Life’s bizarre. Just one tiny decision in your life can lead you down a completely different path, in a completely different direction.
I started this blog because of my interest in, and passion for, tattoos. It goes without saying that my tattoo artist (who has been the same person for the last 5 years) has to be held single-handedly responsible for sparking my love for ink, and so without this individual, I wouldn’t be here writing any of this.
In my last few blog posts, I’ve been banging on about the relationship between client and artist being more important than the art itself. For me, stepping back from my own life and into a chair at the premises of Shakespeare Ink, Guild Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, means more to me than just the permanent inked scars I take away.
I have a personal connection to Stratford-upon-Avon that I don’t have the space to write fully about in this article. The 3 years I lived there was life-changing, literally. I arrived a tattoo-less marathon-runner, with bleach blonde hair, a lovely fiancee, a stable career, Sky TV and a ginger cat called Leo. Three years later I left a single, red-haired traveller with a passion for life and multiple tattoos marking those decisions that formed me as a person and helped me find myself.
Whilst living there, booking a tattoo appointment with my artist wasn’t just choosing a design to mark my skin, it was choosing to take an hour out to reflect upon how my life was changing. That hour of reflection and discussion was more important than how the final artwork looked. And since leaving the small town in Warwickshire, I continued to travel hours back to Shakespeare Ink, as I liked the feeling of stepping back into my old life in Stratford… a life that taught me so much about myself.
Sitting and chatting with someone for long periods of time about your intimate choices, means that they’ll never just be your tattoo artist… they’re your therapist, your mentor, your friend.
So, time to meet the man himself.
Adam Frame has been tattooing for 6 years. I’ve been his client for 5. It all began when he was 18, under the guidance of who he calls his “Jedi Master” – the amazing Az Belcher who runs both Shakespeare Ink and sister studio S’Ink 1.
“It took me years to feel comfortable tattooing, and to really grasp it, but now I like to tattoo almost every style I possibly can. Over the years, I have adapted to the needs of my clients and I enjoy the challenge that brings. If I had to pick my style it would be illustrated, line work – the more lines the better! That being said, if I stick to drawing and tattooing the same style too long I get bored and find myself craving to change it up again.”
I wanted to interview Adam for this blog for various reasons. It goes without saying that I think he creates exceptional art – I mean, I’ve covered my body in it permanently. I don’t want to spent time telling you why I think his work is striking (you can see that for yourself). I wanted to talk to Adam because at the moment he is interestingly taking a massive break from tattooing.
“In November, I left the comfort of my home at Shakespeare Ink to travel and broaden my mind a bit. I have ended up doing a whole winter season snowboarding here in Austria. I love being outside – I love the snow, the mountain air. I am always surrounded by stunning views and beautiful landscapes.”
After getting to know Adam over the last 5 years, I knew this was the right exciting step for him and something his heart longed to pursue. Your tattooist gets to know your life choices, ambitions, regrets and dreams, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to know theirs too. Was I annoyed when I found out he was leaving? Absolutely not. This selfless person had dedicated over 100 hours of their time listening to me contemplate my own adventure, and I had spent time listening to theirs. It’s thrilling to see someone finally live out their dreams.
As clients we completely take for granted how hard every team member in a tattoo shop works for us. “I don’t think many people appreciate the stress you can be under working in a tattoo shop. There is a constant pressure to perform 110%, all day, every day. It becomes hard to switch off. You develop a constant drive to push yourself, not just for your clients, but for your own development as an artist. As a tattoo artist, your work is your life. I’ve been battling this demon for the last 6 years and made the decision to take a break from that pressure for a while. Stepping back does wonders for you both mentally and physically, and I’ve been enjoying fuelling my wanderlust.”
With anything in life, if you take a step away from what you love, you learn why you appreciated it in the first place. “I do miss home and all my friends, but mostly I miss tattooing. I will always be a tattoo artist and have the craving to push myself artistically. You have to push yourself creatively as much on the road as you do in your own studio so I’m still doing bits here and there while I am away.”
Adam says that travelling has taught him that art is a universal language and has no barriers or limitations. He’s been surprising himself every day he is away from the UK and is learning and growing all the time.
I asked him about how much he learnt in his first few years of tattooing. “For me it wasn’t just about the technical bits, there’s a way of life you have to adapt to – people, meaning, motivations, confidence. That was the biggest learn for me, was growing the confidence to communicate with people. I was so shy and talking to new faces terrified me, to the point where it would distract me from the tattoo in hand, and nobody needs that”.
But I get the feeling that he’s the sort of personality and artist who is always learning, changing and discovering new things. “The most important thing I have learnt is to have a positive mental attitude. Not just in the shop, but in life in general… you get out of life what you put in!”
The question I ask every artist when talking to them is what their plan is for the next 12 months. I got the answer I hoped for. “I don’t have much in the way of the plan. I am going to continue snowboarding here until there’s no more snow. I am so lucky to be able to wake up every day as free as a bird. I know I won’t always have that chance so I am just enjoying it every step of the way.”
There will always be a seat at home for me in Shakespeare Ink. My new UK artist is the awesome Alex Rhodes, who is currently designing me a slick new sleeve, and I’m loving getting to know Alex, sharing interests and I now look forward to my tattoo time with him. I’m a different person to who I was last year and it seems fitting to mark a new stage of my life with a new exceptionally talented person.
I’m not sure if all clients hold such value on the relationship they develop with their tattoosit like I do… I don’t know. Maybe I just like people. Maybe I’m weird. To me it just seems like the positive energy surrounding the experience of getting tattooed, makes it really important.
There’s one guy who I think gets it too. “I like making people happy” says Adam. “I get a huge buzz from people’s positive energy. All the work behind the scenes – the pressure, the patience, the anticipation… is all worth it when you see how happy someone is. There aren’t many people that get to leave their mark on the world, and tattoo artists do that on a daily basis.”
I will always step foot back into that same studio on Guild Street. The specific combination of the sound of those particular machines, the smell of that room and the friendly faces – it’s so familiar now it’s something I will always want to revisit. We run around the world making the most of every second, changing ourselves, capturing moments and discovering new places… sometimes it’s nice to step away from it all, just for a few hours, somewhere we feel safe.
Adam ends our chat by saying “thanks for taking the time out to hear me rattle on.”
Yeah. Right back at you, mate.