personal connections, Mambo in Milan, Kelly Violence in London, Avi in Tel Aviv. Getting a hexagon filled in during the last days of Into You by Matty D’Arienzo and of course being tattooed by Norm before we tragically lost him.

Ha, did I say I didn’t have favourites – I think I could pick every one out and tell you why I love it – I’ll stop now, though!

London Tattoo Convention - Martin Dobson, tattoo collector

The hexagons currently run from your legs to your ribs. Do you have plans to extend them further, or will you collect bigger pieces elsewhere?

That depends if you talk to me or my wife! I have 90 more spaces to fill currently and I’m going to try and take my time with it. Come back to me in 5 years and ask me again.

Do you have any tattoo regrets?

I feel like you should never regret a tattoo, take the rough with the smooth, love the experience not the end product. I did kind of regret a couple of my tribal pieces, more for placement and what they are stopping me getting tattooed now – but honestly, never regret. Get loads of tattoos. Get stupid ones, get funny ones, get good ones, get ones that mean something to you there and then.

My most important mantra is let the artist do what they want – you’ll get their best work and they’ll appreciate the trust.
Tattoo collector Martin Dobson getting tattooed by Ami James
Martin Dobson getting tattooed by Ami James
London Tattoo Convention - Martin Dobson with NORM
Martin meets NORM

Which artists would you love to get work from in the future? 

My god, the list is so long! Instagram is a killer, I could list them all but I won’t. I have Ami and Chris and grew up on Miami Ink – I have two spaces next to theirs for Darren Brass and Chris Nunez – Darren already has plans to do his when the lockdown is over while Chris is a hard man to track down (anyone reading this who has a direct line to him please send him word of the project!). Filip Leu has a space saved next to Tin Tin and is up for it. Nikko Hurtado has a space saved too.

I was meant to be getting tattooed at the Paris convention a few weeks ago by Henning, Dansin, Victor Chil and Edit Paints and was totally gutted we had to cancel all of those – hopefully we can do them again in October if it happens again then. Then I’ve been trying to cross paths with Duda Lozano to do a patch hexagon and we have time booked in at his London guest spot in May, I still have my fingers crossed but I imagine that will be a trip too far all the way from Brazil!

Studio shot of Martin Dobson, tattoo collector

What do you love most about the tattoo scene and community?

I love the people – from my experience they have all pretty much been the best people I’ve met over my life – super creative but mostly just really friendly and welcoming. It’s a pretty fun world to be part of.

Will you be attending the London Tattoo fest this summer? If so, which artists do you plan to get work from?

Definitely. I’ve had 8 hexagons filled over the 4 years I’ve been attending the convention (I live in London so it’s amazing). John Anderton, Tin Tin, James Tex, Victor Portugal, Mike DeVries, Justin Hartman, Mike Rubendall and Jesse Rix have all tattooed me there in the past. I love the convention setting and getting tattooed with all the crowds, friendly questions and fist bumps (none this year of course!). BJ Betts, Ben Laukis, Lewis BlackSymmetry and Steve Moore have all said yes this time. Maybe I need a booth of my own!


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