Engraving Skin and Silver: Interview with Matt Adamson

Engraving Skin and Silver: Interview with Matt Adamson

In this article with Matt Adamson he talks about his recent collab with Tiffany & Co., as well as the importance of friends and family.

Since moving from over seas to work at Kings Avenue in Manhattan, Matt Adamson has prodigiously produced works of art that have captured the hearts and adoration of collectors, as well as artists, around the globe. Gearing up for a group exhibition at Seven Doors, and celebrating the success of a collaboration with Tiffany & Co., Matt took some time to talk to us about the importance of supportive friends, family, and a stellar work ethic. 

First, the question everyone always asks, how did you get into tattooing? Was it always the thing you wanted to do and why do you think you were drawn to it?

So, I don’t think my story of getting into tattooing differs from most of the tattooers i know, so this might not be too interesting haha! I only really cared about music and art throughout high school. I used to illustrate the comic books my friend would write and we would print them at school. I also really enjoyed playing in a band and just trying to be creative and productive in general, I don’t like sitting still..

At this point I was in high school maybe about 14/15 years old, I hadn’t really been exposed to a lot of tattooing, my cousin had an old ‘Ed Hardy’ dragon on his chest that he had done by a local tattooist and other than that it was pretty much noticing the tattoos people had in the bands I would listen to. From there I would just try and draw traditional tattoos and replicate what I saw, some of my friends would get me to draw up their tattoo ideas for them and eventually people started taking those ideas to the local tattooist and getting their tattoo done based off some of my drawings.

I went to collage out of high school to study Art and design and graphic design, almost every project I would tailor to double up and put into an apprenticeship portfolio. I would take them round tattoo studios before and after collage, one studio in particular i would go back to (Inkslingers, Newcastle) because the guy (Ian Parkin) would tell me how ’shite’ my portfolio was but also how I could improve it. I think eventually I wore him down because everyday I would be back to show him something new or a redrawn version, he eventually offered me an apprenticeship and I dropped out of collage the same day.

Can you talk about how your style has evolved over the years? What visuals, books or movies inspire you? Who are your artistic heroes?

While I worked at Inkslingers I was introduced to and told to read a whole range of books on tattooing, tattoo artists, drawing perspectives and a bunch of other books/magazines. There wasn’t a social media platform for tattoo artists back then so I would just see peoples work and study that in magazines and books. One of the first sketchbooks I bought for myself was Eckel’s Times of Grace sketchbook and I think looking through that completely changed the way I wanted to draw and inspired me greatly even to this day. 

Through the years I feel like I’ve developed originality and my style has just become more of my own. Rather than depending on what other people are doing too much I find that just trying to have more fun with projects, be creative and confident in my own ideas and thought process for tattoos.

Movies is a tough one, I always feel inspired after watching a great movie. Like how Harold and Kumar inspired me to go to white castle. Creatively i was HUGELY inspired by watching Whiplash, just the passion the kid has to to be one of the greatest musicians and the struggle and determination he has to get there was really inspiring. It made me want to get up and go do something productive.

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Currently you work at Kings Avenue, which is known not only for the high quality work the artists there put out, but also for the tight knit family atmosphere. Why did you feel it was the shop for you and can you talk about what it’s like to work there?

I always really looked up to Kings Avenue for inspiration, Mike Rubendall and Chris O’Donnell were amongst some of the first tattoo artists I was told to study and follow their work. Years later, when Jody Dawber and myself were traveling through America, we were going to be in NYC, my first thought was to email Kings Ave and ask if we could do a guest spot since I'd looked up to these guys for so long. I hadn’t met anyone who worked there before but I really just wanted to get a chance to work along side them and learn from them. As soon as I did the first day, I had it in my head; this is where I want to work. It was a great atmosphere and hugely inspirational to me. I think the same week I mentioned to Mike that i would love to work there some day, and he just said great, we'd love to have you. I moved there from the UK a year later!

...work hard, be humble, surround yourself with people that care about you, inspire you and push you to succeed in everything that you do.

Why did you decide to settle in New York? What about it do you love? How does it differ from where you were born?

I never thought I would move to New York, I literally just moved here to work at Kings Ave because it was a great career opportunity. I had only been here for two guest spots before I moved here from Newcastle. I actually grew up in a reaaaaaally small town in the north east of England so this big city thing is totally new to me. It's a completely different pace of life than anything I’ve experienced before, everything is GO! I love it though. I feel like I’ve met so many like minded creative people and been opened to so many opportunities while living here, and you can order pizza at 3am.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? What’s the best advice you feel you can give to others?

I feel like I was never very good at listening to peoples advice in my childhood and teens… and probably (definitely) sometimes still now. However, I used to work with my Uncle on the weekends from the age of 12-16ish cleaning windows and pressure washing caravans. He would always tell me that “If theres a job worth doing, its worth doing right” and it just stayed in my head. I definitely get a lot of my work ethic from him. I feel like I always felt like if there was something I cared about or wanted to do I couldn’t just be ’good’ at it, I wanted to take it as far as possible and really be the best that I can, and thats what I carry through into my tattooing. I just strive to always try and be better than I was yesterday.

The best advice I could give to anyone would be to work hard, be humble, surround yourself with people that care about you, inspire you and push you to succeed in everything that you do.

You recently collaborated with Tiffany & Co. to make an absolutely gorgeous collection of pieces. Can you talk about what it was like to work with such an iconic company? What was the process like and how do you feel about the finished products?

Yes! It was a really great experience and really exciting to see my designs take on a different form. I actually tattooed the Art Director of Tiffany and Co, he’s a great guy, very creative and down to earth. He mentioned he would like me to work on this project that they were going to display in the Tiffany’s window on 5th ave. Basically for the first project I designed some snakes and peonies that were hand engraved onto crystal and silver wear. 

The other project we just finished working on was their Valentines day window display which I designed some small flowers and scorpions which were hand engraved onto jewelry, all just to give examples of what they can achieve with their custom hand engraving program. I really love how they turned out, especially the snakes on the crystal and silver cups. And my family were very proud that my designs were in a Tiffany’s window display on 5th Ave! It's been a great achievement and I feel very fortunate to have been able to introduce my own style to an iconic brand like Tiffany & Co.

What does success mean to you? What is the most important thing, in life, to you?

Success for me is all about experiences and achievements, working hard towards goals I set myself and being able to give back to the people who have helped me and supported me through everything.

The most important things in my life are my family, friends and loved ones, they’re really my foundations and help me push myself. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am now and I hope they know I’m eternally grateful.

What do you like to do in your spare time or when you’re on vacation? What is your favorite travel story?

In my spare time I still try to maintain some kind of creativity and productiveness. I've been trying to paint more and do more artwork for fun outside of work at the minute, so I’m really taking advantage of feeling creative right now and hopefully keep that burning. I go to the gym in the mornings, sets me up for the day and helps me not get as stressed out and keeps my anxieties at bay. Other than that I occasionally try and play the guitar, mess around with a loop pedal and try to stop my dog ‘Smokey” from eating various things around the apartment! Every few months I try to take a long weekend somewhere a little quieter than NYC just to switch off and recharge a little.

Do you have any projects, travel plans, collabs, or guest spots coming up in 2019 that you’re excited about? Any New Year’s Resolutions you’re hoping to achieve?

The only things I really have solid plans for this year are going to visit the family and friends back home in February. I’ll be picking up a couple days for ongoing UK clients at Northside in Newcastle and a day at Jayne Doe in Essex.. Other than that I'll be working Pagoda Tattoo Convention in PA and I would love to do some traveling. I haven’t been to California before so I think that could be on the cards for later this year. I haven’t really been actively traveling and working conventions as much as I used to, for now I’ve had my head down and been building up a solid clientele at Kings Ave.

I never really make New Years resolutions. I kind of make myself lists all year round of things that I need to get done or things that I want to do and I just go through it every day and check things off, it's a great feeling and you can look back and feel accomplished even if its little things.
I'm going to be trying to focus on painting more, I just finished a painting that will be for sale as part of an exhibition called ‘Calvarium’ at Seven Doors Tattoo in London on the 21st February. Working on a painting with a deadline really kickstarted me back into being inspired to paint more.

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