Tattoo icon Sutherland Macdonald had an interesting start in the business.
He never trained in a tattoo shop, completed an apprenticeship, or finished any kind of formal training in the art.
According to legend, Macdonald picked up his needle habit in the British army during the 1880s.
Already an accomplished artist, making the switch to skin and ink was surprisingly natural.
Plus, there were plenty of extra bodies to practice on.
“One of his earliest clients, Lord Byng of Vimy, when a young officer in the 10th Hussare, introduced Macdonald to scores of young bloods in his circle,” writes George Burchett in Memoirs of a Tattooist.
FOR NEARLY FORTY YEARS CROWNED HEADS AND FAMOUS PEOPLE CLIMBED THE NARROW STAIRCASE… TO LEAVE BEARING SOME OF THE MOST WONDERFUL ORNAMENTS EVER PLACED ON HUMAN SKIN.
Because Macdonald’s work was already so popular among the Biritish officers, making the switch from soldier to artist was easy.
By the time Macdonald left the army, his name was synonymous with a bold new style of tattoo art that dozens of young men were already sporting.
“When Macdonald exchanged his sergeant-major’s uniform for the white coat of a full-time tattoo artist he was already assured of a good following,” explains Burchett.
….FOR SHADING OR HEAVY WORK MACDONALD STILL USED JAPANESE TOOLS, IVORY HANDLES AND ALL.
Following his service time, Macdonald opened the first officially recognized tattoo shop in England.
In 1897, he upgraded from hand tools to his newly patented electric tattoo machine, though for heavier work he still used traditional Japanese tools like ivory handles.
“For nearly forty years crowned heads and famous people climbed the narrow staircase in Jermyn Street to visit Macdonald and to leave bearing some of the most wonderful ornaments ever placed on human skin. A well spoken, intelligent and gentle man, Sutherland Macdonald made friends of his customers, who treated him as an equal.”
Macdonald’s tattoo shop stayed open for nearly 40 years.
Source: So Bad So Good