Angela Boatwright (photographer),
Suzanne Weinstock (writer)
Not to be overshadowed by a client list that includes Helena Christensen, Orlando Bloom, and Courtney Love, Scott Campbell has become a star in his own right. Campbell forged his own path in the tattoo world; instead of studying under one tattoo artist in particular, he traveled the world, picking up skills and inspiration as he went. Tattoo enthusiasts aren’t the only ones who have taken notice: Campbell’s work has ended up everywhere from the Louis Vuitton runway to the world’s top galleries. But he hasn’t gone all red carpet—Campbell keeps his edge by inking everyone from Special Forces in Afghanistan to Mexican prisoners.
INKED: Your family was completely against tattoos. How did you get into it?
Scott Campbell: My family is a bunch of Southern Baptists, really conservative. And like most nerdy kids, getting tattooed was a way to look cool and piss off your parents. It was the most efficient way to irritate my father I could find.
Every time you talk about your first tattoo you say something different. What’s the real story?
My first tattoo was really just a little skull on my leg. I walked into this biker shop called Dragon Mike’s and Tiger John’s down in Houston. I had $25 in my pocket and an ID from this waiter that looked like me, and I remember memorizing his name and address and birthday so I could prove it was me, and they just didn’t care. It was pretty funny. They gave me two options: You can get a butterfly or you can get a skull. I picked the skull.
So how did you get started tattooing?
I was in San Francisco working for this publishing company and running around with a bunch of punk rock kids, and I was always the one who could draw. People would always bring me their leather jackets to draw the Danzig logo on the back, or Slayer on their jean jackets. The first guy I tattooed was my buddy Jeff, who was really insistent. I had been getting a lot of tattoos at that point so I knew a little bit about it, but I was terrified at the idea of actually doing them. I said I would draw it for him and he could bring it to a tattoo shop but he was like, “I really want you to do it. I want it to be from you.” He was insistent to the point where he said he would buy me the tattoo machine and I’d tattoo him as payment for the equipment, and I finally said I’d do that. It was kind of amazing in that it was someone who believed in me more than I believed in me. And then once I tattooed him, his friends wanted to get tattooed, and more and more people. I had to find a way to put food on the table so I just called it my job.
So was there anyone you were learning from?
I didn’t have an apprenticeship, but Juan Puente helped me out. He knew I was tattooing out of my house but he was like, “Okay, kid, if you’re going to be doing it I might as well give you a couple pointers so you don’t screw people up too bad.” He does super-clean, perfect classic Americana and a lot of cholo Mexican stuff. He was a real inspiration.
Where was the first shop you worked?
The first shop I worked at was Picture Machine [in San Francisco], which was in a weird residential neighborhood next to this dirty biker bar. We had the craziest wing nuts coming through there, from Asian gangster kids to weird old Russian guys to sweaty bikers from next door and all the Mission skater kids.
Not exactly the mainstream crowd that comes through your shop today.
Well, they didn’t have tattoo reality shows back then. It still had that bite to it, that edge. You still weren’t supposed to do it, which obviously makes it more fun. We got the whole spectrum of humanity, which was great. That’s where all my best tattooing stories are from.