Children’s tattoo alphabet book makes its mark

Paul Slifer with images from his Tattoo Alphabet book. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Paul Slifer with images from his Tattoo Alphabet book. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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TATTOOS and children are not two things you would automatically put together. One harbours imagery of innocence and virtue and the other can vary from a flower with “mum” inscribed underneath, to a blood-dripping skull.

Dad-of-two and accomplished tattoo artist Paul Slifer, 43, is the first to admit the pairing is an unlikely one.

But his career, which has meant conjuring up thousands of designs, has enabled him to look beyond the stereotypes and marry the two together in original and vivid illustrations.

His new book A is for Anchor: A Tattoo Alphabet is inspired by traditional Western tattoo designs, while bearing in mind the very young audience for which it is intended.

The quirky idea came from wanting to produce a book for daughters Esme, eight, and Sadie, six, like someone did for him when he was a boy.

“I can remember as a kid, a family friend made a book for me when I was young. I still remember it to this day,” says Paul.

“I loved hats and it was all about that, I loved it.

“Because I paint and draw for a living, I thought I wanted to make a book for my children and this was the idea that came to mind.

“When they were learning their ABC I came up with the idea of doing an illustrated alphabet.

“I went on the internet to see if it had been done before and it hadn’t so that was it.

“I thought the technique would work because it’s a really bold drawing style.

“It’s a tradition of image-making and these images are then associated with tattoos, like the anchors and love
hearts.

“I kept the pictures innocent, there are no scary ones in there for obvious 
reasons.

“Some of the letters were a bit tricky like X but I ended up doing an x-ray.”

The 56-page book talks children through each letter of the alphabet with a big illustration and a little rhyme.

These include “A is for anchor, always safe and sound,” and “R is for Rose, the quintessential flower.”

Each features a popular tattoo design, appropriate for youngsters, so there are no daggers or skulls.

Paul, who has been a tattoo artist for more than 20 years, hails from Massachusetts in the US and first started learning the craft while in the States.

He became interested in tattoos when he was just a teenager but they were illegal in the state in which he grew up at the time.

The budding artist went to Rhode Island school of design in New York to pursue a career in the industry and thought of tattooing as simply a hobby.

“You had to go across state to get a tattoo at the time because it was illegal where I was in Boston, Massachusetts, back then,” he says.

“I thought it was just going to be a hobby and that I would be an illustrator or a painter when I graduated.

“I was already tattooing in Rhode Island, where it was legal.

“Someone who had a tattoo shop saw my designs and asked if I wanted to work there. I never thought I would make a living from it but it became all-consuming.

“Since then I have been all over the world with it.

“It’s what brought me to Scotland. As a tattooist you often travel around. I had a portfolio of my work and in 1997 I sent it all over Scotland. The rest is history. I didn’t expect to become a full-time career but it has and I still love it now.”

Paul only planned on staying for three months but he met his now wife, Claire, and ended up settling here.

Claire is an architect and also teaches at Edinburgh College of Art, so creativity is perhaps destined to run in the family.

He opened his own tattoo parlour, Red, Hot and Blue, on Broughton Place, in 2005, and has never looked back.

The book, which has been published by American company Schiffer and is sold in the UK by Bushwood Books, was years in the making.

He started when the girls were young and admits it has taken longer than he expected to get the finished product.

“It has been a long process so they’re obviously too old for it now,” he says.

“When it was finished, they were unfazed because they’d seen it every step of the process. I’d be showing them my designs and asking what they thought all the way through. But they like it now that it’s getting attention.

“I went into their school, Towerbank Primary in Portobello, to talk about it to their classmates and I think they both liked that.

“It’s dedicated to them and hopefully its something they can look back on in years to come.”

The book, which was published in April, has already won acclaim from Total Tattoo Magazine and is selling well.

It was described as a playful way of celebrating the ancient art in an innovative way.

Painted in the traditional “flash” style of tattooing, it is designed to appeal to parents who fancy a less traditional way of teaching their children the alphabet.

An official book launch is happening this weekend at the Dalriada pub on Portobello Promenade.

Copies of Paul’s book and other merchandise will also be on sale and there will be music, face-painting and other activities for kids to enjoy tomorrow from 12.30-5pm.

He adds: “People seem to like it. I think it’s different to what people expect, I think they just expect it to be a book of tattoos but it’s not
like that.

“I’m sure some people will think tattoos and children aren’t a good combination but when they see it, and that it’s drawn with sensitivity, they will understand the
concept.

“It is drawn in the style and influenced by it but it is not a book of tattoos. I’m really pleased with it and hopefully it will do well.”

• The hardback book retails at £16.99. Order a copy at www.bushbooks.co.uk or at www.amazon.co.uk