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Tattoos

How Paradise Went from Prison-Style to Professional Ink

Paradise, a.k.a. Rene O’Donnell Gibson, got his start tattooing on Instagram.

Mikelle Street

Mikelle Street

Rene O’Donnell Gibson better known as Paradise. Photo courtesy of Rene O’Donnell Gibson

It seems every day that people are giving credit to social media for their success in some way. But with how pervasive it is, it's not without reason. Through online platforms, barriers to entry have been lowered and traditional routes to popularity eschewed, leading to the success of creatives like fine line tattoo artist Rene O'Donnell Gibson, known online and in the industry as Paradise.

"Tattooing came out of boredom," Gibson says of his current career. "I was watching YouTube videos on how to make homemade, prison style tattoo machines, and I got into tattooing friends through that." After finding he really enjoyed the work, which at the time was also line drawings, he quickly bought an actual tattooing machine.

That was six years ago, when inking people was still a hobby for the self-taught creative. He would tattoo randomly between a variety of jobs he was cycling through. "I didn't think line work was going to be accepted in the tattooing world, but over the years it's become bigger."

In 2015, Gibson, who had relocated to Melbourne from his native New Zealand, decided to take his work more seriously, setting up an Instagram account to showcase it. "It's pretty much all thanks to Instagram," Gibson says, claiming that he has never done color tattoos or pieces focused on shading. "If it wasn't for Instagram, I don't think I would be doing this because I don't think I could ever walk into a tattoo shop and say 'Hey I want to do an apprenticeship.'" Instead, the social media platform built up Gibson's reputation wherein he never had to apprentice, opening a private tattoo studio with a business partner in 2015.

"I like drawing imagery that is sort of cutthroat, so to speak," Gibson says of his work. His process is based around "flash work," meaning instead of custom designs for each client, he builds an evolving portfolio of work customers can choose from. "Serious stuff like knives and death and barbed wire can have very dark meanings behind them, but you can also make that imagery very romantic as well, and it's very emotional. You can have a flower and it can mean the saddest thing ever or the scariest thing ever. It depends on what idea you put behind it." His work also includes faceless figures and paradise-like settings.

Since closing the Melbourne studio, Gibson has been a bit of a traveler. He made his first trip to the United States in September, followed by trips to Paris, San Francisco, and Australia. In London, he took up residency at the popular Sang Bleu tattoo shop.

Gibson, who recently started an independent clothing company called Baby with his partner Courtney Owen, hopes to get into merchandise soon. He released his first bit of that recently in a project marketed as a collaboration between Paradise and Baby, comprising t-shirts printed with his tattoo designs.

Check out more tattoo designs by Paradise by following him on Instagram.

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