Currently reading : Ten Questions: Adam Sage
Into You Tattoo has long been regarded as an innovative and forward-thinking tattoo shop. The shop’s London and Brighton locations host a number of well-regarded tattooists who actively push the limits of tattooing both aesthetically and technically. Such is the case for Adam Sage, who work’s out of Into You’s Brighton location, and creates seemingly flawless tattoos – strictly without electricity. We recently had a chance to discuss with Adam why he chooses to work this way, his views on tattooing, and where he draws inspiration from, among a number of other things. To see more of Adam’s work be sure to visit his Instagram and personal website.
To start, could you talk about your introduction to tattooing? What is your earliest memory of tattooing, did you decide to become a tattooer, and from that point, how did you go about learning?
The very first tattoo I ever saw was my Dad’s. He is dotted with classics from the seventies on his arms, back and chest. Later on in life I learnt that he had also tattooed himself a little bit. The first time i got tattooed was in 1996, in Canterbury, I was 16. It was a gritty studio with chain smokers queuing up to get in the chair. There was a guy there getting his face tattooed and that blew my mind! I thought to myself where had all these people been hiding?
I knew I wanted to be tattooed and probably be a tattooist, but back then I did not have the confidence to go for it right away. I went to art college and amazingly a tattoo shop was on the list of places we could go for work placement. Through Steve Graves at The Tattoo Shop in Folkstone I got to know about Alex Binnie and Jim MacAirt.
After art college in Kent I moved to london for university where thanks to my student loan I started to get really covered. I was getting work from Tomas Tomas, Thomas Hooper and Xed Le Head and without the help of these three friends I would never have started tattooing and so I am forever thankful to them.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I started tattooing myself, always by hand, making my own needles and refining my technique. My friends saw what I was up to and were keen to get something small from me and that was it, from friends, to friends of friends, and then all of a sudden it was a job.
Did you decide from the beginning that you would make tattoos without a machine? If not, when did this change occur? Why have you chosen to work this way?
I started working without a machine because it was slow and steady and there was less chance of fucking it up. I had always planned to speed up and work by machine but the more time I spent working by hand the more I loved it. Early on I did a couple of tattoos with electricity, but somehow the machine made me feel like I was more detached from the practice of making the tattoo. I think I just enjoy getting lost in the process of creating things by hand.
What effects has working at Into You Brighton had on either you and/or your work? What is the tattoo scene like in Brighton and how does Into You contribute to it?
Working here means I work with a lot of great artists who are always doing interesting tattoos. We all have our own style and although it sounds cliched we naturally push each without realising it. In and out of tattooing we all get on very well and we all have varying interests outside of the shop, which means we always have new stuff to reflect on. I think that our different tattooing styles and very different personalities definitely contribute to the work we do.
There has been a big jump in the number of shops in Brighton in the last few years, which inevitably means the scene (if there is one) must have gotten bigger. However, like Into You London, Into You Brighton has always stood a little outside of the pack. I think that the tattoos that come out of here are a really good mix of intriguing, and often unusual influences, which you don’t see as much from other shops. Overall I think we offer something for everyone, but ultimately weirdos often smell their own kind and we do get some very cool and sometimes bizarre clients.
Due to the nature of your hand-poked tattoos, I am curious about your client base. Do you primarily have customers seeking you out specifically for this type of work? What other factors play a role in your relationship with your clientele?
There are people who come to me specifically because I tattoo by hand, however I try not to sell myself purely on that. I like it when people see the tattoos i do and decide to get tattooed by me, whether they know that it is by hand or not. You can go anywhere in the world and get tattooed by machine or you can tune in and watch people getting tattooed on TV pretty much any day of the week; I like to preserve a little of the mystery and I feel that getting tattooed by hand is a different experience so it’s nice when people appreciate that.
I think that every tattooist attracts their own clients to a certain degree, so the other factor that plays a role in my relationship with my customers is who I am as a person. Generally I am quite a chilled, down to earth person, but there is a spiritual side, and I think that both of these things are reflected in the tattoos I make and the process I use.
Different peoples’ energies work well together, and I will have people seek me out for a variety of reasons, some for swimming, cycling, and veganism, or just for being a good dude. However, sometimes someone who was originally a walk in, turns into a lifelong customer simply because they enjoyed the vibe and experience that was created when I tattooed them.
Since you don`t tattoo with a machine, could you speak about the implements you use to create your tattoos? I am assuming you have developed some “tricks” that aid in the production of these tattoos.
I have taken inspiration from tattooing that already exists be it japanese, traditional tribal or european, electricity free tattooing. Through observing this I have adapted my own tools to what suits my method of working and the way I like to draw.
As I said before I think that tattooing by hand still holds an element of mystery, which has somehow been removed from electric tattooing. I think this comes down to the tools and techniques I use, as much as I have observed and learnt from old tattooing traditions, over the years I have found or adapted equipment and ‘tricks’ that work for me and my style. I have been tattooing for a while now and all of the things I’ve learnt and changed over the years contribute to the tattoos I make and the customers’ experiences.
In comparison to machine-made tattoos, how long do your tattoos take to create? Are they typically being done in one or a number of sittings?
Tattooing by hand generally takes a bit longer, however it is far less intense than getting tattooed by machine and the healing process is a lot nicer as the skin is less traumatized. Like most tattooists I like to book day or half day sessions for bigger pieces, but for smaller bits I just take them as they come.
I noticed that you make collages and prints. What other sorts of non-tattoo mediums do you work in and how does the works you make in these differ from your tattoos?
My work outside of tattooing is still born from the same love of getting lost in the process of making things by hand, however with other mediums like prints, my progress is not dependent on someone else’s pain threshold. That said there is a very similar method, which uses tools and results in permanent marks. When it comes to print I am inspired by early propaganda posters where the print registration is often rougher, meaning that copied images can still retain their own individuality.
I have not done much collage work personally, however my girlfriend, Seiko Kato, does collages that are beyond belief. I think one of the reasons we work well together is that while I am sat dotting away at someone’s skin, she is cutting out 1000s of miniature pieces of paper.
Outside of tattooing, what do you look towards for inspiration? How do these things influence you and your artistic production?
Outside of tattooing I look a lot at old illustrations, 60s and 70s prints, 20s film posters, fashion and nature; I find that I take something different from all these things.
When you sit down for hours and let the process take over you like I do, it can be pretty draining so having time to switch off and recharge is good. Outside of work I try to refresh myself through being active, I am lucky to live where I do; I am able to swim in the sea and cycle round the downs, which really opens and cleanses the mind.
I am also a big old film geek, and in Brighton there is a good scene for art house and world cinema.
There is currently only a small group of tattooers who are working professionally as hand-poke tattooists. How do you situate yourself in relation to them and how does your work differ from theirs?
When I started out tattooing there wasn’t many of us at all doing hand poke stuff, and in part it was because tattooing equipment was not as accessible as it is now. A lot of those people who started out tattooing by hand now tattoo by machine, and as I said that was my intention. However as we’ve seen I never did, and initially I did not always ‘fit’ with other tattooists, people saw I was tattooing by hand but were like “you’re not a tribal guy so why are you doing it?”
Now tattoo equipment is far more available, and so for some people starting out they are choosing to tattoo just by hand. As it is now more common, customers and other tattooists seem more accepting of individuals’ styles, and people seem less inclined to put us in tribal or traditional boxes. There is a lot of good work going on at the moment, and a few new faces around, I just hope that my work continues to improve and always stands out as being my own style.
Finally, what are your future goals, whether it be in tattooing, fine art, or in your personal life?
In tattooing I want to carry on doing big pieces of work and exploring aspects of my style, and within my own art make more time for printing and exploring that medium further. I also want to improve my sea swimming distances, but that’s an ongoing battle… really I just want to stay creative and active, I think that’s all anyone can ask for.