Samuel Ross Discusses Tattoo Culture and Its Relation to Design

TTTism presents A-COLD-WALL*’s frontman reveals his ink work and the relevance behind them.

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Once upon a time, long ago, ink and tattooing culture at large — conveyed perceived ideologies of aggressive behavior and there was no doubt a stigma attached to it. Largely in part to the rowdy underground subcultures of the early ‘70s — followed closely by the rapid gang-life cultivation throughout the ‘80s, tattoos and those involved, quickly became synonymous with disruptive rebellion. Not so the case today, expressive ink-work, for most anyway, convey sentiments of self-expression and liberation from societal norms deemed overly rigid. Tasked with tapping into the minds and psyches of today’s trailblazing creators, this newly-launched series explores personal accounts on the matter and why they chose to join this ever-expanding community.

A-COLD-WALL*’s Samuel Ross is one such character, who, since his teenage years revealed an inquisitive fascination with the art form. Armed with a degree in graphic design and illustration, the London-based artist has found a means to channel his love of all things visual through various creative mediums — be it clothing, accessories, installations and exhibits. TTTISM sat down with the designer to talk tattoos, inspirations and his creative world in general.

When did you start getting tattooed?

I started around the age of 18, it’s something I was adamant about way before coming of age for tattooing legally in the UK. To be honest, it felt like a rite of passage. The group of friends I grew up with, we became fixated with italic type sets without really understanding the beauty of type, the lineage, or history – it was very much the pleasant aesthetic to tattooing rather than this real predetermined thought out decision. In hindsight, it does make me wonder if maybe there was this subconscious decision lead by a yet-to-be developed taste level.

What made you want to get tattooed?

It’s one of those things you speak on heavily growing up you know, schoolyard and playground talk. I just ended up really doing it. It’s funny how one thought can end up having a mark on your life. It was literally my 18th birthday, the first task was getting a small chest tattoo, as mentioned above it wasn’t particularly conceptual, but more so the notion of a new chapter, and a small statement to myself of what a tattoo meant, which I still stand by. The sense of freedom and liberation, deviating from the normal lifestyle often outlined and predetermined by the school system and family members.

Whom did you get tattooed by and how did you choose your first tattooist?

I actually got tattooed in this super random parlor in Wellingborough; think middle England and £50 italics. To be fair, this was my ‘first’ tattoo. But my first conscious decision in regards to developing a tattoo with a specific script style and more thoughtful placement was inked in Leicester by a studio called Tattoo 2000. At the time I was studying, which gave me a little more budget for developing ideas into ink.

How did you choose the design and placement?

I’d gotten into this habit of photoshopping graphics onto my body first, as a way to try out placements, sizing and styles. This practice was the defining factor that lead to a ‘no color’ direction for all of my tattoos. There’s definitely a strong link between my taste developing both in design, image selection and curation alongside moving away from Wellingborough to study graphic design and contemporary illustration at De Montfort University.

The dexterity and intellect behind the use of graphics blew my mind. I became entirely obsessed with typography and any style that carried a reverence, religious, or monolithic tone struck a chord. It really was a new chapter in both life and my tattoo development.

How did your first tattoo make you feel?

Funnily enough, not that different. The excitement was in the build-up, but what it did do was open me up to realizing the body as a canvas. From there I continued to add bit by bit. This feeling did change though. My first ‘real’ tattoo became a turning point, it was the moment I subscribed to taking what I had studied over the past few years and committed to carving that into my body. The whole process, now entirely conscious and in tune, felt much more sacred and quite ritualistic.

How did you build and conceive your first collection after that? How do you choose your artists and motifs?

After building up half a sleeve in Leicester, a clear style was beginning to emerge and form. At the time, religious art reigned across my upper body. Biblical quotes paired with more italics which definitely overlapped with a stint in local churches. I now look back on it as an identity crisis, but the love for religious imagery is something that I’ll always have a soft spot for. I’m still adding these types of pieces now.

After leaving a local church that I attended for around a year due to several disagreements (more so moral and philosophical than overtly direct), European history came into play. Roman numerals, the stark strong serif letter which carried the feeling of chiseled walls, were now of interest; more gritty, a little more real, less ethereal and not perfect. This was a celebration of hardship and something I felt was more relatable.This was actually around the time I found out about Sang Bleu and began to collect
images of artwork to save to my desktop.

The curation of artists, once again blew my mind, developing the aesthetic I wished to follow; empathetic, somber realist art deriving from beautiful referencing and skilled artists.

Please describe each one of your tattoos, placement, motifs, tattooist. Any interesting stories to share?

My left hand was a collaborative piece between two good friends, Nogz and Lucky, from Tattoo 2000 in Leicester. Nogz was pretty young at the time (she was around 20), so trusting her to tattoo my hand was pretty crazy looking back on it, but she’d previously tattooed my collar bones so I had faith in her work and ability. I walked into the studio with this hand-drawn interpretation of a Roman sundial that I’d scanned into Photoshop changing the rays into sharp spokes and adding a few shading lines to the sun’s face before encasing to a rectangle surrounded by a circle. It really was a study on merging clean geometric shapes with religious and Roman analogies.The second part of the tattoo was by Lucky, a guest tattoo artist at the Leicester studio from Thailand. There was no intention for him to tattoo over the top of Nogz’ work, forming one piece, but his energy and enthusiasm seemed pre-written. Once again, I’d come into the studio with this photoshopped drawing, alongside a render of the tattoo scanned onto my hand.

How does tattooing relate to design and fashion, if at all?

Both are reliant on composition and theatre to produce visual outcomes; both carry a sense of liberation and freedom, but also other moods when appropriate. It’s funny, you can spend hours on Tumblr scrolling through
images of tattooed bare bodies and dramatic pieces of couture all speaking in ways that are not audible.

How would you describe your creative world?

My creative world is endless, there’s literally no end.

TTTism represents the new digital age of tattoo media. Through digital and print, curation and products, TTTISM carefully curates authentic and captivating content as a source of inspiration for within and beyond the tattoo community.

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Ollie Adegboye

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