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The Story Behind The Most Viral 3-D Tattoo Ever

Tony Booth earned the attention of Banksy, and the world, with a tattoo creation that seemed to turn a man into a cyborg. Booth talks about the combo of creativity and happenstance that yielded the mind-bending look.

In just four weeks it became the most viral tattoo of all time–a 3-D cyborg-style hexagon sleeve tattoo by British tattoo artist Tony Booth, whose striking creation has so far charted almost 30m online views thanks to social media … and a little help from Banksy.

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Working out of his own salon, Dabs Tattoo based in Southport, near Liverpool, Booth is an award-winning tattoo artist with a preference for working in black and grey. Inspiration for his distinctive original designs comes from a variety of sources, including nature, geometry, art, architecture and even his own kids’ drawings, he explains.

Then there is mandala–the spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the universe–and other traditional interlocking geometric patterns, such as “sayagata” and “assanoha.” To each piece of work, however, he adds he always tries to add his own, unique twist.

The 3-D cyborg sleeve came about through a mixture of inspiration and happenstance when a customer with an old tattoo he’d tired of approached Dabs for a refresh. “It was a cover up that nothing else could really be done with–the original piece was very black and the only option was to carry on with the black and then add the pattern work and additional black shading to make it stand out,” Booth’s wife and business partner reveals.

“There have always been 3-D tattoos–like spiders and butterflies that can look very real. But this was different, and more to do with changing the original tattoo and covering it with something better and different and it evolved with input from both Tony and his client.”

Booth adds: “The hexagons and pattern work on the sleeve were the main focus, with the shading that makes the tattoo look 3-D simply a way to enhance the design.”

After 18 months work, the cyborg tattoo won Booth an award for Best Blackwork at the annual Tattoo Tea Party event which took place in Manchester in March.

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To celebrate the win, Dabs Tattoos, which Booth founded in 2005 and now employs five other tattoo artists full-time, posted a video on Instagram and Facebook. This was then re-posted by, among others, tattoo design crowd source platform Tattoodo, and then featured in the Mirror newspaper.

Which is how it caught the eye of one of Dabs Tattoos’ favorite artists. “When a couple of days later Banksy shared it on his Instagram page everyone in the studio went nuts,” Booth reveals. “That was a class moment!” A month on, followers of Tony Booth’s Instagram account have swollen by 10,000.

Though still reeling from the global publicity the video of his work generated, Booth is now looking ahead to a host of conventions and guest artist visits Dabs is both involved with and coordinating over the months ahead, including showcasing latest work at the Liverpool Tattoo Convention in May.

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.

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