‘A-B M’, a tattooist from Portland, draws characters you’d imagine seeing in the pages of a fairy tale book, rather than on a human body.
The artist’s tattoo designs feature woodland creatures such as wolves, hares, bears, as well as dragons. Each one is drawn with fine lines, dot work, and black ink. At times, natural elements – like twigs, flower, water, and celestial bodies – are added to make the compositions more complex.
The results are simple yet whimsical and elegant.
We recently had the chance to talk to ‘A-B M’ about tattoos and the creative work that goes into it.
How’d you get into tattooing?
“After graduating from art school with a BFA in painting, finding a job in my field felt impossible. I couldn’t afford a studio, and couldn’t find my niche in the Baltimore ‘fine art scene’, but most of my friends played in bands, so I did a lot of album art and flyers for shows.
“The same folks who liked my illustration work for their bands also liked tattoos. It was a pretty natural progression. I don’t think I realized it was an art form I was serious about, though, until people I didn’t know started contacting my friends trying to get in touch with me about tattoos – and I realized that maybe this was my niche, after all.”
We love your style! How would you describe it?
“I’m interested in telling a story with a single image, using fluid linework to show movement and give life, momentum, and feeling to a static image. Line personality and unexpected details that make something specific, instead of generic, are important to me. I try to avoid superfluous design elements and harsh geometry. Fit and flow with the body is something I try to consider with each design.”
Please take us through your creative process. Where do you get inspiration?
“I take a lot of compositional and stylistic inspiration from art nouveau artists like Aubrey Beardsley, graphic novelists working in horror and sci-fi like Charles Burns and Jean Giraud, old masters of print such as Hokusai, Bosch, and Dürer, and also the symbolic self-contained narratives found in tarot cards and medieval manuscripts and alchemical illustrations.
“All of the artists I mentioned are really fantastic line layers, with incredible creativity and a knack for creating dark, immersive fantasy worlds full of nature, with plenty of strangeness.”
How do you work with the client in coming up with the final design?
“I mostly create custom work. A client has an idea, and usually brings one definitive subject and sentiment to the table regarding their tattoo. I send my clients a sketch or mock-up before their appointment, and welcome their feedback and thoughts about what I’ve designed so far.
“I generally try my best to implement their criticism and address their concerns at this stage before drawing up the linework for their tattoo. It’s really important to me that I am consistent with my interests and stylistic expression, while also giving my client a tattoo they will love and feel like they helped to create.”
Also, how long does it usually take? And what’s the most challenging part of the job?
“I generally make tattoos that take between two to five hours, but the sketching and consultation process often takes hours and hours and hours, because I agonize over details and am really hard on myself about creating original content that I can be proud of and my clients will love.
“The most challenging part of this job is not being too hard on myself, and answering emails! Another challenging aspect of this job is the interpersonal aspect- recognizing that my clients are people with different kinds of trauma and experience, and spending those two to five hours with them, accepting their trust, and sharing an intimate space together.
“A heavily booked work week can be very emotionally overwhelming. More often than not, getting tattooed is part of someone’s healing or transformational process, and I have to recognize that I am rendering an empathetic- not just an artistic- service.”
Do you have a favorite amongst all the tattoos you’ve done?
“Before I was licensed, I freehanded this insane tattoo of two dragons engaged in an in-flight mating ritual on my friend BB. It stretched from her outer butt/hip area to below her knee.
“I’ve improved significantly at my craft since then, but that was the first tattoo where a friend pushed me to keep going, add more detail, make it big, try something difficult, and trusted me to complete the job. It was kind of insane that she saw my work and decided to let me do that at the time. I don’t think I had done any pieces much larger than palm-sized before that, and only had a thumbnail doodle to go by. Every artist needs a friend like that.”