Tattoo artist Khail Aitken talks signature styles, viral tattoos, and the future of tattooing

From an early age, Australia’s Khail Aitken was influenced by art and shortly after finishing high school, he began his tattoo apprenticeship. Today, he’s known around the world as a standout realism artist who continues to push the boundaries with jaw dropping displays of tattoo talent. In 2018, two of Aitken’s tattoos helped to put him on the map as an international innovator: the first being a stunning memorial portrait of the late Mac Miller and the second simply entitled ‘Cokemon.’ These two tattoos have shown that Aitken possesses incredible versatility and can seamless transition from serious realism to comical cartoons. We sat down with the Jack of all styles to learn the story behind one of his viral designs and his own thoughts on the future of the tattoo industry.

When did you first pursue a career in tattooing and which artists were influential in your decision to become a tattooer?

I grew up in a household of artists, so it was a natural progression for me. From an early age, I was interested in art, especially drawing. My earliest memories were of attending art exhibitions and painting in my dad’s studio. I started my tattoo apprenticeship at 17 when I finished school. It was not quite the job my mum intended for me, but what kind of son would I be if I made her life easy? It enabled me to grow as an artist and pursue tattooing as a career. From the very beginning of my journey as a tattoo artist, I was heavily influenced by artists like Beny Pearce, Bumer, and Benjamin Laukis. These Australian artists were constantly pushing the boundaries and working in their own unique styles, so from a young age, I gravitated towards their work.

How would you describe your signature style and how have you developed it over time? To be honest, I really like working in a lot of different styles, but it came to a point where I wanted to separate myself from everyone else. I was drawn to realism because it was more of a challenge and it kept me learning and developing. I consider my style to have more of a hyperrealism aspect with punchy colors, and I'll often exaggerate the vibrancy. This approach always takes time, involves research, and lots of preparation.

Your “Cokemon” tattoo went viral in 2018. What’s the story behind that tattoo and what went into creating the design?

A buddy of mine — who may or may not be a drug enthusiast — had been stewing for a while on a leg sleeve that involved a series of childhood cartoons that included explicit drug references. I found this combination hilarious and brave, so I jumped at the opportunity to create something unique. I was interested in pushing the boundaries and the concept of using known icons juxtaposed with drug references, which clearly adds a comical aspect to the concept.

What comes to mind when we say the phrase, “The future of tattooing?"

Tattooing is progressing really quickly, not just in terms of standards, but also equipment and aftercare. Machines have interchangeable parts to adjust to the way you personally want to tattoo, inks today can be extremely vibrant and solid. Educating people on how to look after their skin and tattoos has a massive effect on how the artwork holds and lasts throughout the years. The tattoo industry, for a long time, I feel, was not accepted, and to get tattooed you had to be a specific person. Now it’s more acceptable than ever, which is great for the industry’s growth. Throughout my time of tattooing, there have always been phases in styles floating in and out of the industry, attracting all different walks of life, and that’s what makes tattooing so diverse — it will continue to grow and evolve.