By Kevin Miller
Tattoo by Russ Abbott at Ink & Dagger Tattoo in Decatur, GA
Tattoo Snob: Since the beginning of 2013, you’ve been working on a sleeve that you just posted. Before we start talking about the specifics, can you share your thoughts on larger pieces such as sleeves, back pieces, torso pieces. How do you approach them? Do you prefer to do these over smaller pieces?
Russ Abbott: Well, from my perspective as the artist, I feel most comfortable doing large-scale work, specifically arm sleeves, although I am doing more torso work than ever before. But with the sleeves, I love the unique challenge of designing around a cylinder. I also love that the work is such a serious part of the collectors life. Obviously, arm tattoos get seen by a lot of people in day to day interactions. I like to think about how the piece will be viewed by the world outside of tattooing. I ask myself, “Will this be the tattoo that changes someone’s mind about tattooing?” Hopefully in favor of it. Haha! But I do really love when client’s tell me stories about members of their family going from tattoo critics to true fans after seeing the work I do for them. I’m sure every tattooer gets those stories.
TS: Let’s talk about the concept of this sleeve. How did it come about?
RA: I met the collector, Chris a few times through mutual friends. He didn’t have any tattoos a couple of years ago but he’s gotten covered up fast! When he talked to me about doing his sleeve I was pumped because in just a short time, he had already managed to collect nice work from amazing artists like Timmy B, Kelly Doty, and Ryan Thomas. Chris had already proven he could sit for long sessions and his skin tone is ideal for the full range of colors. Plus he seriously doesn’t seem to have any concern about what he’s getting. I would try to check with him about my ideas for colors and such and he would just be like “Whatever dude, I don’t care. I trust you.” He just had this concept that was perfect for me. If you look at the photos of the sleeve, the concept he pitched me is exactly what you see. He’s into photography so he wanted a camera, a model, and the resulting photographs. He also requested that the model be in a flapper costume and suggested I fill space with my signature ornamental scrollwork. I loved that his concept would give me the opportunity to showcase two distinctly different styles of my work, black and gray realism, and illustrative color.
TS: You made all of the stops in preparing this sleeve, including models and photographers. Can you tell us about that process?
RA: For the way I tattoo, I always need to find the best reference material available. I could have probably found a decent reference photo for the camera and maybe even the girl, but to hit the jackpot and find multiple poses of the same girl in the right costuming? Not likely. But I did start with a Google search to see what I could dig up. No dice. Then I contacted a few models to see if they had any photo sets that might fit the project. Several beautiful girls sent me photos but I still didn’t find anything that felt right. In the process of seeking out models, a friend suggested I talk to a local model named Brittany Michelle aka Ladee Danger. Luckily, she was stoked about the idea and even offered to handle her own costuming, hair, and makeup. We met at the shop one day and spent several hours taking photos. Mary D. helped out with the photos and the lights. Thanks Mary and Brittany! I couldn’t have done this without your help.
TS: Do you prepare for every sleeve, back piece, and torso piece in the same way?
RA: Full on photoshoots are not required for every piece but I do put in quite a bit of work on the front end of a big project. There’s no substitute for great reference. I recently completed a Battle of Gettysburg sleeve that required me to hire Civil War reenactors.
TS: How many sessions did it take, and do you know what the total amount of time was?
RA: Chris’ photography sleeve? I’d have to guess because I don’t have accurate records but I would say maybe 8-10 sessions. 40-50 hours.
TS: You worked on this sleeve throughout the entire country, at various shops and at various conventions? How did that come about?
RA: Chris lives in Ohio or Kentucky I think so traveling was a big part of the process. He came to my studio in Decatur, Georgia for most of the sessions. But he also loves going to conventions so we met at both of the Hell City conventions and also Ink & Iron in California. Again, he’s a totally dedicated collector and I can’t thank him enough for all he went through to make this tattoo happen. Most clients don’t think they deserve much credit for having great work. But to me, they deserve way more credit than they think!
TS: Nobody really saw pictures of the progress of this sleeve as it was progressing. Was this on purpose? Do you prefer this versus posting pictures during every session?
RA: Yeah, I used to post a bunch of in-progress work because I’m not one of those artists who finishes a new tattoo everyday and I wanted to still be a part of social media everyday. But after careful consideration, I decided it was better to post quality over quantity so I made a conscious decision not to post as many in-progress pieces. That’s funny you noticed that. I guess that’s kind of your job though. Ha.
TS: You just posted a layout of a new sleeve that you did with Manga Studio. What exactly is that? Are you preparing more pieces like this?
RA: About a year ago, I purchased a massive digital drawing display made by Wacom. (Cintiq 24HD) I’ve been learning to use it ever since and I’ve found all kinds of useful drawing programs. Manga Studio 5 by Smith Micro is my new favorite though. It’s just a really natural way to draw digital art. It’s tools and interface are simple to use but extremely powerful. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
TS: What do you have lined up for 2014 in regards to large tattoo projects? Outside of specific projects, what do you have planned for 2014?
RA: That digital sleeve design you were just referring to was actually a really exciting experiment for me. I came up with the concept and did the entire design without a client to get the tattoo. I wanted to see if I could post a sleeve drawing and sell it online. I posted it up on Instagram and Facebook, and a girl brought me a deposit and set her first appointment 2 days later! So at it turns out, I think I will be able to control the ongoing direction of my work by doing custom artwork and then finding the client. I’m still not technically accepting any new clients on my waiting list so really picking one of these ready-made designs will be the fastest way to get tattooed by me. All I ask is that people show me the respect of not stealing these designs that I’m posting. Like I said, it’s an experiment.
TS: Any last words?
RA: I just wanted to thank Tattoo Snob for helping raise the standards of tattoo related media. I know you guys do this work out of love for tattooing and you incur a substantial financial strain to travel to shows, not to mention all of the time you put in. You guys always seem to put the spotlight on incredible artwork from all over the globe. You’re doing great work. So thanks!
“The Tattooist’s Palette” seminar is designed by Russ Abbott to help today’s tattoo artists realize the full potential of the color options available today. This interactive seminar gives tattoo artists his years of hard won color understanding, along with a notebook of his secret learning materials and personal interface.
By Russ Abbott
The first time I can remember drawing an ornamental frame was for a tattoo design. It was a large, realistic rendering of a Merchant Marine ship. My client wanted the tattoo in memory of his Grandfather. We discussed the options and eventually decided on a reference image for the ship The tattoo would span the entire length of his shin and I would need to invent a way to create a border for the piece. I had recently picked up a vintage oval mirror with intricately carved ornaments on the frame and as I was trying to think of a great concept for the client, my eyes settled on the ornamental mirror and I instantly knew what to do. [Click here to see Russ' Kickstarter video.]
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