Paul Booth was at a Catholic school in the United States when he first began drawing skulls and monsters in his notebook.
His doodling wasn't very popular with the teachers but it was the start of something big for the New York tattoo artist also known as the "Master of Darkness".
"I've always been kind of morbid I suppose," he said in New Plymouth yesterday.
"I tattoo a lot of the scary, macabre stuff - monsters and demons and things like that. People come to me for the darker, aggressive kind of style."
The 45-year-old has brought his world-renowned style to New Plymouth for The Mill New Zealand Tattoo & Art Festival at the TSB Stadium this weekend.
He admits he doesn't know a lot about the New Zealand tattoo scene, but says he has been dying to get here for the past 20 years.
"I know it's probably one of the most tattooed countries out there, so to me that dictates that wherever I go I'm not going to meet much diversity by the general public - like the Midwest in America, where a guy like me might get thrown out of a store just for the way I look."
Tattooed from head to toe, with dreadlocks that hang from his nape to his knees, Booth certainly looks his craft.
His personality, however, seems a far cry from the dark and creepy images he marks people with.
"There is a contrast but it's because I get it all out in my art. If I didn't get all that crazy stuff out of my head then I would be a totally different person. I'd probably be in jail or something."
The freehand tattooist said he had worked on some crazy projects but still remained picky with what he did and didn't do.
"Sometimes I get people asking me to do something cute so they can say ‘I'm the one who got Paul Booth to do something cute'. I say no to that all the time.
"Also, if I think it's something that would be a mistake, I say no.
"Ethically I have a responsibility to make sure the person is ready to wear it, especially with my work, which is a bit extreme."
Booth said he had lost count of the number of tattoos he had, but said they had all morphed into about five big ones.
He got his first at 19 when he became a father, and that was the moment he became hooked.
"I had a hard time dealing with the whole idea of being a father, so I had her name tattooed on me figuring it would help me cope with the idea.
"I was intrigued with the idea of doing it, I had to learn how to tattoo. I didn't even think about making it a career, I just needed to know how it was done. And it just consumed my life."
Booth joins 253 other tattooists, including LA Ink star Dan Smith, who will open up their booths to the public this weekend.
Booth said he was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with Kiwis who he knew had a special enthusiasm for tattoo art.
"There's so much more enthusiasm because there's a deeper appreciation for their cultural history," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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