Artist Profile: Simon Watts
12:06 PM
Frankenstein copy.jpgIn the many interviews I've done with artists, the issue of whether "a tattoo should look like a tattoo" has come up repeatedly. Some say that only "bold will hold," that is, strong outlines, bold color, and lots of black. Others contest that tattoos need not be limited by these constraints and can indeed stand the body's aging while not strictly adhering to these tattoo tenets. Personally, I got quite a lot of flack for my "Art Brut" chapter in Black Tattoo Art, where I featured the avant garde style of deconstructed tattoos. To some, it looked like scribble, and to others, a new and exciting tattoo genre. When such tattoos are expertly executed, I generally fall into the latter category. While so much of this work has centered in France, Belgium & Montreal [see Yann Black, Jeff, Boucherie Moderne, Loic, Noon ...], there has been an emergence of US-based artists working in this genre.

Simon Watts of Immaculate Conception Tattoo in Hollywood is one such artist. I talked with Simon about his evolving tattoo style in which he's incorporating his painting and street art approach into his tattoo portfolio. He explains:

The drawings kind of look like I just sat down and tossed off some random scribble but there really is a lot of tweaking and editing along the way. And even though it happens quite quickly and looks effortless, that is only possible thanks to years of drawing, editing and critiquing.
simon_watts_art_tattoo.jpgI then asked Simon to discuss his artistic background and how it has shaped his tattooing:

The background to my style is this: My natural tendency is to be a bit of a control freak and perfectionist, which doesn't inspire spontaneous creativity as you tend to overthink everything. So back in the 90s, I was living in central London and set myself a task of sorts. I decided to grab a big fat marker pen and head out into the night and make some drawings. This kind of set me some necessary limitations as the cops don't like you running around drawing on public spaces, so you have to work fast. Without even realizing it, I'd kind of found my own visual voice so to speak and had my own style.

I then started to incorporate this looseness into my paintings in preliminary drawings for my paintings where you'd still see the linework visible in some parts of the paintings but eventually my experiments with painting moved away from line as I started to use the same "Loose" principles in my handling of paint and the drawing part just happened with the brush rather than the pen and the looseness became the key and the line not so important.

Fast forward to the present and my control freakish tendencies helped me get a handle on the endless technical and mechanical aspects of tattooing. As I'm sure you're aware, it's very demanding to learn all that stuff. But I've finally reached a point now where I was kind of on top of all that and could put it to the back of my mind and concentrate more on what I can do creatively with the medium, and because line is so important to a good tattoo holding up over time, I naturally started to think about my drawing style and how I could apply it to tattooing.
It didn't seem obvious at first or even possible as I'd really had to relearn to draw for tattooing and my usual style contradicted everything I'd been taught. But deep down I knew it could work. After all there's lots of line movement so the line is always changing direction, which is good (no straight lines); there are lines crossing over each other everywhere, which breaks up large flat areas so you're not having to shade vast areas of flesh and trying to get it even. Plus you can play fast and loose with how you shade things. You still want to give the correct overall impression of three dimensions but you don't have to be exactly literal with directions of shading or depth, etc. So it's kind of liberating. I love it.
You can see more of Simon's work on Facebook & the Immaculate Conception Tattoo site.

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