Vancouver artist’s creations are skin- deepAdam Sky has inked Angelina Jolie and worked with tattoo queen Kat von D
It was the late 1990s. A beautiful young woman walked into a Sunset Strip tattoo shop, trailing a handsome husband. She asked for an initial, her grandmother’s, to be tattooed on her wrist.
Tattoo artist Adam Sky is known for ‘ really old graphic imagery with rich saturated colour.’
The tattoo artist, a young Toronto man who had moved to Vancouver and opened Sacred Heart Tattoo on the west side in 1993 but was in Los Angeles as part of a four-year working tattoo tour, thought he recognized her. Or, as Adam Sky tells it: “ I said: ‘ Hey, did you go to high school in Toronto?’ ” “ No.” “ But you look familiar.” “ I get that a lot.” They chatted some more and she told him that she was a model and an actor and he asked what she’d been in and she named a bunch of art films and he said he’d never heard of them and finally he realized it was Angelina Jolie, who had come to the shop with thenhusband Johnny Lee Miller.
Sky chuckles today when he tells that story.
He tells, too, the story of the day that Shaquille O’Neal and L. L. Cool J and Biggie Smalls were all in that same shop at the same time and their bodyguards shut the place down because Biggie Smalls was worried about his safety and, three days later, Biggie was dead, shot in a high-profile east/ west hip-hop feud.
These days Sky’s life is a little less celebrity-studded but no less interesting.
He was 17 when he moved to Vancouver for Expo 86 and “ fell in” with a group of new-generation tattoo artists fresh out of art school. He opened Sacred Heart, he says, as a place for him and his buddies to work.
But three years later he sold the shop and, like many tattoo artists, hit the road. With his equipment tucked into the saddlebags of his motorcycle, he worked at tattoo conventions and street shops from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Miami.
Vancouver would eventually draw him back and, for a time, he worked for the new owner of Sacred Heart and then, in 2006, opened a private studio in Gastown.
It was during those years that he headed back to L. A., briefly tattooing at the shop of celebrity artist Kat von D, just as the first season of her reality show, L. A. Ink, was filming.
Although he wasn’t on camera, it was, he says, a surreal experience. “ To see a tattoo artist being treated as a celebrity was very peculiar.”
In 2010, back in Vancouver, he decided to change things up again and moved into an airy, private appointment-only work space on Granville Island, with two other tattoo artists.
It’s not a traditional tattoo shop, and it doesn’t have a catchy name, because Sky says there’s no need for either.
“ I think tattooing has changed dramatically,” the 41-year-old says.
He has watched the industry and the art transition from a one-time taboo to a ubiquitous pop culture affectation that decorates a generation like so much permanent jewelry.
And clients, he says, have become sophisticated, tutored by television shows and widespread exposure to what is now a hip hobby for the middle class.
As such, “ clients no longer shop for shops, they shop for artists,” he says.
If tattooists have specialties, and many do, Sky has become known for realism, for “ really old graphic imagery with rich saturated colour.
“ It’s readable artwork ... whatever the opposite of whimsy is. My main focus right now is doing hyper-realistic flowers.”
He’s also become known for using vegan-friendly tattoo products, which means inks, ointments and after-care lotions that aren’t made with animal products.
“ I noticed there was a niche in the market for people who were vegans and were concerned that if they were getting tattooed, it would be a vegan process.”
So he uses vegetable-based ink, and switched from the industry’s standard A& D ointment and other after-care treatments that use animal by-products, instead using “ plain old Vaseline” and a vegan product called Phat Tat.
He says many tattoo artists already use vegan ink but don’t know it, while others are still using inks that are made with shellac, which can contain insect parts.
Changing over, he says, is easy to do and good for business.
“ Here in Vancouver, people are health-conscious and have demands with their diets, and they want that to extend to the rest of the things in their lives.”
A decade ago, Sky also started a tattoo-design website called tattoodles. com, which today has more than 80,000 members worldwide who share photographs and engage in robust tattoo discussions.
Sky will be on hand, along with dozens of other working tattoo artists, Friday through Sunday at the West Coast Tattoo Culture Show at the PNE.
The show also features live bands, tattoo-related vendors, a burlesque show and appearances by the Terminal City Roller Girls.