Neil Preston is a tattooer based in Manchester, working at Heartless Hands Club. A personal reinterpretation of the traditional style, solid black ink and a lot of existentialist quotes are what you will find scrolling his Instagram. If suffering is part of life, tattooing is surely a valid ritual to remember what’s really important and what really scares us.

How did you get into tattoos? Can you remember when you first fell in love with them?
I first saw tattoos in Kerrang magazine.I bought Kerrang because I saw the Offspring on Top of the Pops. Most of the bands l liked had tattoos. I liked the way it looked, I don’t remember seeing many tattoos in real life, which seems weird now. I was just drawn to them, they seemed very exotic to me.

Mr Preston, Heartless Hands Club, Manchester, UK
Mr Preston, Heartless Hands Club, Manchester, UK

How did you make your decision to get your first tattoo? What was it? And your latest one?
The first tattoo I got done was off a Green Day t-shirt I bought in 2000 when I was 19. It was £80. It’s now blacked over. The last tattoo I got was a little Picasso line drawing of a woman’s face on my chest.

What is your tattoo background? You started with traditional tattoos and then evolved in solid black works. How did this process begin?
I went to university studying graphic design, I was on the illustration strand of the course, I really enjoyed it, I didn’t get a job I just sat around drawing all day. It was interesting you didn’t have to be in much, just for critiques, and I enjoyed those. People were pretty honest about your work which could be hard but I think it makes you better. So that finished I got a 1st and then no one gave a shit, I was getting tattooed in a studio and just asked if I could hang out after work and during my holidays and he said yes which was nice of him as he already had an apprentice. Anyway I had been looking at traditional tattoos whilst at university and I just ended up drawing like that. As time has gone on I’ve tried to simplify my work. Less colour and whip shading.

Mr Preston, Heartless Hands Club, Manchester, UK
Mr Preston, Heartless Hands Club, Manchester, UK

Where do you find your own inspiration?
I find inspiration in lots of places, from the things I’m reading or watching or from going to galleries. Music has always been a big influence.

You do lots of amazing palm sized tattoos inspired to great quotes, both philosophical and nihilistic. Can we talk about them as literary tattoos?
I like to incorporate what ever I’m reading about at the time. I’m into existentialism at the moment; I’m an atheist so I like reading about the meaning of life and what it means to be good and happy. I also like stoicism, so I’m drawing a lot of philosophical tattoos with stoic quotes.

Would you like to work on bigger pieces? Any ideas you would like to propose to the readers?
I like doing palm size tattoos, it seems like the perfect amount of time to me, for me and the customer. It’s nice to meet someone / see them again, do a little tattoo and then they leave and then hopefully you get to see them in a few months and add something else to their collection. I like that process and I like doing 3 palm sized tattoos a day, keeps it interesting.

Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Travelling. I like eating a lot. I support Newcastle United and I watch a lot of baseball. (The New York Mets, who are shit).

What does travelling mean to you?
Travelling to me is important whether it’s to work or just to see places. My wife is a school teacher, so I’ve scheduled all guest spots so far in her holidays so she has been able to come with me. I don’t think there’s any better feeling than waking up in a place you’ve never been before knowing you have the whole day to explore. All of my best memories are from travelling and experiencing new things. I’ve recently been to Hamburg working, and it’s such a sick city, definitely want to go back there. Japan was amazing too, I want to see as much as I can.

Any upcoming guest spots and conventions?
I’m guesting in London and Brighton this summer. Hopefully America and Europe again next year.

What do you love the most about nowadays tattoo society and the sense of community?
I’m not sure what tattoo society is? Everyone I have ever met in studios or at conventions has been nice. I don’t know if I feel a sense of community, I keep myself to myself mainly.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks to everyone who gets tattooed by me, I appreciate it. And thanks for asking me these questions. Nice one.