Out of any of the most trendy locations in the world he could have taken his pick from, world-famous tattoo artist Ryan ‘the scientist’ Smith has chosen Exeter to open his first studio.
It is in down-to-earth Cowick Street in St Thomas that you will find Prophecy International Tattoo Gallery, and just the name alone indicates it is anything but your usual tattooist.
As soon as you walk through its modest shop frontage you are greeted with an open plan room with high-end custom-made tattoo beds and walls adorned with what at first looks like gothic and biblical artwork.
However, on closer inspection, it is in fact awards Ryan has won including first, second and third in the Best of Show category at the London Tattoo Convention – renowned as ‘the holy grail’ of tattoo awards in the world.
In fact, the competition is so prestigious that you have to be invited to compete, and Ryan is the only person to have ever scooped three top rankings, and he did it in three consecutive years.
But the true ‘gallery’ isn’t what’s on the walls, but the incredible pieces of art that are created on human skin when a customer walks in and allows Ryan and his also incredibly talented team to use them as a canvas.
Although Ryan can do pretty much every style of tattooing, the 40-year-old is most renowned for ornamental, realism, dotwork, and colour work.
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Due to his reputation, customers feel so safe in his hands that 90 per cent of them don’t even know what they are going to have done until they walk in to start their session, preferring instead for Ryan to create his own masterpiece for them.
Ryan, who flashes an unmissable gold teethed smile, explains: “A lot of clients just say to me, ‘do what you want’, and sometimes will say what they like and don’t like.
“I have a concept in mind and a lot of it is freehand. The minute you start to concentrate on how it sits on the body that’s when it turns from a good tattoo into an amazing tattoo. You have got to get the flow and movement.
“The best thing is when you finish a tattoo and they look in the mirror and say, ‘wow’. That feels so amazing.”
It is no exaggeration to say that Ryan’s tattooing skills have been life-changing for many of his customers. He has tattooed over many scars including those caused by self-harming, mastectomies and even dog bites inflicted on the bottom and legs of a woman.
Recently he even helped a young woman regain her confidence who had scoliosis and surgery scars by creating a back tattoo that creates an illusion to disguise her problems.
Ryan recalls: “A woman came to me who had a mastectomy and then replacement breast surgery after being diagnosed with cancer. She did not have nipples, had scars and was not happy with the surgery. I tattooed her breasts and she says it has made her feel more confident and has changed her life.
“She is now more happy and bubbly and is feeling like she did before she was diagnosed. Nothing is more satisfying than that.”
It was five years ago that Ryan first moved to Exeter to work for a local tattoo studio. However, he was not there very often because the majority of his time was spent travelling around the world going from tattoo convention to tattoo convention, either competing or filling a guest spot.
He was joined by his wife Sephora, a glamorous European tattoo and magazine model who he now has two children with aged two and one.
For Ryan, who was born and grew up in the New Forest, becoming a tattooist was a second career which he began at the age of 32. Previously he was a DJ and music producer after leaving Southampton University with a first-class honours degree in sound engineering and music.
The direction of his life changed course when he was waiting to start a lecturing job at the university and instead was offered the chance to train as a tattooist.
Ryan, who had his first tattoo when he was 15 years old and has been addicted to getting them ever since, recalls: “It was something I had wanted to do for 10 years, but I had been worried about changing career.
“Looking back at my life, being a tattoo artist had always screamed at me back from when I used to draw pictures on my arms in biro at school.
“I went to art college and by the time I left I was quite dismayed with art and where to go with it. Although I had been getting tattoos for four years, I didn’t relate it to art. It was just hairy bikers who did tattoos, and the college didn’t teach us about other mediums such as sculpture or tattoos.
“I don’t think our art education is that great here. In Europe, an art degree is very serious but it’s not here which is a real shame.”
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