For Gareth Hawkins, tattoos and art are synonymous – in this case, your client’s body is the art gallery for your work, and that piece of work will be on display for years. What started as an apprenticeship at age 19 developed (after many years of “painful” work) into a full-time career and eventual ownership of local tattoo shop Sovereign Arms on Cherry Street. Voted the second-best tattoo artist in Best of the West 2017, you need only see examples of Hawkins’ work to understand that his attention to detail, fine line work and experimentation with style sets him apart from other artists in the area.
How have you turned your art into a living?
Making tattoos both fulfills my need to make art and helps me making a living. It was not something that happened overnight. It’s taken years of patience and hard work to get to the point where I can live comfortably off tattooing. There were some scary moments where I second guessed my career choice. At times, I had to supplement my income with side jobs, but over time I’ve managed to accumulate a fantastic clientele base in this city and the surrounding areas, which has managed to keep me busy for the foreseeable future.
What is your process like? Where do ideas come from and how do you execute them?
I really have two parts to my process, since I am an artist for hire. Work for tattoo clients is basically straightforward. They generally come into the shop with an idea in mind for what they want. I then work with them to refine their idea into a tattooable image and then we make the appointment.
What’s the second part?
My own personal work, including random tattoo designs I create with no person in mind, usually come from random inspirations I have at odd times of the day. I carry a Moleskine notebook and jot ideas down and doodle thumbnails of my possible work. I can then take something I like in my book and create a larger, more refined piece. If it’s a tattoo design, I generally draw it up and stick it to a cork board at the shop to display. So, if anyone is looking for some weird, most likely nerdy tattoos, I have them covered.
Your style is expansive. Do you think your art tends to follow any certain themes?
Honestly, I don’t think of myself having a specific style, or styles for that matter. My tattoo art has adapted quite a bit through the years — as times change, so do the tastes of my clients. I must adapt to keep up with demand. My personal art sometimes is reflected by this, as a lot of themes between my tattoos and personal art cross over. An example is line illustration, which certainly has become more prevalent in tattooing lately, has now become a big part of my personal art.
Who/what are your influences?
There are so many! I try to learn a little from everything. I take inspiration from the most random sources — from Saturday morning cartoons to early 20th-century advertisements. It goes without saying Star Wars has been quite the influence on my art. Artists such as Arthur Rackham, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Gustave Dore, Syd Mead and Yoshitaka Amano have left an impression on my view of illustration. Tattooers such as Filip Leu, Horiyoshi III, Mike Rubendall and Chris O’Donnell are all amazing and have made incredible works on the human body. Lately, I’ve been dabbling with some art nouveau themes in my work. It’s been fun to incorporate new styles into things, as it makes it fresh and less repetitive, which can happen in this industry.
What is your dream project?
I’d like to do more art outside of tattooing, some illustrations and maybe some paintings. Tattooing is such an intensive industry that making art outside of my normal workload is extremely hard. I’ve always wanted to publish a book. As a bibliophile, I’ve always loved books, especially art books. I’d love to publish a personal art book or maybe a book on the tattoo industry.
Best piece of advice you could give to someone looking to get into tattooing or art?
‘Do work.’ I don’t know where I heard it first, or who said it, but it has stuck with me. Do work. Make something. Even if you think what you’re making would be best torn apart and lit on fire, finish it. It’s the best advice I could give anyone. You’re not an artist unless you’re making art — so make it.