The top 10 tattoo artists in Toronto
The top tattoo artists in Toronto come from a thriving local scene. There is no arguing that tattoos have hit the mainstream, a fact underscored by Toronto's growing number of quality tattoo parlours. But with such a huge field to choose from who are you going to go to? Ask anyone with a tattoo and they're bound to have an opinion, but ask around and you'll see some regular names start to emerge.
These are my picks for the top 10 tattoo artists in Toronto.
Jay Decator, Passage Tattoo Parlour
Jay Decator's parlour is the definition of a custom shop. Built on a word-of-mouth reputation, he caters to those who know what they want. "When I started tattooing in '94, there was none of this "my own style" bullshit. You had to do everything and anything, or you wouldn't be paying rent," he says. "So we'd take their idea and interpret it in the cleanest, slickest, design possible. I still try to use as much of my customers ideas as I can while maintaining the integrity of the design."
Matt Ellis, Seven Crowns Tattoo
With skills honed at now defunct Way Cool Uptown, Matt Ellis quickly went on to become one of the most recognizable names in the local tattoo community. His colour work is easily amongst the best in the city. As conceptually solid as he is with his palette choices, Ellis creates stunning large-scale pieces that are more that just your run of the mill patchwork sleeve variety. He also helps those in need of cover up, and estimates that 40% of his work is of this nature.
Ronan Gibney, Imperial Tattoo
Ronan Gibney learned the trade the old fashioned way. "I was an eager 21 year old willing to answer phones, mop floors, scrub and sterilize equipment, and make line drawings of flash in exchange for the opportunity to be immersed in a professional shop environment," he says. Under the tutelage of Anthony Stephenson of Way Cool Uptown he built his trade on a solid foundation, and boasts a reputation for exceptional black and grey realism, a skill that's won him accolades at the Northern Ink Exposure convention.
David Glantz, Archive Tattoo Studio
Commended by media including Complex magazines' list of "50 Tattoo Artists You Need To Know," David Glantz is helping put Toronto on the map. Taking influences from the classical and contemporary, Glantz has developed a unique and highly sought after style. Starting his career with an apprenticeship at Lucky 13, he began sowing the seeds for his unique approach under their guidance.
Aaron Hill, Speakeasy Tattoo
In a list of the best of the best there's always room for a newcomer. Aaron Hill qualifies as exactly that. Many established artists have singled him out for praise, and in turn he speaks very respectfully of his predecessors. Hill did his apprenticeship at Good Point Tattoo in Oakville under artist, Cory Ferguson. During his tenure at Speakeasy, he's been filled with much work, including several high profile clients like Death From Above 1979's Jesse Keeler.
Derek Lewis, Lewis Family Tattoo Company
A strong illustrator, Derek Lewis brings a well-cultivated love for drawing to his tattoo work. "I grew up with comics, and just started copying them as a kid," he explains. "I do what's been called comic book realism. I guess it could be deemed illustrative as well. The "How to Draw the Marvel Way!" is a book I had given to me when I was younger, and its the one book I recommend to everyone that comes to me asking how."
Andres Merrill, TCB Tattoo Parlour
Andres Merrill has witnessed a lot of change in the 12 years he's been working exclusively in Toronto. TCB Tattoos, the shop he established with partner Scott McEwan in 2002, has become a mainstay of the burgeoning Toronto scene. If pressed to describe his style, Merrill would say it's "traditional with a bit of a biker tinge, but a little more modernized and clunky." But the 22-year veteran comes from a time when versatility was a job requirement. "It was very rare for some one to be specialized in some kind of folk-artsy style of tattooing and be busy back in the day."
Lizzie Renaud, Speakeasy Tattoo
Having worked with people she considers the best of the best in the Toronto community, Lizzie Renaud came by her considerable skills honestly. She is a consummate professional and takes what she does very seriously. "Every client is going to gravitate to their tattooer for a few reasons, but I like to think that I'm very reliable, so people can trust that I take their time seriously and know I'll be ready for them on appointment day." Her work is very bold, with a style she says "tows the line between American Traditional and illustration."
Chris Wellard, Chris Wellard Tattoo
Formerly of Passage Tattoo Parlour, Chris Wellard recently left to run his own private studio (launching this month) in conjunction with his fiancé's shop, Clara Obscura. Wellard came to tattooing following a career in graphic design. "I studied at Sheridan College in Oakville and graduated with a job that I wasn't stoked on," he explains. "Three separate apprenticeships and a lot of hard work later, I am a tattooer." With a foundation built on Japanese and American traditional influences, Wellard has become known for tattooing that is graphic, bold and balanced.
Eric Newstead, The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop
Eric Newstead has been tattooing professionally since 1995. Originally apprenticing under Oz Paredes at Tat-a-rama, he moved on to New Tribe after a five year stint. As he approached his 40s, he decided to open the doors to his own shop in 2011. The Okey Doke has slowly been building its reputation as a pretension-free destination. A playful attitude is reflected in his installation of the Tattoo Vending Machine at the shop.
Who did I miss? Add your favourite Toronto tattoo artists to the comments.
Photos by Ryan Bolton and Denis Marciniak
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