A tattoo-obsessed mum-of-two is preparing to ink her entire body by her 40th birthday.
Alex Derbyshire, 38, from Bolton, Greater Manchester, has spent thousands of pounds on her inkings and around 200 hours being tattooed from head to toe – and she’s not done yet.
Alex’s fascination with body modification began during childhood.
As soon as she turned 18 – the legal age to get inked in the UK – she began her body transformation with a subtle Celtic design on her lower back.
During the following years, she added another 16 small inkings around her body – all of which could easily be concealed by clothing.
A barber by trade, entering her thirties, Alex cared less about the opinions of others and decided to take the plunge and get tattoos on her face, toes, armpits – and even a solid, opaque ‘blackout work’ covering her neck, back and arms.
Alex said: “I’ve always loved tattoos. Before I was old enough to get one, I was dying to know what they felt like.
“I have no idea how much I’ve spent in total – it must be quite a few thousand pounds – but that’s been spread across two decades, during which, on average, I’ve had one to two large pieces done a year.
“I have had the odd nasty comment, with people telling me I’m stupid for spending so much money on them, but that doesn’t bother me.
“To me, tattoos are a hobby and an art form – why shouldn’t I show them off?”
The single mum, who also runs a vintage memorabilia shop in Ramsbottom, said that tattoo culture has evolved over time.
“When I first started getting tattoos 20 years ago, they weren’t as common as they are now, and not as appreciated as an art form,” said Alex.
“People could still be a little judgemental about them, so I wanted to get them in places I could easily hide and cover up.”
But with the rise in social media, Alex soon discovered an online community of other like-minded tattoo enthusiasts.
And after seeing the community’s infectious pride for their ink – alongside the new found confidence she discovered after turning 30 – she decided to take her tattoos to the next level and turn her body into a living story book.
“I was really inspired by the people I was seeing on Instagram – especially other women,” she said.
“It’s a really friendly community and I love seeing everybody’s individual art work, and the sorts of styles and designs they go for.”
Her designs include several pieces dedicated to her favourite band, Pink Floyd.
There’s also Johnny Cash lyrics on her foot, a skull and butterfly on her neck and chest, and a portrait of Sweeney Todd – a dark nod to her job as a barber.
But one of her most distinguishing tattoos is her blackwork.
“The blackwork is more about the style than any sort of meaning,” she explained.
“I started getting it about four years ago. As it’s a completely solid tattoo – almost as if you’re colouring in a piece of paper – it’s more high intensity pain.
“And it’s not like you can ask them to stop. Once you get going, that’s it.”
She continued: “The most painful places I’ve had tattoos so far are my back, armpit and my toes. I didn’t expect that to hurt quite as much as it did.
“I have a couple of tattoos on my face – mainly little linear designs done in white ink, so they aren’t super visible – which was a very strange sensation.
“You can feel the vibration going through your whole body the second that gun touches your skin.”
“The longest I’ve ever sat without a break is probably around six hours to have my neck tattoo done,” she said.
“It sounds odd, but sometimes I almost don’t want a break – I just want to power through.
“The pain is like a challenge, to see how far I can push my body. Sometimes when you break through that barrier, it’s almost meditative.
“Even big burly blokes need a little breather every now and then, though. You can find your body starts to shake a bit after a while.”
These days, Alex has most of her inkings done by three carefully chosen artists, who she has stayed loyal to for years.
But she has picked up a few tattoos as souvenirs during holidays in Australia, Spain and the USA.
Now almost completely covered, she hopes to have all her work completed by the time she turns 40 in December 2022.
She said: “My ribs aren’t tattooed and I have a couple of patches on my right leg, but that’s it.
“I have all the actual designs I want done. Now, I just need to fill in the gaps with more blackwork.
“I’m aiming to have an entire bodysuit done and dusted by the time I turn 40 – though obviously getting tattoos is on hold at the moment, given the national lockdown.”
Her tattoos have thankfully inspired more admiration than criticism from strangers – but she admits she does get the odd funny look.
She continued: “I do get people staring when I go out, though not necessarily in a negative way.
“Online, I’ve had the odd comment here and there, but I don’t pay attention.
“It’s very unnecessary to be judgemental of others – especially when my tattoos are a personal choice. It’s up to me what I do with my body.
“I think people who hold strong opinions about tattoos may just be scared to get one themselves. If they opened their minds, they’d see it’s a real art form and a way to express yourself.”
She said: “Luckily, most people are really nice and just want to ask me where I got my work done, or tell me that they like it.”
Alex’s two sons, Joseph, 18, and Liam, 12, are also big fans of her ink – and she anticipates they will follow in her footsteps.
She added: “Joseph is 18 now, but doesn’t have any tattoos of his own yet. I can see him getting a couple.”
“I think Liam will be more like me, as he’s a little rocker.
“Sometimes he rolls his eyes, as if to say, ‘What’ve you done now, Mum?’ but I know he likes them really.”
Over the years, Alex his built up a following of more than 20 thousand followers on her Instagram page where she shares pictures of her tattoos.
She said: “I never expected my page to take off in the way it has.”
“It’s really lovely to connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts and share our designs with one another. It’s a proper little community.
“I absolutely love all the work I’ve had. It’s taken years to get here, and I can’t wait to be fully covered.
“I think then I’ll be finished, like a completed piece of artwork.”