Chest: Tiger by Robert Ryan (@robertryan323) | Skull with flower by Javier Rodriguez (@javier_rodrigueztattoo) | Mouth by Sinsentido (@sinsentido10) | Stomach: Bat/girl's head by Teide (@teidetattoo)
Hand/knife by Steve Boltz (@steveboltz) | Small butterfly and 'Born to Win' text by Fergus Simms (@fergus_simms)
Skull with flames and swallow by Fergus Simms (@fergus_simms)
Rose by John Entwhistle
Panther head and large butterfly by Mark Cross (@mark__cross) | Gorilla head by Teide (@teidetattoo)
Ross Tulloch is a tattoo collector and designer at an innovation agency in London. Born in East London and of Scottish Highlander descent, Tulloch was raised in a working-class family where, “music always seemed to be on—from [his] father’s eclectic and strange record collection to more misty-eyed, drunken reminiscing supplied by Scottish folk music.” Below, Tulloch details his extensive collection, which includes work from tattooers such as John Entwhistle, Fergus Simms (@fergus_simms), Deno (@denotattoo), and Teide (@teidetattoo).
When did you start getting tattooed?
I only got my first tattoo in 2012 at the age of 35, whilst living in Melbourne, Australia.
What made you want to get tattooed? What are your first memories of seeing tattoos?
While Melbourne is famously one of the worlds ‘tattoo capitals,’ I believe my motivation was tied up with fatherhood. My own father is tattooed from his time in the merchant navy. I suspect growing up gazing at what were—to me, during that period—fantastical yet strange markings on his body influenced my own motivation to start getting tattooed.
Who first tattooed you and how did you choose the design and placement of that tattoo?
Perhaps, like other heavily tattooed people, I have an obsessive personality. With this ‘all or nothing’ attitude, I was determined to research the style and artists that interested me. Because I began this research from a point where I knew nothing about tattoo culture, I realized quickly that these artists knew more than me and I trusted that knowledge. Therefore, the first tattooist I went to see—a hero to many artists, especially in Australia— was John Entwhistle. Since I figured John knew more than I could ever know about tattooing, I went in and asked for his recommendation of the design (from his walls of flash) and placement of the piece. This has been my approach ever since.
After your first piece, did you deliberately build a collection? How do you conceive of the relationship between your tattoos?
Interestingly, and perhaps due to the age in which I started to get tattooed, the adding of art to my body has been flowering of my inner and true self. When strangers remark on my tattoos, I try to divert the attention by saying that I’m having a mid-life crisis. Actually, that’s pretty close to the truth, yet it’s a positive emergence of my inner creativity—a creativity that I am now proud to show the world. That said, I rarely reveal my tattoos, since I need to protect them from the sun—something necessary when living down under. But, in another sense, they are also something just for me and my immediate family to see.
I have not one tattoo that means anything to me—I just want a tattoo to look tough! (I’m kidding.) Since I never know what I am going to get on the day, instead I choose the artists I visit with extreme care—not only do I only see amazingly gifted artists (in the traditional style that I like), but I will never visit an artist that I’ve heard negative things about. For me the exchange of energy between artist and customer is sacred and not to be taken lightly by either party.
Legs done in full by Capilli Tupou (@capillitupou)
Legs done in full by Capilli Tupou (@capillitupou)
Dog portrait by Marshall 3rd Eye (@marshall_3rdeye)
Tomahawk by Capilli Tupou (@capillitupou)
Tucan by Deno (@denotattoo) | Snake by Brad Stevens (@brad_stevens)
My legs were done by one person—Capilli Tupou (@capillitupou)in Auckland, New Zealand. Prior to that, I’d received two random pieces from him, during which I just knew instantly that this was a person I trusted and wanted to spend time with. The hours (and hours and hours!) we spent together will always be special for me, and we have a bond because of that time and exchange.
Many artists have told me how they would rather get a piece from another artist to commemorate a time or experience they shared, not a piece from someone because of how many Instagram followers they have.
Are there particular pieces that have had a lasting symbolic and/or historical significance to you? Is the meaning of a given piece or the time and context in which you got it important to you?
Not a single one—only the experiences and lessons I have taken away from the moments I’ve spent with the artist. I’m an incessant talker with a tattooer—it helps with the pain, seriously!—and I treasure some of the many (fairly deep) conversations I’ve enjoyed with tattooers who seem to be similarly complex, deep thinking, and interesting characters—hey Sinsentido!
How do you understand being substantially tattooed? How does it differ from living with your first few pieces?
As I get more heavily tattooed, each new piece makes me feel closer to the real me. The first few pieces are like wearing jewelry, adding more rewires the brain. I am more comfortable in my own skin, with my own body than ever before. I grew up in a fairly restrictive environment, with very traditional and religious parents. Adding work to my body unpicks that piece by piece for me, so that now I feel free to explore the real person I was always meant to be.
How do you choose your artists and motifs?
Discovering artists and styles is the same as discovering new music for me: it is like a gigantic tree of connected vines and branches. I always keep my eyes and ears open, following rabbit holes to make new connections. I keep a record of artists who I feel are ‘bubbling up’—where I can see their individual styles develop until a point where they reach that beautiful, perfect moment where their style and my taste are a match. As I’ve probably communicated by now, I’m very particular—so much so that my wife and daughter have not had a holiday in five years that was not in some way tattoo related!
Has your collection received any interesting reactions that you’d like to share?
I guess I’m lucky that reactions are always very positive, which makes me super embarrassed—especially from other artists or tattooed people. I hate the connotation of ‘being a collector’—that’s not my intention at all. For me, it is a healing and flowering. I’m just lucky to have lived or visited places where there are amazing artists! Plus, it’s so easy to visit amazing tattooers. There is no excuse for mad tattoos!