Marc Roy is a talented realism tattooer working out of Abbotsford, British Columbia.
He specializes in large scale black and grey realism, and does an incredible job at putting his own spin on each piece (even the classic references).
I got the opportunity to do this in depth interview with him, where we talk about a range of subjects including the unorthodox mindset of an artist, the social dilemma, the (rewarding) challenges of being an artist, and much more.
I hope you guys enjoy this article, and thanks for looking.
One thing I’ve been thinking of a lot lately is how talented artists minds work. When you are just going about your daily life with your loved ones or whoever, do you ever try to turn that art switch off at all? Or is that just inevitably permanently turned on and you’re still living in the present with the people you’re around even though your mind is still fixated on art? Can you touch on this a bit?
Hit the nail on the head man! That mental engine is always either at least idling or its wide open; it’s also compounded by the fact that I just don’t tend to relax mentally and physically. I live either in the past or in the future so it can be difficult for me to live in the present at the best of times. I have to admit that the pandemic has definitely gotten me to reevaluate that side of me. I’ve learned to slow down and to not feel guilt if I shut things off from time to time. It’s a work life, therefore I’m always thinking about art, thinking about tattoos, thinking about upcoming projects or I see references everywhere. Snapping weird pictures of certain textures, the odd flower here and there. Sometimes architectural elements, or filming a campfire for flame references etc. It can border fixation on obsession. However I’ve learned to live with it and I have found peace and harmony as I’ve worked my way into the industry. I’ll try to chase one or two big milestones a year and have little wins or achievements as the months tick by; that’s what seems to suppress the obsession. But despite all that, I spend quite a bit of time with the family. I always make time for that part of my life. And as much as it’s hard to turn off, I couldn’t imagine having a job that you hate and that creates that feeling within you. So I try to never complain about it because I truly feel that this is a unique situation.
We seem to be living in an altered reality, or a false reality (at times), whatever you want to call it. In an often like/click obsessed world, how do you stay organic through it all and how would you describe your approach to social media?
I know there have been countless university dissertations and thesis’s about the negative aspects of social media and largely I feel a lot of those are warranted. However it’s a powerful tool that has forever changed tattooing in terms of our reach, accessibility, ability to connect and to gain customers. I try to have somewhat of a focussed approach. I try to have good curated content and post regularly across the different features a social media platform offers. That being said as long as I see some growth and things are not regressing I don’t really care how fast and how big it truly gets in terms of likes/followers etc. I’m a relatively young tattooer (I’ve been tattooing full-time since mid 2015) and I did a few years prior to that very much on a part-time basis (one day a week). I got into Instagram late and I also was not using it properly in the beginning to maximize exposure. By the time I had figured it out, the large follower swells and the chronological posting order had already passed. So growth nowadays is very slow and organic. Here is the rule that I use: if your books are full, people reach out and social media translates into customers, cool projects and people are engaged I think that’s all that really matters in the end.
I feel as if many have found out how potentially lucrative tattooing can be, so things are just getting more and more competitive. In what ways do you feel you’re able to set yourself apart from the crowd and how do you approach the design aspect of tattooing?
Definitely it can be quite lucrative especially for a career that doesn’t feel like work. But truly it only is if you manage to break away and do something different or in a geographic area that your tattooing style/skills are rare. Up here in British Columbia Canada there aren’t too many realism artists available. That has made me extremely busy which I’m grateful for. I try to design things that I feel might have a signature that is unique, or try to approach some of the classics with a fresh twist. That way people will seek you out for the way YOU tattoo. We are living in a sea of talent. I’m blown away by my Instagram feed day in day out with all the pieces being created at any moment. But what we perceive as skill is one thing. People may seek you out for something less tangible or something less quantifiable. So a certain aspect of your tattooing they feel is unique to you is what needs to be developed in my opinion.
I know you work in a private studio…I can relate a bit, as I work alone as well. What helps keep you hungry and motivated when at the end of the day it’s entirely how hard you want to work (or not work) on each particular day?
Working alone has its perks, but stagnation can easily settle in. Obviously conventions and guest spots keeps the perspective fresh and the competitiveness (albeit friendly) alive. Obviously those are off the table currently with the world’s events. I try to accept the fact that not all days are created equal. Some weeks can be more exciting than others and sometimes you may feel like your work plateaus. To me working alone is about mental resilience. You’re the only one who can pick yourself up if you need to. I try to be critical of my own work and sometimes I can be quite hard on myself but never to the point where it becomes detrimental. That keeps me motivated to move forward. My wife and child help, as it all rests on my shoulders and it’s up to me to step up to the plate and carve our path to the future. I also would hate to fall out of relevance; I want to make sure my work stays relevant in the Tattoo community and I am in no way shape or form implying that I have achieved relevance at all… who knows really…but the fear of not having some recognition for your art can be quite the motivator.
Most memorable experience with a client? (Could be funny, bizarre, sentimental…)
One of my best friends James. I’ve tattooed him at many shows and he’s a great guy, we’ve had so many laughs and tattooed some serious pieces on him, most of which have been career defining. I owe him a lot as it propelled things forward for me. He’s the guy that has the Collab me and luka did, the face with the yellow amber liquid running down. It’s been seen quite extensively. The whole thing has been memorable with him. I’ve had all positive experiences throughout my career; the wild street shop stories that I hear from other guys I skipped all that. So whenever this question arises I never have anything wild to share.
What’s been the most valuable challenge you’ve faced as a tattoo artist, a challenge that you conquered and came out stronger because of?
I would say the medium itself. So many variables will affect the outcome of a tattoo so when you’re first starting you don’t realize that it isn’t linear. It’s an ever-changing bull’s-eye and every day is different. Having to adapt constantly with little to no answers of why certain things are happening and certain things are not happening was grueling mentally. My first years into tattooing were largely a hobby that I wanted to turn into my career, but I was already adulting quite hard (mortgage, family, life etc). I wanted to transition into full-time tattooing but I had to play my cards right so the little time that I had to devote to it in the beginning was limited and frustrating.
What’s one thing you wish you could tell yourself at the very beginning of your tattooing journey, something you know now but didn’t know then?
What worked yesterday may not necessarily work today. In other words every customer is different. There are genetically determined factors that affect how the skin reacts, the outcome of the tattoo etc. How fast you run your machines, how to approach a tattoo…I thought it was a formula; when you nail the formula everything should go smoothly and the results should be the same. Which I now realize is never the case so be prepared to adapt every day and realize that it is an ever changing approach. Once you let go and just accept that fact thats when the growth really starts. Be disciplined in your setup but fluid in your execution.
What three things do you wish all your clients knew without you having to explain to them?
The importance of black, dark backgrounds when it’s needed and the “less is more” approach to designing. Larger images with some simpler backgrounds/large open fields and negative space have the most impact in my opinion, and sometimes people have a hard time understanding that. Much like painting, large compositions make more sense to me. That being said I’m in the position that I really often do not need to explain anything. I have a great clientele that trust my direction. I enjoy a lot of freedom so I really can’t complain.
What are three major shifts you HOPE to see in the industry over the next couple of years?
It would be nice to see some of this pigment legislation dropped…mainly what’s happening in Europe with certain colours possibly being banned and so forth. Let the experts that have years and decades of pigment development experience lead the way; not outside influence that have little to no understanding of how this truly works.
I would love to see tattooing recognized even more as a form of fine art, much like other classic mediums in art galleries etc. This has drastically changed but we definitely have a ways to go
Finally the industry is feeling more and more connected and collaborative, and we can always use more of that in this world. Here’s to hoping we double down on that post pandemic!
Huge thank you to Marc for taking his valuable time to do this interview, and thank you to anyone who took the time to read it.
Be sure to follow Marc on Instagram @mroytattooart.