Skin Story: 'Gentle' Sammy Farrow

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How were tattoos introduced to your life and did you know you wanted to be tattooed right away?

I grew up in a small village and RARELY saw tattoos, and if I ever was to see any, I definitely didn’t know enough about them to take notice!  After growing up and not seeing any, starting college and going into the town I started to notice more, not just tattoos, but general life, going into the main town was much different to the little village.

I started noticing all these people with art on their arms and neck and found it so interesting, my dad is in the antiques business so growing up I was surrounded by art, so I have always loved art so I took interest in the art on these strangers bodies, spending time searching up tattoos as I got closer to being 18 and just taking an interest in them more and more.

Where I grew up, the tattoos I saw were all quite samey, everyone was all quite samey, and I wanted to just be myself and stand out, and what better way than the art I want tattooed on me! Different to the common style of tattoos people got where I grew up. So just after I turned 18, I got my first tattoo right away! 

Did you plan out your body before starting to get work done or was it more of a flow, getting pieces you liked along the way?

I would love to say I planned out my body before getting tattooed but unfortunately not, I’d also love to say if I could go back in time I would start afresh and plan out my tattoos on my body prior, but I actually wouldn’t. I love all my tattoos and how they have aged and changed as I have aged and changed, everyone changes as they get older in all aspects, and getting tattooed from a young age can show through the tattoos they have for over time! Which is the case for me! 

I’m happy to say though I DID plan out my face tattoos before each one, I would get my friend to draw up roughly what I wanted so I could edit it onto my face and get a size and placement before taking it to the tattooist to properly draw up and tattoo.

Can you describe what the feeling of getting a tattoo is like for you and has it changed since your first tattoo until now?

Tattoos have ALWAYS been painful for me! I know some tattoos can hurt a lot less for some people and depending on the area, but if someone says tattoos don’t hurt I always roll my eyes, perhaps they’re telling the truth and I’m rolling my eyes in jealousy, but for all I know, tattoos definitely hurt for me.

When I started to get tattooed I wouldn’t properly prepare, I would just turn up and smile through the pain. But as I got older I learnt to prepare for the tattoo session to make it a lot of an easier ride, My go to was Greggs vegan sausage rolls with a few cans of Fanta. I did most of my torso tattoos over 2 days with babysnaketattoo and had a sugary bag of sweets on deck, definitely helps with the pain, but it also definitely still hurts!

But that’s the physical side of it, the feeling of getting tattooed is also liberating, it’s self expression and I always feel thankful toward the tattoo artist for being the person to tattoo this art on me and help me express myself through this way. I didn’t realise this when I first started getting tattooed, but as I got older I realised how liberating it is and how refreshing and satisfying it is, it’s almost like a weight off your shoulders, another piece of expressive permanent art to the collection.

Did it change the experience of getting tattooed when it was someone famous like Laurie Vincent? (from the band Slaves)

In a way, yes, but I’ve always been quite nervous when getting tattooed by someone for the first time. Any tattooist I’ve been tattooed by, my first time meeting them was always nerve racking, I’d be excited to meet them but also knowing this stranger is tattooing my body! Permanently leaving their art on me! It would always make me feel so nervous, and knowing I was to be tattooed by Laurie Vincent definitely was the most nerve racking. I had always been a fan of his music and a fan of his art, I had seen him play live, had clothes from his brand, followed his art, and I was about to get it tattooed on me, I was still 18 and had also only had 2 other tattoos prior to this, only 5 months before this too, which was simple outline tattoos. So about to then meet someone I looked up to and get a big blue tiger tattooed on me made me quite nervous for sure, but he was very down to earth and warming, it was a great experience and changed the course of my tattoos! 

A lot of people see tattoos as a major commitment, even more so when they are on your face. Did you have to build up the confidence to get your face tattooed and did you have any concerns?

I had just got my neck tattooed, this big cheetah, I felt unstoppable, I was still being tattooed frequently and really wanted a tattoo on my face, I didn’t feel nervous in any abnormal way other than the common nerves I would feel prior to a tattoo.

Getting my first face tattoo was also my first time meeting this artist, and my first tattoo whilst living in London, so it was a big experience for me which I was thinking about more than the fact that I was about to get a tattoo on my face. One of the biggest tattoo no-nos I had ever been told, but my excitement for getting my first tattoo in London and meeting the artist just drowned out the nerves of that. I had long hair at the time and got them in my hairline so my defence was along the lines of “ well my hair is always down so you can’t see them! That changed quickly as I got a new face tattoo every week and they got more and more visible and then I cut my hair! 

In London I met a now very close friend of mine- Harry. The first friend I had made that also had face tattoos, the first person with face tattoos I had actually spoken to that wasn’t a tattoo artist. I watched him get a face tattoo, THUNDER written under his eye, watching someone else- a friend of mine, get such a bold face tattoo in such a prominent position really inspired me, at the time my face tattoos was all quite ‘ hidden ‘, in my hairline but he really inspired me and it wasn’t long after I got LOVER under my eye. We went to most face tattoo sessions together. Meeting him and becoming friends was another push of how this guy is a genuinely normal person, who also has a job but has face tattoos, the negative stigma I’ve heard so much about on face tattoos can’t be that true can it?

As I was getting them I definitely had concerns, everyone has always said face tattoos prevent you being able to get a job, all this negative stuff, which definitely plays with your brain, but as I said, I just felt unstoppable and I was doing me, getting what I want and how I feel, and I can gladly say, the face tattoos have never prevented anything ever, so I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self not to let the warnings bother me and that doing myself will be fine. 

As you have said yourself, there’s still stigma surrounding people with face tattoos. Has this ever impacted your daily life? For example job prospects or people acting in a negative way towards you?

Unfortunately there is a massive negative stigma toward tattoos, especially face tattoos, despite them being a lot more common these days. But unfortunately people will always have a negative view on tattoos and face tattoos, I just hope to contribute toward changing people's minds. I have had countless conversations with people of all ages that have ended in quotes around the same as this one from recent weeks “ I’ve always thought face tattoos are terrible and the person would be crazy to have them, but after speaking to you and getting a close look at your tattoos I can say I was wrong about that! “

I get a lot of stares, a lot of different expressions whilst people stare, I’m used to it now and it doesn’t bother me, I think a lot of people are just intrigued as you don’t really see someone with a lot of face tattoos in person, so I just let people take interest. I often get strangers come up to me and ask about them and it’s NEVER negative, I’ll just be stopped in the street by strangers who ask about them and I explain and we have a nice conversation and I can tell from their reaction I have definitely helped change their view on tattooed people for the better. I’ve never had anyone be negative toward them to my face, but my photos get posted around on Instagram and you get keyboard warriors comment and leave negative opinions about me in the comments about how I’m a thug, I will never get a job, I must not be a nice guy, all these vile comments when I’m actually the complete opposite.

Whilst living in London I spent my free time at the museum of natural history and going to galleries, going to Kew Gardens and the parks around London. I’ve also never struggled to get a job, I’ve always worked within fashion retail as well as modelling, the tattoos haven’t affected it one bit as having a tattoo doesn’t change you as a person, so the negative comments don’t bother me.

Being a nature and art lover, has this inspired a lot of your tattoos? 

It definitely has! My favourite plant is Ivy, I’ve always loved how it looks growing up old buildings and hanging off peoples window ledges, so I got an ivy branch tattooed on my face! The majority of my tattoos are animals and plants, I just can’t get enough of them. There's so many different animals and planes on earth and so many different ways of getting them depicted in tattoos, so the majority of my tattoos are definitely inspired from my love of art and nature. 

Do the words you have tattooed on you carry any meaning? 

Most of the words I have tattooed on me do carry meaning!  As we just spoke about the negative stigma toward tattoos, if you searched for face tattoos it was always something aggressive like a dagger through the eye. So I wanted to do the opposite and got LOVER and GENTLE on my face, personality traits. I’m a nice person, I’m down to earth and I wouldn’t hurt a fly, but being quite tall and covered in tattoos I know I’d fall into the negative stigma, so got GENTLE tattooed on the side of my head by my ear.

Across my forehead I have WILL I EVER GO HOME tattooed, I get asked about this a lot, it’s a very personal tattoo to me. HOME in sense of the tattoo doesn’t refer to an actual place, but a time in life, I’m getting older, things are changing, even now way after getting the tattoo, we’ve had a global pandemic, so much is changing, and HOME to me is a time in life when everything was simple, such as being a kid, you know?  No fears, no worries, just excited for the next day to have fun and not have to think about anything too much, so that’s quite a personal tattoo to me with a heavy weight to it.

I have TAKE CARE on my inner fingers which is a reminder to myself and anyone that sees it to take care. I then just have words I find pretty tattooed on me, FOREVER, on my face, ALWAYS, LOVESICK, HOMESICK, LOVE YOU across my thighs, just pretty words.

On my throat I have TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE, a Mogwai song title, in quite bold letters so you have to be close enough to see the statement asking to take me somewhere nice. With that- I have a few other music related tattoos, on my palm I have Frank Ocean lyrics “ I BET YOUR MOTHER WOULD BE PROUD OF YOU “, which as well as being a beautiful song, is also just a reminder to myself, and she lets me know she is regardless of the tattoo. Other music tattoos I have are such as SONIC YOUTH tattooed on my chest, SPIRIT DESIRE by Tigers Jaw on my head, Coldharts song DEVIL BABY also on my chest, Nick Cave's song ABATTOIR BLUES on my neck. Music has always meant a lot to me so a lot of my favourite artist related tattoos and a lot more to come! 

You mentioned you’ve had some copycats. How do they make you feel? More flattered or annoyed?

In a way it’s quite flattering, to see people like my tattoos enough to copy them, but it’s always quite frustrating as all my tattoos have either been designed by my friends for me to get tattooed- for example my friend Harry does art and drew me up the barbed wire in his style and I got the exact drawing tattooed, which was incredible to me, very personal.

One I have had copied was a rose, my artist Focu drew a rubbish rose on my face with thick pink sharpie and then got his tattoo gun out and free handed the most beautiful rose over the top, but then this guy on Instagram copied the rose exactly, which is flattering to know someone liked the tattoo enough, but also annoying to know this personal bit of art of artist free handed onto my face has been copied.

I’ve been copied a whole lot of times and it’s quite frustrating for how I said they're personal to me  even tattoos as simple as words hold meaning. But as long as the person is happy, I wouldn’t want someone to feel down about something they were happy and excited to get, even if it does frustrate me.

Also, I can’t not expect it to happen, if you have any sort of following and put your tattoos out there, someone is bound to like one of them enough to copy. If you go into google images and search things such as ‘ FACE TATTOO ‘ ‘ FACE TATTOOS ‘ ‘ WORD FACE TATTOO ‘ etc, pictures of my face are quite high up on the first page, so a lot of people see them. So I can’t get too annoyed, I just have to accept it for what it is.

Do you think as a society we are becoming more accepting of people's choice to get face tattoos and starting to celebrate individuality a bit more?

I would certainly like to think so! I think in all ways society is slowly becoming more welcoming of individuality and celebrating people being themselves, but people will always love to hate, people who don’t even like tattoos will still leave negative comments as it’s fun and easy for them to sit behind a screen and leave nasty comments, so that will always be a thing unfortunately.

But brands are embracing people with tattoos and peoples uniqueness, individuality and diversity in general, slowly pushing people to finally realise that people with tattoos aren’t always bad, having art on you doesn’t make you a bad person, sure there are bad people with face tattoos but there are also bad people without face tattoos. So the future is exciting for the celebration of people's individuality.