Publish: 28 Apr 2020, 09:56 pm
Sitting on a sofa in his apartment in Walthamstow, north-east London, with his dog Pingu by his side, Chris Woodhead is attempting to make space to add another tattoo to his increasingly cramped body.
There is no uncovered skin left-from the tips of his fingertips to the soles of his thighs, nearly every inch is coated in a large jumble of tattoos in varying kinds. A pair of dice fell just before the toes of his right foot started, a scorpion stretches over his inner leg, a leaning palm tree, a swordfish arching across his heart-love, and a voodoo doll floats over some small, shiny cherries.
Chris has been having tattoos on a daily basis since he was 18, around 15 years ago. Growing up, he became fascinated with the tattoo-heavy US punk rock scene, and later met Duncan X, a symbol of British tattooing who popularized the trend utilizing only bold black ink to create contemporary drawings.
"Duncan X tattooed me when I was about 19," Chris says. "And then my best friend started tattooing and he used me as a canvas - he did more than 400 on me."
At the beginning of the lockdown, Chris had around 1,000 designs on his body. Now he has 40 more and counting. When the east London tattoo studio where he works as an artist closed in the lockdown, he went into isolation with his pregnant wife, Ema, and decided to add one new tattoo per day for as long as it continued.
"I found myself pottering around, not knowing what to do and eating all the food in the cupboards," Chris says. "So the idea of tattooing myself every day was to give myself a bit of direction. Without structure, people are at a complete loss."
Any afternoon between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., Chris sits down to draw designs influenced by his present scenario. Then, after he's made a cup of tea, he places ink in a bowl and unwraps a comb. He's ready to transfer his drawing to his skin indelibly.
"I find tattooing therapeutic anyway. Right now I'm drawing what's on my mind," he says. "And there's not much else going through my mind at the moment apart from this monumental crisis."
Tattoo reading "When will it end?" on the sole of Chris's foot.
On the creased skin of the sole of his left foot, Chris has written the words, "WHEN WILL IT END?" At the very bottom of his right leg, there's a spherical Coronavirus particle. On his sternum - a place where it "feels like you're going straight into the bone" - Chris withstood the pain to tattoo his own homage to the National Health Service.
"The thing I find so deeply sad is that it's taken this situation for people to truly appreciate the NHS, and to realize that their jobs are incredibly hard," he says.
Chris attached a jumping tiger to his body in homage to Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage-the hero of the Netflix Tiger King show, a lockdown that he and Ema had just finished watching.
A week later he was inspired by the birth of a niece to tattoo the logo of Japanese mayonnaise manufacturer Kewpie, a cute wide-eyed baby. And on day 23 Chris inked an image of a sperm, swimming across his upper arm, a reference to the child that Ema and he will have in July.
Chris utilizes a low-tech tattooing method known as hand poking, which requires a hand-held needle to drive the pigment deep through the skin without the aid of electricity. The technique is increasing traction, he notes, because it's a lot less invasive and uncomfortable than having a tattoo with a tattoo gun.
"It's like you have a quill that you dip into a pot of ink, but you're only able to dot it into the skin," Chris says. "It's really, really difficult to be precise - each dot matters - and it takes quite a lot longer than working with a tattoo gun."
Yet he's still aware that he's going to have to conserve room on his body to ink the name of his new child as it comes. So he's been measuring how much tattooless skin he's left to start his lockdown idea.
"I want them to be good tattoos, so to try to keep them exciting, realistically, I've probably got a month's worth of tattoo space left," Chris says.
"If I'm truly honest, I look ridiculous - I look like a piece of blue cheese. There is very little space left that I can actually reach."