Kelvin Leow looks like the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with. He doesn’t say much, hardly smiles, and is covered in tatts, even in areas you winge to think about how it must have hurt – basically the kind of guy your parents warned you not to hang with. But if there’s anything that the tattoo subculture has taught us, it’s not to judge the book by its cover. And even if you did judge Leow, he doesn’t give a damn.
Over his nine-year career, Leow has managed to cement himself as one of the bigger players when it comes to the black-and-grey and realism tattoos. He doesn’t discuss much about his work. Well, he really doesn’t need to because it simply speaks for itself. It’s even more impressive when the 30-year-old tells us he has never even done much illustrating before he started tattooing. He just dove right into the thick of it.
Here’s how it happened: at age 21, while getting a full back piece done, he chatted with the artist and casually enquired if it was possible to do an apprenticeship with him. He was completely taken aback when the artist said yes. “I went to the studio for a back piece but ended up getting a mentor, so that was cool,” Leow shares, leaning back in his seat.
Don’t let his air of nonchalance fool you though. This artist has put years of dedication into his craft to achieve his current skill level. Sure, he’s recognised all over the globe now, but there was a time when Leow would spend days on end practising on fruit. His career has also leveraged on the rise of social media. “Back in the day, we only had magazines to find out what other artists around the world were up to. These days everyone posts their work on Instagram. It’s great because there are more artists but it’s also getting saturated,” Leow tells us.
Recently, popular artists have alluded to the fact that social media has heralded the rise of copycats. Leow explains that it doesn’t bother him. If a client comes in with the work of another artist as reference, he’ll try to tweak the design. “Out of respect for the artist, and my own creative integrity, I’ll change the design a little. There are clients that remain adamant though”, he says. As expected, Leow isn’t fazed about people copying his work. He’s got bigger fish to fry.
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