Adam F is fairly new to the tattoo scene, tattooing for just over a year following a period more focused on his career as a fine artist. Now grateful to be in an industry that acknowledges its business structure, Adam’s style and clear understanding of composition embraces his contemporary art roots, while also seemingly already pushing his own visual language via the new possibilities tattooing affords. His CMYK color separations and vivid tattoos are clearly the work of an artist who, while distinctive and assured, has a wide, experimental trajectory ahead of him in a new and expansive media.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Adam F and I was born in Nevada, USA, near Lake Tahoe in 1983.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
We lived in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe and eventually moved to San Francisco. We stayed in San Francisco for a few years and then made our way down to Encinitas, CA (North County San Diego), where I did most of my formative “growing up.” My younger brother and I were raised by a low income, single mom, who eventually remarried when I was a teenager. While we had a very modest upbringing, my mom and step dad made sure we were active, healthy, and educated about the things that mattered (art, love, life, etc.).
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I currently work at Sideshow Alley in Portland, OR. As I’m a pretty new tattooer, this is my first official shop after the time I put in learning elsewhere.
How long have you been tattooing?
I’ve been in the learning process for a while but have only been tattooing for a little over a year.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and how did you initially learn how to tattoo?
I’ve been interested in tattooing for a really long time. I spent the last decade or so working full time as a fine artist (painting, murals, installation and gallery work). Over the years I had multiple friends encourage me to learn how to tattoo, but I was so deep in my studio and career as a painter that I couldn’t even begin to imagine putting some of that attention elsewhere. Fine Art is a brutal business that can wear on you over time. Any career has ups and downs and I still show my work, take on commercial mural projects, and paint as often as possible. This is a major oversimplification of a larger process that has a lot to do with the changing landscape of the gallery world, social media, economic recession and rebound, personal life changes, etc. But, a few years ago I started to feel really frustrated with the gallery world and was just ready for a change. The more I got tattooed, the more I realized that I really wanted to learn how to tattoo. Some of the elements that initially attracted me to making art (craftsmanship, technique, process, tools, and skill) are not necessarily important for success as a fine artist. However, they are paramount to success in tattooing, at least from a quality perspective. Tattooing just feels more honest. Fine art is the only business I know of that has a hard time admitting it is a business. Sure, art is an important part of the human story, but when it comes down to it, if you want to make a living as an artist it is a business. Nobody questions that about tattooing. Everyone knows it’s an industry and that tattoos cost money.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I went to college and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and attended a private art school in San Francisco where I received my Master’s degree in 2008.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
My formal education definitely helped me to become more aware of art, theory, concept, and composition. Through school, and through my years working in the studio after school, I developed a serious work ethic (some may call me a workaholic) which has been really helpful in my growth as a tattooer. Although nothing can prepare you for the actual mechanics of using various machines and needle grouping to put ink into skin. It’s so much about experience and feel, and one could spend a lifetime learning those mechanics.
"For being so new, I feel like I’m already an old guy. Most new tattooers are a lot younger than me and basically live in a different world with different priorities. Therefore, I look up to those more experienced artists and hope to be as well balanced and pumped as they are about tattooing in ten years."
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
Style is something that is developed through practice. My paintings evolved slowly over the years through bodies of work that I labored over every day. While I have been able to translate some of my aesthetic from painting to tattooing, they are very different mediums with different tools and mark making. The CMYK color separations that I do are influenced by a body of work I created from 2016 – 2017. The paintings are much more complex and layered, and while the tattoos are technically challenging in their own right, the images themselves are much more stripped down and simple. I honestly still very much feel like I’m finding and exploring my style in tattooing. I’m sure (like painting) this will be a lifetime pursuit.
Please can you tell us some more about how your paintings develop, where the ideas come from and what your working process is?
The conceptual underpinning of my work has evolved over the years and through the practice. Generally, my work is heavily influenced by classic notions of landscape and romanticism, presented through a modern lens. Reading is a big part of my process and has a huge influence over my work. I’ve created bodies of work that dealt with various theories of the universe (theoretical physics, multiverse, symmetry, and string theory). Lately I’ve been really interested in romantic notions of the American West vs. the actual realities of that history. I’m interested in symbols, perspective, ritual, magic, and the occult. Ultimately, each painting starts with a lot of sketching. After I’ve worked up a general sense of composition, I just get started and let it go where it needs to.
What do you look for in a shop?
My life is pretty hectic and busy, so being able to work by appointment only is crucial right now. Cassady Bell at Sideshow Alley has been really awesome and willing to work with me. Being able to learn from all of the other artists there has also been really important.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Painting, camping, hiking, motorcycles, snowboarding, spending time with my wife and kiddo, trying to have fun and not always think about work!
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
I draw mostly on an iPad to create my tattoo designs, but they are still all drawn out. I’ve been told that I could design my color separation work in Photoshop, but haven’t been able to figure it out yet. I’m pretty much the least tech savvy person I know, so even using an iPad took some time.
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
Traveling is very important to me. In 2016, I received a grant from the regional arts and culture council here in Portland and was able to go to Iceland for a month and a half. The colors of the landscape and the northern lights have had a huge influence on my work. Every time I travel I’m able to bring things back to my various art practices.
What’s the most valuable thing you learnt in your first year of tattooing?
First and foremost, that tattooing is an honor. Every single time. I’ve learned to be much more selfless in my practice. Fine Art can feel so narcissistic sometimes; everything is all about “my ideas” or “my practice” or “my work.” While I bring some of that with me to tattooing, the work isn’t just for me. It’s for my client. Also, tattooing is really fucking hard!
What do you hope for regarding your personal future in tattooing?
My main goal is to try to contribute something to the collective conscience and conversation, rather than just take from it.
On a more personal side, I get tattooed often over at Atlas here in Portland. I have so much respect for all of the artists there. Most of those dudes have put in decades of work, but love tattooing now more than ever. They are a little older than me but have good perspective and life balance (work, family, travel, etc). For being so new, I feel like I’m already an old guy. Most new tattooers are a lot younger than me and basically live in a different world with different priorities. Therefore, I look up to those more experienced artists and hope to be as well balanced and pumped as they are about tattooing in ten years.