Robert Ryan: So what are some things that could distract a tattooer in the application of a tattoo? And drain power from the image?
Adam Shrewsbury: Again, there are several different things. It could be the environment being real hectic, or the music could be really terrible, or maybe the customer has come with a friend who is putting off terrible vibes, or maybe the customers themselves are putting you off… I guess, probably, the biggest thing for me is when the customers themselves don’t trust you. You know? And they question every action, and every time you’re about to put red in, they’re like, “Uhhhhhh, let’s stop. Let’s not do that.” And they question you with every step. So really, I guess I feel that if a tattoo doesn’t show its strengths, it’s because the relationship between the tattooer and the customer has sort of floundered a bit...
RR: So you brought up a lot of outside influences that could distract a tattooer from achieving the pinnacle of his tattoo, but what are some of the internal things that a tattooer might experience?
AS: Maybe just lack of awareness? You know? Lack of that present moment? The here and now of applying a tattoo, and that awareness of what the customer is going through? Of where they’re at? Or, as far as a tattoo actually lacking power, that’s where it comes down to the tattooer not knowing what they’re applying. Whether it be an aesthetic that they’re not familiar with, or a particular symbolic vocabulary that they’re working with that doesn’t speak to them. When I tattoo, it’s obviously a collaboration between the tattooer and the client, but I try to draw things from my personal belief system. And I try to relate that as closely as possible to what the customer is expecting, or requiring. But I know that if I believe it, it will look correct. Or at least it’ll look correct to me.
RR: You mentioned a symbolic vocabulary. How has your symbolic vocabulary grown since you started tattooing?
AS: Oh, man. Tattooing, I think, is one of the ultimate mediums, or vehicles, for learning a symbolic vocabulary. When you’re outside of it, maybe you know what the symbols are, but you think, okay, this little black shape represents something else. And you have a very limited view of what a symbol is. So when you come into tattooing, or at least when I came into it, people were requesting these different things, and so I was almost forced to learn about these different facets, these different cultures, what things represent to different people. And then you begin to see a pattern, you know? Hearts always mean this. Daggers are always about this. The customers force you to be exposed to more symbols, and then you begin to work on it yourself. What does that particular symbol mean to me? When I’m working with a customer, I might lend them my interpretation of a symbol, even if it’s not a culturally accepted meaning.
RR: Do you think a symbol has a life of its own? And that it’ll find it’s way into a vocabulary? People are drawn to these symbols. Do you think the symbols themselves also have lives, and need the people in order to exist?
AS: Like a symbiotic relationship?
RR: Yeah. That people sustain the symbolism.
AS: Yes. I think so. Definitely there’s repetition. There are existing symbols that people use continuously, and have used for years and years, without knowing why. Like a cross, or an ankh. I feel like there are symbols inherent to the human experience, and that even if you weren’t provided with a book or a flash page, or layout of symbols, you might still come to them, just through your own personal experience of basically interacting with life. Maybe you’ll have an experience that’s like a crossroads, and then that will lead you to an X, which leads you to the fact that an X is like, “X marks the spot.”
(Adam Shrewsbury's full article can be seen in Tattoo Artist Magazine #27)
Adam can be found at Name Brand Tattoo in Ann Arbor, MI.