Adam Sky is a custom tattoo artist at Resolution Tattoo, San Francisco’s private, appointment only tattoo studio located at 2976 24th st. in the Mission District.
He specialises in traditional Japanese style tattoos, art nouveau tattoos, floral tattoos and his own special brand of Gothic horror tattooing.
How long have you been doing this now?
I started tattooing when I was super young, at only 17. This was 1986. It’s a strange place to be in life when many of my clients haven’t been on this planet as long as I’ve been making tattoos for people. Tattooing is all I’ve ever known, except I worked briefly in movies and television when I first started learning tattooing. I was a bit-part actor on shows like 21 Jump Street and MacGyver. I’d play the part of a drug dealer in a high school bathroom or a slam dancing punk rocker and I was in the movie Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders.
How would you describe your personal artistic style?
I am most definitely a child of the 90’s pop culture art scene and my tattooing even now is a reflection of that. Back when I was first cultivating a style I was trying to emulate painters like Frank Kozik or Robert Williams. I even moved to Los Angeles in the mid 90’s to be closer to that culture. But now over 20 years later, I’m acutely aware that for my work to stay relevant and interesting, I have to continue to evolve artistically and personally. I’m terrified of peaking – of reaching a plateau, getting complacent and comfortable and slowly becoming a relic of a past era of tattooing. To combat this I try to connect with the generation of tattooers coming up behind me and pay attention to the advancements their making based on the innovations that my generation were responsible for.
How do you see your style evolving?
I try to surround myself with tattooers who are better than me and steal their secret sauce. Actually, not even tattooers who I feel are better than me, you can learn something unique about tattooing from almost anyone who tattoos because everything brings something a little different to the table, from drawing something a certain way to how to interact with customers to something more nebulous like creating an identity as what it means to be a tattoo artist.
What do you feel was one of your biggest struggles?
The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to find a pathway to becoming a successful tattoo artist in San Francisco. I had spent over 25 years nurturing a devoted following in Vancouver, Canada, my hometown and at age 42 I relocated to the Bay Area and pressed a giant, shiny red ‘reset’ button on my career. Although I did a lot of research in to what a move to another city, a foreign city would look like especially as a middle aged dude, I still grossly underestimated how much rebooting my career would suck in what’s one of the most competitive markets for tattooing. My buddy Barnaby, another local SF tattooer joked with me about how so many dudes who are big deal tattooers in their home town think that they can just drop in to San Francisco, get a job with Grime or something and just start killing it. Of course, I laughed at the absurdity but then I realized that I was approaching my move to San Francisco with similar hubris. Even going in to the move, I was friends with a lot of established Bay Area tattooers but that didn’t spare me from having to start my career over from the ground floor. I went from being booked out almost a year in advance in Vancouver, working in my own private studio with a chi-chi view overlooking the ocean to making little banger walk-in tattoos for tourists in gritty street shops and haggling over $5 price differences with stingy dirtbags. The tattoo gods are cruel but they teach us humility when we need to be taught. I’m back in the private studio environment now with enough of a waiting list that doesn’t make me shit my pants about how the next meal is going to materialize but the path it took to get to this place was incredibly humbling.
Would you recommend this profession? If so, who do you think are the most likely candidates?
No! Tattooing for a living is a terrible idea. It’s technical, way more technical than painting or illustrating and comes with profound limitations to what you can accomplish. Any tattoo you create is impermanent. Some of your art will outlive you, some of it won’t but all if it will be dust within a hundred years. Tattooing comes without benefits like paid vacation time, pensions or even defined work hours. It’s not a true art as the client always has the final say so unfettered creativity doesn’t exist in tattooing. You’re perpetually held hostage by the whims of your customers. But for those people who are pulled towards the world of tattooing with a passion that comes from a place within your soul, like it’s a world of secrets that needs to be explored and decoded, then my recommendation doesn’t matter because you have no choice but to become a tattoo artist anyways.
Resolution Tattoo San Francisco, California