Manchester-based artist Sam Beeston (@mas_tattoos_) talks art, nature, and his journey into tattooing.
1) Can you tell us about your style of realism?
I feel like whenever someone asks me this question I struggle to answer, because you're right, I do admittedly fall into the category of ‘realism’, but I try to distance myself from that because I find it quite restrictive.
I suppose if I’m to put a name to my style, it’d be ‘illustrative realism’. This gives me the flexibility to develop my work more organically rather than relying solely on reference images.
For instance I love putting a surreal twist on things, I love juxtaposing imagery that doesn’t necessarily go together. For instance, I’m a sucker for combining a beetle with botanicals and collaging anatomical imagery.
Image: Anatomical heart and gramaphone tattoo by Sam @mas_tattoos_
2) What does tattooing images of nature mean to you?
From day dot I’ve always been drawn to the natural world. As a kid I used to rush home to get stuck into the garden, or watch endless episodes of David Attenborough, Ray Mears or the iconic Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60!
So I suppose tattooing these kinds of things for me feels familiar, and there’s a subtle sense of reassurance that comes with tattooing things you know and understand.
However, that being said I love juxtaposing sharp, clean lines with organic forms within the natural history patchwork sleeves I do. For instance I’ve tattooed chains in and around organic forms which I find works well, and of course I love that classic sword & snake combo!
3) You studied fine art; what did this teach you? Did it bring you on as an artist?
Well, not really, I don’t feel like in the UK we are taught that creativity is a valuable asset, so for the longest time I put off any idea of studying anything creative. Becoming an artist always felt so intangible, I really believed it was impossible.
However, after sixth form, I had no idea what to do next, so I eventually moved to Manchester to study Fine Art. But, when the time came the course just wasn’t for me. I loved to draw, but the course was structured in such a way that I felt I was free falling at times, very little guidance, like, how do you assess or grade someone’s art?
So I then transferred onto the Menswear Fashion Design course which I loved…. but obviously that didn’t work out either… so I suppose studying in general taught me how to be resilient!
Image: Shark tattoo by Sam @mas_tattoos
4) How did you get into tattooing?
Before I fell into the world of tattooing I worked within menswear, designing mostly outerwear in Manchester and London for ready-to-wear brands. But the idea of fashion for me didn’t match up to the reality of working within the fashion industry. It all felt a little unnecessary. I was constantly overworked for little reward.
Tattooing was never the plan, it was definitely a process of elimination! Friends and family had always suggested it to me, but the process of hurting people at the time was always enough for me to say, no thanks - I’d rather not.
But eventually got to a point where I didn’t know where else to turn, and turns out tattooing brings an element of job satisfaction for me that fashion never did. I really enjoy coming up with ideas for tattoos and the social side of the job. It’s bloody hard work at times, but meeting new customers and catching up with returning customers is so rewarding, I love it!
Image: Beetle and brain tattoo by Sam @mas_tattoos_
5) What can customers expect when they engage you as an artist?
I like to think I provide a very friendly, streamlined approach to tattooing, from booking-in, right up to the day of the appointment. The initial communication is all over email. I find talking over social media to be very distracting. Emails mean all the information is in one place and easy to look back over if there’s some kind of miscommunication.
It also helps that the environment I tattoo in is very relaxing. I take a good amount of time for minor changes on the day and communicate throughout the appointment to ensure the customer feels comfortable.
Image: Snake tattoo by Sam @mas_tattoos_
6) In terms of your creative process, how and when do you like to work?
I’m definitely a night bird. Most of my ideas come about at night time which can be annoying when trying to navigate a work/life balance but if that’s the sacrifice I need to make to ensure I’m happy with what I put out there then that’s how it’s got to be.
7) What are your plans for the future?
Image: Tattoo by Sam @mas_tattoos_
In terms of future plans, right now I’m almost three years into tattooing, I’m comfortable with the equipment I use, I know my limits, and I’ve recently found the confidence to turn work down and recommend other artists that I feel would do a better job than me. So right now, I’m content finessing what I’m good at.
This year I’m not really interested in doing more guest spots, I’m more interested in collaborations outside of tattooing, I really want to expand my artistic portfolio, so that’s exciting!
Check out more of Sam's work @mas_tattoos_
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