Every tattoo collection is unique, but Martin Dobson truly has an unsual body of work. Dobson began collecting tattoos during his teens and early twenties, but four years ago came up with the creative idea to travel the world and collect work from the best of the best artists. His collection is comprised of talented tattooers across all styles and they're unified by the hexagon pattern that his work in enclosed in. We caught up with Dobson to learn how his tattoo journey began, his most memorable tattoo experience and how he thinks his collection will age over time.
What inspired you to start your hexagon tattoo project?
I hadn’t had a tattoo for years and was becoming increasingly aware of the emergence of new types and styles of tattoo’s around me. As I travel a lot, I was inspired to collect a memento from the places I visited and the idea of a tattoo for each location came to my mind. At first, I thought of a logo from a tattoo shop in each city I visited but this evolved to becoming a unique piece of art from each place, incorporating as many styles as I could. As I settled on the final hexagon shape it allowed me to get in with artists with minimal wait times (due to the size) and it quickly became addictive filling the honeycomb! Each tattoo was a short, sharp burst of creative energy that spurred me onto the next.
What was the first hexagon tattoo you collected and where did it go from there?
It all started in Queenstown, New Zealand in early 2016. I was on an extended holiday visiting my Antipodean friends and the first hexagon was with Chloe Mayes of White Tiger. Her tattoo is one of my favorites for its elusive simplicity and the fact she understood my vision (when I didn’t really) and kicked everything off! I followed this up with tattoos in Sydney and Singapore. Then in London on my return, a friend adding anther hex and the honeycomb grid shortly after.
Who are some of the artists you’ve collected work from?
Alice Rigal, Ami James, Antony Flemming, Avi Vanunu, Carlos Rojas, Chaim Machlev, Chris Corleone, Chris Garver, Dave Tevenal, DJ Tambe, Duncan X, Eddy Deutsche, Flo Nuttal, Gibb0o, Grace Neutral, Hannah Flowers, Ildo, Inma, Jacob Wiman, James Tex, Jesse Rix, Jessi Manchester, Jim Sylvia, John Anderton, John Sultana, Jordan Baker, Julien Ramage, Justin Hartman, Kelly Violet, Lara Scotton, Luca Polini, Marc Durrant, Mario Hartmann, Mat Rule, Mattia Mambo, Matty D'Arienzo, Mike DeVries, Mike Rubendall, Mo Coppoletta, NeNe, Nick Horn, Nina Smith, Norm, Rich D'Amaru, Rob Borbas, Roberto Euán, Roshan Rodrigo, Rosie Evans, Sean Williams, Steve Butcher, Steve Byrne, Tin Tin, and Victor Portugal.
On average, how long does one of your tattoos take to complete?
Each tattoo takes between 1 - 2 hours on average. The shortest was 7 minutes and the longest 7 hours.
Where have you traveled to collect tattoos?
London, Brighton, Margate, Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Las Vegas, Copenhagen, Milan, Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Sydney and New Zealand.
How do you plan on adding to your collection?
Last year I added 90 hexagons to create a full leg sleeve and I have so far filled four of these so I have a number of years left of this project.
How many hexagons have you filled in thus far?
I’ve tracked these by year:
2016 - I added 17 and the first grid
2017 - 14 and the second grid
2018 - 14
2019 - Six and the full leg sleeve
2020 - Three so far
In total I’ve had 54 hexagons filled, averaging a little over one a month. My wife refers to the project as my tattoo subscription.
What styles have you collected work from?
Some of the styles I have include traditional Japanese, American traditional, chicano, lettering, stick & poke, black-and-grey, portraits, new school, abstract, cartoon, 3D and realism.
How do you go about selecting the designs for your tattoos?
The idea from the beginning was to allow the artists to choose the style and designs themselves. Of course, I select the artists whose styles I love but not knowing what I will leave the studio with and the collective diversity is what I enjoy so much about the project.
Sometimes an artist will ask for some direction as to what I like. I really try to avoid this, as I want it to be totally up to the artist but if pushed I usually tell them about the of theirs that I love and we go from there. As the tattoo community is so supportive, artists will often recommend each other and so I get a lot of inspiration that way.
Take us through a memorable experience getting a hexagon tattoo.
One of the most recent tattoos I got was earlier this year with NeNe in LA. I met him back in September 2016, when I was with Ami James in London. We hung out whilst I was getting tattooed and connected on a shared passion for music, which is also the industry I work in. We’ve been trying to get together for NeNe to tattoo me since then and it finally happened in January 2020 in Korea town at his shop.
When he asked what I’d like I explained the free reign concept and that I wanted something that was truly his personal style. He was always going to something in the Chicano style, but before he chose, he asked if he could tell me a little about the history of the style and culture. The next half an hour was a fascinating journey and education, explaining the imagery and meanings behind them. I heard about Mexican American culture, the connection to family and symbolism behind the use of the style in prison. It was amazing and gave me an insight into the meaning behind the design, I felt like I could wear the tattoo a bit more authentically, even though I am so far away from the culture.
Which artists would you like to get tattooed from in the future?
I had 6 tattoos booked in pre-covid which had to be cancelled. With Dansin, Henning, Victor Chil, Duda Lozano, Edit Paints and with Evi, she's from my local tattoo shop which I have walked passed every day for the last 10 years. I will get make sure all of these happen as soon as I can safely and beyond that I have 100+ artists on my radar, many of whom I’ve had discussions with, including legends Filip Leu, Nikko Hurtado, BJ Betts, Gakkin—far too many to mention them all.
Do you have any tattoos aside from your hexagons?
I have a lot of tribal from my teenage years and early twenties. It was a time in my life where I was just discovering tattoos and it was the 90s. The less said the better but…no regrets!
Would you consider getting a non-hexagon tattoo?
Yes, absolutely. A frustration I've had with the project is that it limits these amazing artists to such a small space. Pretty much every time I'm getting a tattoo I consider asking the artist for another piece, but if I did that I would quickly run out of space.
I have a plan for a full sleeve once I’ve done some laser. Some people think that I should have more hexagons but I feel like a long form multi session tattoo is something I’d like to experience. I have in mind two artists who I would like to collaborate on it, but that's a few years down the line. I still have plenty of real estate.
How do you think your collection will heal over time?
I have a large number of tattoos by traditional, experienced tattoo artists who work in styles that will definitely stand the test of time. It will be interesting having them side by side with more modern styles, whose longevity is yet to be tested.
I’m very much for enjoying tattoos in the moment and understand that some will not last. They will make great memories so in some ways they will have a very long subjective lifespan. Plus I can easily cover them up if I need to!
Chris Garver once said to me that my leg is going to be a great reference to see what holds up in 20 years. I definitely felt the pressure after that.