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Staying Creative with S.William

Our first drop of AW20 'An Ending' featured a cut & sew and print collaboration with Glasgow based tattoo artist S.William.

We recently caught up with him on his process, the art of the tattoo and how he goes from paper to ink. The capsule consists of two printed sets, t-shirts and a long sleeve. All based around the themes of transhumanism, which we chat about below.

Read the full interview below and give him a follow here.


Can you tell us about your journey into image making and tattooing? When did you decide to be a tattoo artist? 

I don’t think I ever actively made the decision to declare myself as anything or said to myself I want to be this or that, it’s just what I’ve known that I like to do. My brother was the real ‘drawer’ when we were kids; everyone who saw his work praised him and he has a very good eye. I have been running small press and putting zines together since I was a teenager. In North Wales there were no museums or galleries and even the libraries had a very limited art palette, so zine culture and mail order was essentially my world in early dial up times, they were super nice and tactile time. There’s no mystery to getting to where I am and I’m not in any ways successful in any standard way, I just kept doing what I like to do in the spare time I had and very slowly started to just about scrape a living by it. I get by with tattooing, graphic design, publishing, and selling drawings and paintings.

How do you go about choosing themes/points of exploration?

Stylistically, it’s not anything I decide too actively. I have this bit I always go back to which is ‘just keep working’ and I let that set it’s own pace, which obviously is quite variable, but I’ve stopped fighting it. I just allow things to go in the direction they are going and things will pop up and excite me and that’s sort of it, again there’s no mystery it’s just getting your head down. I probably only show about 20% of the things I make, especially on my S William instagram, the rest of it is used elsewhere. I have quite a few pages, some close friends know that it’s me and I have some that it’s completely secret I’m behind them, it lets me keep a lot of variation in what I do.

Can you tell us about the thought process and technique that goes into a tattoo?

I am interested in good contrasts and texture and that’s about it. By the time I’m making the tattoo I’m not thinking too much about the actual content of the tattoo we’re making, I’m more interested in it sitting well on the body and what I see as good balance. I like a tattoo to be successful on its own terms rather than how successfully it’s been copied from a piece of paper, they’re both two separate things drawing and tattooing. In the past I would draw everything straight in but I use stencils a little more these days, but the drawings tend to change a lot once they got on the skin, I hand draw a lot of elements and change it a lot before we get started. I’m really interested in what the person getting tattooed can contribute; it’s nice in tattooing that you are constantly having feedback from people who don’t share your ideas on your work and it can pull you in unexpected directions, ultimately it’s not really about me it’s about the person who has to wear the tattoo for however long they live for.

 Today, more and more artists are working more so and in some cases entirely digitally - is digitalisation something you consider with your work?

People should just work however they feel comfortable. I think it would impede my work quite a lot; It’s a cliche but I like to let things happen naturally and make mistakes, I look back a lot on what I’ve drawn and see things later that I discarded at the time or initially didn’t take too much notice of. I think for me it would take over the pacing too much, I like tactility and presence and that can be particularly difficult to achieve digitally, having said that Jaakko Pallasvuo manages to weave everything together beautifully.  

How does being a tattoo artist stand apart from being just an ‘artist’ in general?

I’ve never felt super comfortable calling myself a ‘tattooer’ but it’s probably the most conscious choice I’ve made in terms of pursuing something quite specific. Tattoos are attractive to me because they’re temporary compared to most other mediums and tattooing can’t really be institutionalised, everything else around it politically is becoming quite institutionalised but in terms of the actual work; it can’t really be archived without quite a lot of complications, there’s not so many permanent collections or archives and it doesn’t exist beyond the generation it sits on for us to be able to assess it in the long term. They just sits on bodies for 50/60 years or so and all that’s left is the act that it happened. So it’s something I’ve always seen as a very temporary act and I don’t feel comfortable saying I’m a tattooer because of this because I see it as doing something very transient.

Any favourite films?

I don’t know! The two films I’ve watched the most are ‘The Eel’ and ‘The Fifth Element’. I don’t watch much TV but I love nature and space documentaries, the universe is so beautiful and cool and amazing things happen all the time.

Finally, any artists/ designers we should know about?

I am listening to a lot of Beverly Genn-Copeland at the moment, I listen to the Under Milk Wood radio play all the time but Dylan Tomas is long dead.