Known for his incredible realistic portraits of some of our most beloved pop culture icons, Empire Ink tattoo studio owner and Tattoodo Ambassador Alex Rattray gave us a behind the scenes look at how he got into tattooing and what nerd life really means. Sci fi nerds, music lovers, film fanatics, and more can unite over a love for Alex's work, his awesome authenticity as well as his devotion to portraying our heroes on skin.
What is your artistic background? Was realism always the style you were most interested in?
I was always drawing or painting as a kid. At Primary School, I would get let out of class to paint backdrops for school plays. Then, in High School, I would skip English and Maths and just go help out in the Art class. After High School, I was excited to attend Edinburgh College of Art but was a little let down when I felt they were stifling my creativity. It felt that they were a factory churning out generic art styles. Disappointed, I gave up on art college as it seemed like there would little in the way of job prospects.
Realism wasn’t really as big when I first started. Like most tattoo artists, I did my fair share infinity symbols in the beginning but as time went on, I focused on making my tattoos more and more realistic.
How did you get into tattooing? Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?
I got into tattooing by accident. I’d given up on the idea of a career in art but then becoming a tattoo artist was suggested to me whist getting a tattoo myself. I started an apprenticeship but it didn’t work out so I spent a couple of years traveling and when I came back, I got offered a spot in another studio and took it from there.
You’re known for doing stunning portraits of pop culture icons, but who are your favorite pop culture references, movies, heroes? Who are your favorite artists?
I’ve always loved Star Wars. Like most kids of the 80’s, it was a massive part of my childhood. It’s great that we’re getting all these new Star Wars movies... even when they are bad, they are still fun to rant about.
I’m also loving the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of the characters are great and it’s awesome that we are getting so many films. That said, I like so many different types of flicks. There’s hundreds of cool characters out there and it’s always great when I get to tattoo a character that I love. We put the film on, in the studio, of the character that I’m tattooing that day; I get to have all the geeky chat with the client.
As for artists, there’s so many that it would be difficult to list them all. There’s phenomenal artists the world over that keep raising the bar for tattooing; it’s hard to keep up, let alone pick the best. I find myself gravitating towards the artwork of a lot of Eastern European realism artists at the moment. They have such a painterly style that is incredible to look at. The way Val composes her large projects is amazing and the way that O’Kharin works on giant multiple day projects is something I’m working towards myself at the moment.
You’ve won multiple awards, are sponsored by some of the best names in the business, but what does success mean to you? What have been your favorite moments up to this point in your career?
Success means having the freedom to pick tattooing projects that are more interesting. I’m starting to focus on large multiple day, back to back pieces. I get so much more done in the time and can get a lot more detail in.
My favourite moment would have to be winning a 1st place award at the London Tattoo Convention; it happened on the day of the 10 year anniversary of the day I started tattooing. The London Tattoo Convention has always been the pinnacle of tattooing to me. It was always a huge goal of mine to work it. To win a prize at it exactly 10 years to the day I started tattooing was an incredible feeling.
What was it like opening up your own shop, and why did you choose to open up in Edinburgh? What is the tattoo community like there?
Both exciting and super stressful. I’m starting to enjoy it more now that things are starting to settle down and we’re getting over the initial teething problems. I opened in Edinburgh because it’s where I started tattooing. My shop is actually the shop I learned to tattoo in. It hadn’t been a tattoo studio in 10 years but it seemed apt when the premises became available that I turn it back into one.
There are a lot of studios in Edinburgh now. It’s really exploded in the last 10 years. There’s many great artists that I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside.. and a few not so great. I’m lucky to have a good team of artists in my studio.
You’re a self-proclaimed nerd, which is awesome. What would you say is the nerdiest thing about you?
I play a lot of video games. That’s not really considered all that nerdy anymore but it was when I was a kid. The same could be said about my love of comics and Sci-Fi films. One of the artists in my studio, Kyle, got me into Magic the Gathering at the end of last year. I guess that could be considered a bit nerdier in this new age of the geek.
Any plans for 2018 that you want to share? Guest spots, travel plans, new projects?
Right now I’m just focusing on making the studio work. I’ve cut back on the number of conventions I take part in as it was wearing me down. I’m still doing some of the bigger ones though. I’ll be at the Montruex Tattoo Convention followed by the London Tattoo Convention at the end of September. I’ll also be heading to the Brussels Tattoo Convention with the other artists in my studio in October.
The second half of this year is filled predominantly with 2 day, back to back projects so I’m excited to sink my teeth into those.