Tattoo studio makes its mark on the Belper high street

Monki Do custom tattoo studio owner, Andy Bowler, hard at work on a client's arm.
Monki Do custom tattoo studio owner, Andy Bowler, hard at work on a client's arm.

A Belper tattoo business is thriving due to what its owner says is the huge increase in the popularity and acceptance of body art.

As a result, the Monki Do custom tattoo studio on the Market Place, and its sister shop, Monki 2, are currently experiencing high demand, with some of their artists having year-long waiting lists.

Some recent work by one of Monki Do's resident artists, Mark Gibson.

Some recent work by one of Monki Do's resident artists, Mark Gibson.

Father of two Andy Bowler set up the studio in 1994 and, after a number of moves between shops in different areas of the town, they are currently well established in their Market Place premises.

He said: “The popularity of it since I started as an apprentice in 1999 has increased so much - maybe tenfold - it is just incredible.

“We get people from all walks of life coming in now.

“People understand now that it is an art studio - it’s not rough and you don’t have to be a biker.”

Andy, who lives in Smalley, studied art up to A-Level but decided to begin an apprenticeship as a tattooist rather than continue his studies and says he has ‘never looked back since’.

He completed his apprenticeship at the tiny ‘Amazon’ tattoo studio just a few metres from their current shop and then worked elsewhere for a while before returning to Belper in 2004 to set up Monki Do.

Since moving to the Market Place, Andy has added the Monki 2 shop in The Courtyard opposite the Market Place which caters for clients looking for smaller, less complex tattoos on a walk-in basis.

“We now get people from all over the country,” says Andy.

“One of our other artists, Mark Gibson, currently has an 18-month waiting list and I have a 12-month waiting list.

“The six of us all have very different styles and when we take on someone new I like it when they have a bit of a different approach than the rest of us so we can keep that diversity.

“We recently took on a female artist called Laura Fenwick who does these beautiful feminine designs which complement the rest of us really nicely.”

Andy also says that being part of the Belper Arts Trail has further bolstered the reputation of tattooing as an art form in its own right, adding: “As a result we now have people coming in who have never been to a tattoo studio before and are really impressed with what we do.”

If you are interested in Andy’s work, contact or visit

“It hurts, but it’s not unbearable!”

Andy says the urge to decorate your body is one that has been around for thousands of years.

“I think it is something primal which has always been in human nature - it is one of the oldest art forms,” he explains.

“Nowadays it is more acceptable and people get them done for all sorts of reasons.

“For some it is a right of passage; some do it as a memorial, and of course lots of people have them done when they have children.”

He does admit, however, that he receives some requests that are a little bit out of the ordinary.

“I’ve just had an email from a guy who is a zoologist and he wants a design featuring the insects he studies,” he says.

“And I’m working on a design which includes medieval marginalia for a man who is an expert in the field.

“Ultimately it is a way of expressing your identity - and that for me has to be a good thing.

“And yes, it does hurt - but it isn’t unbearable - more uncomfortable!”