From working at McDonald’s to becoming a tattoo artist to Bollywood stars and holding a Guinness World Record – the journey of Lokesh Verma
Celebrity artist Lokesh Verma got his first job the very next day after his 12th standard board exams. “Back in school, I would get Rs 100 as monthly pocket money, and at the end of the year, I would give it back to my mother because she needed it more than me,” Lokesh tells YS Weekender in an exclusive interview.
Growing up in what he describes as a ‘lower middle class family’ to an Army soldier father and former-teacher and home-maker mother, Lokesh led a simple and happy life. “Means were extremely limited but we did not know much about it since there was thankfully no Instagram,” Lokesh laughs.
After completing his school, Lokesh was up for anything which could make him some money. He started distributing pamphlets on the streets and selling dial-up Internet CDs from door-to-door while pursuing his BCom from Sri Aurobindo College in Delhi University. Later, he pursued his Post Graduation in Marketing from Wigan and Leigh College, Bengaluru. “I guess my father spent all his savings on that,” he says.
During college, Lokesh was hustling between three jobs and college.
“I was working at McDonald’s -- mopping floors, cleaning toilets, and flipping burgers, and selling CDs in the morning, and performed as a DJ at a local bar by night,” Lokesh says.
Fast forward to 2021, Lokesh is now an internationally acclaimed, self-taught tattoo artist, and founder of tattoo studios chain Devil’s Tattooz. His client list includes Bollywood celebrities Tapsee Pannu, Swara Bhaskar, and Remo D’Souza, and cricketers Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav, among others.
He is also the co-founder of Heartwork Tattoo Festival -- one of India’s biggest tattoo conventions.
Seeking inspiration in art
Lokesh’s first memory of art goes back to when he was probably six-years-old. “I would draw the 7-Up cartoon, Dido-Fido, in different postures, almost everywhere,” he says. When he was 14-years, Lokesh won the first position in an inter-Asia level painting competition in Japan, organised by Mitsubishi.
“However, I never took drawing seriously,” he adds.
In college, while juggling between classes and three jobs, Lokesh tried his hands at tattoo art during the weekends. “I was fascinated by tattoos. I saved a few thousand rupees and bought a tattoo machine, without knowing how to put the needle in the machine,” he says.
Lokesh tried his first tattoo on his retired Army soldier father. “I was always into drawing skulls and crossbones. I did a big demon on his arms, using a single needle...It turned out to be good and is still holding strong,” he says.
The second and third, he did on his own body. Soon, Lokesh started trying tattoos on his friends, and “It was the only thing that I did not do for money...In fact, I was ready to pay them (friends) money to get tattooed by me,” Lokesh quips.
Most of the equipment had to be imported, and once Lokesh ran out of supplies, he started charging people a little to buy the basic supplies. By 2003, friends of friends and acquaintances started lining up to get tattooed. At that time, there were hardly any tattoo studios in Delhi, and Lokesh set up his work place in a friend’s house, and later moved to a small salon in Vasant Vihar, Delhi.
From doing five tattoos a month, he soon escalated to do 15 tattoos every day. “My passion started turning into a profession. I was losing sense of time, and got engrossed in designing tattoos. Tattoos are an expression of one’s personality and it is going to stay with them till death. It was art,” Lokesh explains.
The salon shut down in 2008, and that pushed Lokesh to open his one own studio. The same year, he opened the first Devil’z Tattooz store in Greater Kailash, Delhi, followed by one in Gurugram in 2013, and recently another at Dwarka. Today, a team of 16 artists work under Lokesh, and he has the biggest team of female tattoo artists in India.
He holds a Guinness World Record with his team for tattooing the maximum number of flags on a human body.
In 2010, Lokesh was extensively travelling to the USA and Europe, perfecting his art in some of the top-rated studios in the world including Paul Booth’s Last Rites Tattoo Gallery in New York City; Nikko Hurtado's Black Anchor Tattoo in Hollywood, California; Off the Map in Massachusetts; Tommy Lee’s Monsters; Tattoo Cologne in Germany; Heaven of Colours in Switzerland; Alex de Pase Tattoo in Italy, among others.
Last year, Lokesh was invited by SullenTV to do a shoot for them in California. He was also one of the first Asians to be invited to Academie Tie Polo, world’s first university of tattooing and fine arts, to be a guest lecturer.
Lokesh has also taught more than 100 aspiring tattoo artists, many of whom work at his studios today. His first tattoo on a celebrity was on choreographer Remo D’Souza. It was a the portrait of Jesus.
“I was at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, 15-years ago. I had no clue that it would take off in the future, and how and with a little bit of luck. I consider myself beyond blessed,” Lokesh says.
Lokesh also collaborated with tattoo artist Paul Booth in 2018, who he has always looked up to for inspiration. He also wishes to work with Bob Tyrrell, Alex De Pase, Robert Hernandez, and Dmitriy Samohin in the future.
Lokesh only does colour realism tattoos and portraits. He charges for his services depending on the details and intricacies. Collectively, Devilz Tattooz serves a minimum of 600 to 800 customers every month.
The Tattoo industry
Lokesh feels that the tattoo industry in India is still in its infancy. “While there are many studios and artists, there is still no regulatory body or group that represents the profession. Tattooing has become mainstream, however, the profession itself is not popularly seen as a career choice,” he says.
Lokesh suggests that one should never get a tattoo done according to what is trending. Having said that, trends like arm banks, realism - animal portraits, minimal small line tattoos, and infinity symbols are trending.
For aspiring tattoo artists, Lokesh suggests, “Put in the work and practice as much as you can. There is no shortcut to success. Do not get stuck in doing only one type of tattoo. Specialising and having a style is good but you should be able to tattoo everything.”
Edited by Megha Reddy