THE MAIN THING (is to keep the MAIN thing, the MAIN thing)

Hi again. Paul here with another That Tattoo Show – Show note. The Main Thing. Before I explain why the above quote by author Stephen R Covey bubbled to the top of my conscious mind this month. Let me tell you a little tale from lockdown.

The Main Thing

I’m sure we’re all still dealing with the various long term effects of the 2020 clusterfuck/lockdowns and I’m no different. Keeping our studios open, heads above the water and not getting eaten by Magna Carta reading, 4th dimensional lizards all seem to be ongoing problems. Side note; I actually read the Magna Carta during lockdown and its very boring. True Story.
Anyway, enough conspiracy nonsense. Before I go on please don’t think I’m gloating when I say that lockdown was great. I have many friends that really struggled and suffered during them. So I fully understand and acknowledge that for some it was hell on earth. And something they may never fully recover from. But me? I had the time of my life. Sorry.


I’m very fortunate that my business is set up in such a way that it can survive a pandemic. We’ve always run it very ‘nimble’. By keeping stock levels sensible and not running out and buying every new gadget that comes out.  We’re also not over extended, in a premium location with high running costs or running a line of credit. Put simply we’re in good shape.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst has always been our attitude. So going into lockdown, I wasn’t very concerned. I was essentially given an extended paid holiday for the first time in my life. And I decided, after a few days of partying like it was 1999, to make the most of it. And I did and I and a blast, sorry.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much my struggles came after lockdown. That’s what I want to talk to you about.
The first of my two main problems has been easier to understand and figure out. If you’re an anxious person like me. Not leaving your home for 4 months WILL have an effect on you. I didn’t set foot outside my house. I stayed home, didn’t interact with anyone unless it was via a screen. And it wasn’t a problem. Or so I thought.
I realised that isolation had adversely affected me when i had my first panic attack in years. In the cheese aisle in Sainsburys of all places. I abandoned my trolley and shakily made my way to my car where I lay on the backseat trying to remember how to breath and stop my heart from bursting out of my chest like the fucking Alien thinking “I’m not even scared of cheese” I’ve had a couple incidents like that since. But as I slowly rejoin human society things are getting better. One day at a time right?
My other problem didn’t really seem like one until very recently. And THAT my friends is the subject of this months column.


During the lockdowns I indulged a few of my passions. At that point I’d spent almost 10 years on the road. Travelling from convention to convention all over the world. Land on Thursday, setup and tattoo, fly out Monday. Tattoo at Modern Electric Tuesday, Wednesday. Leave on Thursday. Rinse and Repeat.
It’s been a great adventure so far and one that I’m truly and eternally grateful for. But it doesn’t leave time for a lot else. Suddenly I had time. And lots of it. So I stared a few ‘passion projects’. Namely; music, painting and filming.
I started recording an album in my hastily erected home recording studio. Thankfully my neighbour at the time was almost completely deaf so I could work a loud as I wanted for as long as I wanted. By the end of 2020 later I’d written, recorded, mixed, mastered and released my first album for years AND I’d started on album 2!
When I wasn’t playing music I made enough paintings for a gallery show. Listening to Metal and slinging paint everywhere I could. I ruined countless items of clothing and the kitchen floor. Twice!
In the evenings I started a ‘podcast type thing’ with my mate, Chris. We’d been sitting chatting via Facetime about our various adventures Vlogging and filming for Youtube. We’d both hit a bit of a wall with it albeit for different reasons and had stopped. During one of these conversations we decided to pool our resources and team up. The result was a Tattoo Chat show That would eventually become That Tattoo Show. There was never really a plan to speak of beyond our idea to record our conversations in an effort to help other artists struggling and worrying their way through the lockdowns. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.
And honestly everything was great. I was having the most fun I’d had for a very long time. My music was well received and it even got played on BBC radio. Only my local BBC station. I think it played between ‘old Bob on the spoons’ and ‘Nigel’s singing tractor’. Not exactly a Maida Vale session but it was on the radio!
I also sold every painting that I made except for the ones Carron kept for the house and That Tattoo Show very quickly became ‘a thing’. Not just any thing an actual ‘THING’. The feedback we started to get confirmed that there was a massive tattoo loving audience just being ignored by the industry. So we started creating content to help and inform them.
Then we all went back to work.


About a month after I’d returned to work full-time as a tattooist I was struggling. At first I thought it was the COVID safety changes we’d been forced to make to the building. But very soon it became apparent that, that, wasn’t the problem. I thought ‘Maybe it’s anxiety?’ No, that’s under control. ‘Maybe I just need to settle back into it?’ No, that not it either.
It took a while before I realised the problem. A little too long if I’m honest. But I think that’s mainly because I didn’t like the answer. And that was that I now had 4 full-time jobs! All of which I bloody love!
Initially I put in – what can only be described as – a valiant amount of effort in order to keep them all going. But eventually, even I had to admit that something had to give. I was going to have to stop doing some of them. But I really didn’t want to. I’d put these passions to one side for ten years thinking I’d never get to do them again and I wasn’t about to give them up quite so easily this time.
I tried to convince everyone (including myself) that I just had to figure out a schedule and a process in order to have my cake and eat it. Do these things on these days, these things on these day etc etc. But in the end I realised that if I didn’t take action soon my lockdown passion projects – that are now eating all of my free time – would soon start to steal time from my ‘main thing’. Tattooing. AND that would be a real problem.
I had to own up to myself and accept a very uncomfortable truth. I’m a tattooist. I’m not a painter or a musician. Tattooing is my main thing. I’m incredibly lucky to be one and even more fortunate to be making a living doing it. And I’m certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds me. But I love playing music. It was my gig for a long time as a kid and I like to think I’m quite good at producing it. I also love painting. Even though I don’t think you’ll ever see my abstract nonsense in a gallery.
I simply didn’t want to let them go again. But I was going to have to.


The ‘big decision’ and ‘the crunch’ came when I recently bought a house. It was the breaking point. All the paperwork and solicitor stuff is very stressful. Not to mention the debt and the work that buying and renovating a house entails. The added stress and time sucking paperwork was (fortunately) the straw that broke the camels back.
Suddenly I realised just how much sh*t I’d piled onto my plate. “what the fuck was I thinking?!” I decided the only way to correct the course and keep the main thing, the main thing was to take instant and drastic action.


Now, I’m a creature of extremes. An ‘on/off’ kind of guy. So, when the decision came it fell like a hammer from a 30 story building. The impact crater was going to be quite something!
I removed all the paintings and music from my website and socials and deleted all the music from the various services it was available on. Don’t bother looking you wont find any of it. It was the only way that I could live with the decision. All or nothing. And nothing in-between. No compromises. “If it’s not a thing, then I don’t have to tend to it.” is my thinking. So, get rid of it all and move on. Don’t look back. Keep the main thing the main thing. And be grateful for it.
That left my plate with just 2 things. Tattooing and That Tattoo Show. Of course You may ask ‘Why carry on with that?’
Well, That Tattoo Show is the only one of the ‘Lockdown Projects’ that is related to my main thing. It’s about tattooing. The others were my passions getting out of hand. TTS is a joint venture. Left to my own devices I’d be making the kind of nonsense that I’d stopped making a year or two before. Chris and I keep each other in check. We help each other keep the main thing the main thing. It doesn’t all fall on my shoulders just the parts that are my responsibility. Chris and I share the TTS workload. Making it pretty easy to sustain even during the busiest periods of our lives.


The main thing quote is about Focus. As is the story I’ve just told you. Focus, is what you do to keep your eye on the ball, and stay on top of what is really important. I lost my focus during lockdown and focused on things that would keep me from losing my mind. They helped me get through what might have been a much more difficult period for me. But ultimately they made me lose my focus the main thing and I dropped the ball.
We’re all going to drop the ball from time to time. But it’s important that you learn from the mistake. Read last months column about failure if you want to know how
We’re creative people who generally like to get involved in lots of outside projects. Also we’re (mostly) self employed. So ‘the gig economy’ is something we’re encouraged to get involved in. Small business advisors start with ‘diversify or die’ types of advice and it seems to make sense. But it’s dangerous to spread yourself too thinly. Creatively speaking. So Identify your main thing and keep your focus on that.
By learning from your failures and protecting your main thing you’ll be able to come up with a better method to keep focused on what is important the next time your eye is off the ball. And that is exactly what I did. I refocused on my main thing. Tattooing.
Because ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’.
See you next time, take care. – x
Failure and not giving a f*ck
Start today.