Tom Farrow is a talented black and grey tattooer who splits his time working out of Leigh-on-Sea, England as well as London.
He specializes in dark realism/surrealism and does an exceptional job of portraying moods and emotions.
In this interview with him, we got to talk about things such as long lasting black and grey work, the correlation between mental health and tattooing, and more. Hope you guys enjoy!
What do you believe are some of the keys to creating a built-to-last black and grey tattoo?
From my experience of trying out a lot of different approaches earlier in my career, I think for black and grey to last you always need a good contrast and to not be scared of using black as solid areas and to shade with. Also saturated greys, open skin left for some highlights and white in specific areas to make certain areas you want to pop. It does depend on the skin as well, for example if I’m tattooing someone with super pale complexion then I tend to use more white, but for some one with a sun tan or darker skin then I tend to use just skin for the main highlights and maybe a dot or two in the features just for that pop .
In what ways (either positive or negative) have your mental health been affected by tattooing?
In my own personal journey with tattooing and as some one who has anxiety it’s been a bit of both. It comes with it’s huge highs and inevitably low lows too for it’s something I don’t think is spoken about enough in the industry. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed a lot more people talking about it and their own experiences which is good. As artists I think we all crave that respect / validation from our peers who we respect and look up to but at the same time I think with things like Instagram it’s good too remind yourself why you started tattooing in the first place. It’s a huge pressure to be continuously creative. I think we all run off our emotions to a degree especially as artists so it’s finding that balance of not burning out mentally and putting out your best work every day. For me I had to drop how many days down I work a week in order for me to get the best out of me on the days I do work. I work lonnnnng days so I like to feel ready for it and know I’m going to do the best piece I can. But at the same time tattooing has taken me all over the world to conventions, given me great opportunity’s, and to places I never thought I’d get to see – something I probably wouldn’t have done without it so it’s pushed me to set the anxiety aside to be able to do these things and for that I’m eternally grateful.
How have you built your self belief over the years since tattooing ?
By working with artists that push me to do my best every day. I like to stay inspired, I’m not one to sit there all day not watching what the other tattoo artists around me are doing. I like to get up and see someone else’s work and be like shit that’s f****ing crazy good and it gives me that fire to go back to my pieces and do better. I’m lucky enough to work with a great bunch of people around me. Friends and Family just giving me positive comments and pushing me to get through the tough stages at the beginning. Everyone’s journey as a tattoo artist I feel is very similar, we can all relate to drawing till you fall asleep and researching pieces or looking for references – it takes a ton of work outside of the studio to reach a point where you know you’re putting out great work. For me it’s about literally telling myself before every piece you’re going to smash this, stick some pink Floyd on and away we go!
What do you believe are some things to look for when you’re viewing a tattoo online, to know whether it looks that good (or better) in person or not?
Healed work for me there’s no other way.
Tell me a little about your history as a graffiti artist!
I love graffiti man, I started when I was 14 and was taught by @ekto.1. Shout out to this man, without him I wouldn’t be where I am today. He passed on every bit of knowledge he had which I still use daily. Graffiti is awesome man, it’s my second love. It’s funny the crew that we used to paint with there were six or seven of us, four of us now work within the tattoo industry and it has the same type of rules to follow. Being taught by an elder it’s almost like an apprenticeship for the first parts and then working your way up. It taught me a hell of a lot about composition, flow, style, colors, line work, and just letters in general – all of which I put into my pieces on the regular so it’ll always have a big part of my heart.
What are some important things to consider when creating a tattoo in order for it to heal properly?
For me it’s just taking my time. I tend to only do day sessions or multiple sessions in a row so I use the same set up every piece as I know I work well with them and can spend time on each area. Half of the battle of doing a great tattoo is having the patience to pace it out, especially with black and grey. If you take your time stay relaxed, you’re not going to over work any areas and inevitably get a bad heal.
What have been some of the most important/most helpful things on your journey as far as your development as an artist/tattooer?
It’s just one thing for me: never losing that hunger/drive to be the best I can be. I’m still like that now, if I’m around an artist I admire or I see an artist doing something with a different technique, I ask why they do it that way and what they use. I’ve found that you can take anything from any type of style in tattooing and adapt it to help yourself. If you have that it brings everything else with it.
If you could go back to when you first started tattooing and tell yourself three things that you know now, what would they be?
-To enjoy the hard parts as they bring the best reward
-To 100 percent trust / believe in your own ability artistically
-To not be scared to push your boundaries.
Thanks for reading, and a special thank you to Tom for giving us his time! Be sure to check out his page on Instagram @tomftattoo.
If you enjoyed this interview, you may enjoy some of our other ones such as this one here with Robby Latos who also does darker realism/surrealism type work:
Lastly, if you haven’t seen our Instagram yet be sure to check them out: @leadthefollowers.