Watercolor tattooists who specialize in nerdy imagery are as rare as first edition Pokemon cards. One of these unicorns of the industry is Russell Van Schaick. Using a mixture of purposely sketchy linework and heavy color saturation, he reimagines figures from animated films, cartoons, and video games, ranging from Disney heroines like Snow White to Samus from Nintendo’s Metroid series. His tattoos in this dappled style capture the personalities of the characters on which they're based, making them dance, sing, and play across his clients’ skin.
As the owner of an extensive collection of dvds and other geeky memorabilia, Van Schaick is thoroughly versed in every piece of pop culture that Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney have ever produced. He has a voracious appetite for the cartoons that captured his imagination as a kid, as well. “The classic ‘90s series are still in my regular rotation of shows that I binge on,” Van Schaick admits. “I just got done rewatching all four of the Angry Beavers seasons again.”
While he hasn’t done any tattoos of Daggett and Norbert yet, the bond shared between nerds everywhere has enabled Van Schaick to focus on creating tattoos that take after the art he loves most. “I’ve always been into nerd culture, so it was just a matter of time before people with similar interests eventually found me and allowed me to create nerdy stuff for them,” says Van Schaick. “I also enjoy the simplicity of the watercolor tattooing style. I’ve really connected with the freedom of the style, and it’s taken a lot of the pressure off the idea that it’s permanent and I can’t mess up.”
Though Van Schaick tends to downplay the technical prowess of his work, his approach to watercolor tattooing is what makes his portraits seem so animated. “I’ve adapted a bit more linework into what I do to help improve the sketchy style that I try to achieve,” Van Schaick continues. “The Darth Donald Duck and Jedi Mickey piece I did while hanging out with World Famous Tattoo Ink in Philly was one of my favorite pieces I’ve done in a while. I loved the color theory behind it, and I feel the contrast was super solid as well.”
The countless hours that he’s invested in watching movies and playing video games have given Van Schaick an intimate understanding of how animation moves, and he’s channeled this kinetic aesthetic into his work. Using expressive lines that occasionally shoot off of his figures, he imbues them with a sense of movement, and the way that he makes color spill across their silhouettes gives them the appearance of the storyboards from which they originally sprung to life.
Van Schaick’s passion for tattooing is the only thing that keeps him from being glued to the couch. He enjoys illustrating characters as much as he enjoys watching them in action on a screen. “I love playing video games, too, but I have so many things going on that I simply don’t have much time for them,” Van Schaick explains. “So, I vicariously live out my desire to play more through tattooing my clients and friends.”
Van Schaick’s watercolor characters are a whimsical example of how style and subject can come together to make something as endearing as Stitch sculpting sandcastles by the sea. His work makes us wish every Don Bluth or Miyazaki flick could be recreated in watercolor. To see more of his body art, swing by his Instagram. He works at Hart and Huntington Tattoo Co. in Orlando, Florida. If you’d like to get on the long waiting list for one of his watercolor pieces, visit the shop’s website to set up an appointment.