Artists: Russ Abbott
When did you first get into tattooing?
How did you get into tattooing?
I started tattooing out of my dorm room with a mail order kit from Spaulding. A few months later, I landed an apprenticeship.
What was your first shop experience like?
I started in a custom shop. We generally created a unique design for every customer. We had flash too, mostly Cherry Creek and other assorted ’90s stuff. Suns, tribal, and kanji were really popular. I started getting into biomech guys like Aaron Cain and Guy Aitchison. New school was a big influence on me early on too. Eric Merrill and Joe Capobianco were like gods to me.
What brought you to open Ink & Dagger Tattoo?
I had been tattooing for about 10 years when I opened the shop. It was time to start forging my own path.
Atlanta—and Georgia in general—has a way bigger tattoo scene than most people realize. Why do you think that is?
I think Atlanta is underrated in general. It’s a pretty big city, especially when you factor in the giant metro area surrounding the city. We have a huge international airport. We have amazing dining, culture, and shopping. The weather is generally moderate too. “Hotlanta” is not a totally accurate description.
Do you have any special training?
I dropped out of college when I started tattooing. Everything I know about creating artwork and business, I’ve learned through selfstudy, reading, and collaboration with other artists.
You give a lot of seminars on the convention circuit. What are some of the topics you cover?
The main seminar I teach is called “The Tattooist’s Palette,” and it covers color theory and tattoo composition. I’m working on a new seminar, which will cover digital illustration techniques. I’m also honored to be teaching at the Worldwide Tattoo Conference put on by Alex de Pase in Venice, Italy, later this year.
What originally drew you to work in a more ornamental and illustrative style?
I used to work in every style imaginable. I did whatever people asked for in whatever style seemed to be right for the piece. Throughout those early years, I started to really admire traditional American, Japanese, and realism. I think the illustrative style that I developed was just a natural combination of all three of those disciplines with a little new-school influence thrown in. Of course, since I was becoming known for my diversity, I tended to attract clients with really unusual ideas, and I would try to make the ideas work as a tattoo the best way I could. I started combining traditional with realism for a more illustrative feel in the tattoos I was doing. At some point, I had a style of my own. The ornamental style started a little later. I would do tattoos with frames around them so I could mix black-and-gray subjects with more traditional tattoos around them. Over the years, the ornamental scrollwork from those frames has just grown bigger and more dynamic. I’ve been really refining my vision on the ornamental work.
What inspires you as an artist?
I just try to remain a fan of tattooing and keep up with all of the amazing work going on around the world. There’s no shortage of access to inspiration online and at conventions. Plus, we have an awesome crew of artists and guest artists at the shop who keep the fire burning.
What other media do you work in?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve thrown all of my energy into the digital art realm. I’ve been working with a Wacom Cintiq, which is like a giant computer monitor that you can draw on with a pen. The tools that I’ve discovered for designing tattoos with a computer are giving me such a boost in my process! I’ve learned so many ways to speed up and improve my process digitally that I get really uncomfortable when I’m forced to draw on paper.
You released a book titled Ornamental Archive. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I was becoming known for ornamental design, and so I decided to take the opportunity to create a reference book for other tattooers. The ornamental frames that you normally find on the web or in old books are so detailed. In order to make a more successful tattoo, I like to simplify the shapes and concentrate on defining light and shadow. My illustrations in Ornamental Archive are designed with the needs of the tattooer in mind. The binding lies flat so you can easily copy the line drawings and get right to work. The book has been out for about a year now , and it’s awesome to see the influence my drawings are having.
You’ve recently been working on the Abbott Color Wheel. What’s that all about?
The Abbott Color Wheel was the product of my obsessive quest to map the full gamut of tattoo color space. The range of tattoo colors available is steadily expanding, and I found that my ability to keep them all straight in my head was lagging. I would tend to pick the same colors every time and ignore certain colors altogether. I needed a way to see them all at once and make accurate comparisons between them. The Abbott Color Wheel has every color from Eternal Ink’s line of pigments organized by hue, value, and saturation. In simple terms, it’s a tool to help the tat – too artist decide which colors to use in a given situation. I have a deluxe package for the wheel that includes a selection of color scheme masks and a low-tack adhesive color wheel that artists can put on a wall by their workstation.
You are currently working on a new project called Tattoo Science. Can you tell us what’s going on with that? Who is involved?
Tattoo Science is a great new company that’s about to launch. They will initially be offering only one product that I know of. It’s all hush-hush until the patents are filed, but I can say that I’ve seen the product in action and I believe it has the potential to completely replace the tattoo stenciling methods that are currently used. This stenciling solution promises to replace the Thermofax machine altogether. I’m really excited about it—but of course, all I can do right now is drop hints. Stay tuned for great things from Tattoo Science. They are some smart folks over there.
Are you associated with or sponsored by any major companies or figures?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several great companies. Eternal Ink, FK Irons, True Grip, Kingpin Tattoo Supply, Tattoo Education, and Opus Tattoo Gloves all count me as a team member. It’s nice to get the inside scoop on new products and colors. I love being able to help them out when I can with criticism and praise. They are all great companies with good people involved, as far as I can tell.
Is there anything else you would like to add or tell the readers of Freshly Inked?
I would just like to thank them for supporting professional tattooing and making it possible for people like me to provide a living for my family doing something I truly love. Thanks for reading!