Seamlessly blending inspirations from religious iconography with 90's tattoo mainstays, Sarah Schor creates tattoos that touch on the surreal and the sublime. Bent swords stabbing the cloaked saints of old, pearlescent tears and drops of blood, crowns of thorns and crystals upon the heads of old school lady heads...all of it in fine tones of beautiful black and grey. In this interview, Sarah articulately speaks about the philosophies behind the visuals.
You started to be interested in tattooing in 2006, but what were you doing beforehand, and why did you decide to make the switch? How has your background supported who/what you do now?
I was working as an artist after graduating from art college in Edinburgh where I did fine art. A tattoo shop opened up right across the road from me. I became more and more curious about it and decided to go in one day to speak about collaborative work with the guys there. Long story short, I eventually became the apprentice! It was an unexpected turn but one I never looked back from. I definitely didn't approach it from an informed place but was lucky enough to be schooled by the guys at the shop.
I suppose this fine art background feeds into my work now as I do reference a lot of traditional painting but I take influence from my childhood too. My parents were both scientists so I've always derived a lot of influence from scientific imagery too. I love the big ol subject of 'human mortality'. My work always seems to come back around to it haha.
A lot of your portraits of women make me feel very empowered. How do you build these portraits to make them seem like such real personalities? How do you balance making the client happy, and creating something you’re proud of?
Well that's really awesome to know! I like that! I guess I've put in the work regarding the technical side of how to construct a face. Which means this aspect becomes almost second nature which allows the expression and character to be what I concentrate on. Like Jme said, got to put in that work, haha. I also just love faces...emotion, expression. I think I study people a lot without realizing it. Human emotion is so interesting to me. I'd probably be a psychologist if I wasn't a tattooer haha. I don't think that balance is a conscious process. I just try to keep inspired but don't lose sight of the customer's request. After so many years doing this you start judging what customers are going to be more open to suggestion etc. My goal is to make sure the customer leaves happy.
You’re an incredibly talented artist in many mediums, so it’s no surprise that your apprenticeship was not the usual 4 year long experience. What advice do you have for others who are trying to get into this industry that can often be competitive and exclusive?
Why thank you. Yeah my apprenticeship was around 9 months but I did tattoo a shit load in that time, worked till 6 at the shop at the desk then would tattoo every night, for free obviously.
Ha, things have changed so much since I started that I feel my advice might be out of date. My natural advice would be to put in the work, go to a shop IN PERSON and don't lazily send out DMs on insta. Go and get tattooed, become a familiar face at the shop. Ask if you can show them your drawings (which you should be constantly working on, and not necessarily tattoo designs) and ask advice on what you should do to improve these drawings. Even offer to do some unpaid work at the shop such as cleaning or running errands. That's where I would start.
However the reality now is that less and less experienced tattooers are opening up their own shops/private studios and instagram has leveled the playing field in good but also bad ways. The public are being drawn to the 'online persona' over the substance of the sometimes questionable work out there.
I would advise not to be seduced by 'insta-fame' and concentrate on substance. I feel there is more longevity and integrity in this approach.
There are times when I’m more, or less, positive about issues such as gender equality, and you’ve spoken before about what it’s like being a woman in a, generally, male dominated industry. How have your views evolved over time? Do you think of yourself as a catalyst for change?
Many artists have very defined philosophies about the purpose of tattooing, including the rules that go along with the art form. How do you feel about the “rules” of tattooing? Do you have a philosophy about tattooing as well, and if so, what is it?
Social media is changing the landscape of all arts industries, including tattooing. Many galleries don’t even have actual storefronts, just like many artists only have private studios of their own. How do you feel social media has or hasn’t supported/changed your career? What are your thoughts on platforms like Instagram in general?
Conventions, constant travel, the stress of going through emails and making clients happy...how do you keep yourself healthy and sane within your personal life with such a demanding work life? What do you do when you’re not working?
I try to make an effort to see friends and get out to see art shows, et cetera, but to be honest I don't feel like I can rest easy at the minute. Like any single mother out there I want to feel I can provide a stable future for my child. My personal time is a work in progress haha.
What are your hopes for 2018? Any travel plans, guest spots, collabs or other stuff you’d like to share that we can look forward to?
High hopes. I want to get back on track with my work. Life has a knack of getting complicated but I'm hoping this year is going to be calmer for me. I'm looking forward to concentrating on my own career again and giving it the focus it needs and deserves.
My next guest spot is at Temple in Oakland, which I'm hugely looking forward to, then back to my Kings Ave in NYC where I used to work.
Aside from that I plan to get back into my Thinking of You clothing with some interesting collaborative work alongside some other collab flash hopefully coming up soon! Baby....I'm back.