Interview with Ross Irvine

   Hello Ross Irvine! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. It's so nice to have you back. How are you? Where are you currently located? Hey! It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me! I’m doing great! I’m currently located in Empire Ink tattoo studio, in Edinburgh Scotland.

Q: Since our first interview, I've been keeping a close eye on your work and your progress. I love the fact that you kept your style but worked on your technique more. The tattoos look a lot better now. Sincere compliments! Is tattoo realism your ultimate style or you might surprise me soon with something completely different?
A: Thank you so much! I’ve always been drawn to black and grey realism. When I first started out as an apprentice, I was trying to get the fundamentals of tattooing down, so I would be doing traditional pieces, refresh pieces, blackwork, linework, adapting to different shading and packing techniques - basically trying to find my way with it. As time went on, I wanted to try a bit of black and grey realism as I hadn’t tried that yet, and I wanted to try to learn as much as I could. I discovered that I really liked doing black and grey realism as the approach was a lot different to say traditional work as I was building up my layers of shading and working soft shades until I was happy with the result. I then found myself getting asked alot more for my black and grey work than my other work so I ended up trying to better myself at the pieces people requested of me. I'm not opposed to trying new styles, i.e colour realism, Japanese, fine line black and grey, I’m quite eager, I just need to set some time aside from my black and grey work and get some trusty clients who would let me venture out my comfort zone. Who knows, one day my portfolio might be filled with color!

Q: Some will say that realism as a style can be limiting, you can be considered "good" if you are technically good, meaning you know how tattooing works. But not too much room for creativity. Do you agree? How important is to push some boundaries and work out a unique design for your client?
A: Very important! being an artist who does realism is a funny one because on one hand you got the photographic reference and you’ve got to stick to that reference by the book for the piece to look real and convincing - on the other hand, as an artist, you want to try to do something with it that’s a bit more personalised to the client, without jeopardising the realism aspect. I think that’s when creativity lends its hand as an artist, because you’re trying to create a piece that’s unique and personalised to the client whilst still ticking the realism boxes.

Q: I love the lettering and the illustrative elements added on the original portrait design. Very interesting and also very unique. Who gets these ideas, you or your clients?
A: It’s a bit of both to be honest. I first started doing them as a way to expand on just having the portrait, by incorporating lyrics, or quotes from that specific portrait, be it a favourite movie line, or a favourite song, or album. I think it adds a sense of personality to the tattoo. After I've done a few of those, clients started requesting their own lettering to personalising it even further by choosing their own favourite lyric or such.

Q: Any negotiations? What do you do when you simply can't reach an agreement with the client?
A: There’s been a few examples of when someone has requested an addition to the piece that’s maybe not going to fit quite as well. So part of my job is to find an alternative that does suit the client and fit the area whilst achieving the original idea. If we can’t find a suitable alternative, I always continue to work with the client, until we achieve something we’re both happy with.

Q: Is there any favorite tattoo you did recently that was like an "upgrade" technically and creatively?
A: I try not to keep favourites, as I always strive to be the best that I can be, with every tattoo. I'm always pushing myself, in regards to trying out new or different techniques suggested to me by fellow artists or watching online tutorials. Everyday is a learning day with tattooing, you never stop learning (and hopefully keep improving!) I always try to be technically & creatively better with each and every tattoo!

Tattooing is probably the best profession, very demanding but also incredibly rewarding.

Q: Even after all these years of hard work, busy schedule, and so many clients... Do you still have the same enthusiasm? What keeps you motivated?
A: Tattooing is the best job in the world. Sometimes it feels like cheating, you’re doing something you love, whilst also being able to support yourself. It doesn’t feel like a real job sometimes. Ever since I was little, I had pen to paper, drawing everyday. It’s a love that’s never faded. With all jobs, there are hard days, I suffer sometimes with lack of inspiration, creative block, constantly feeling like my work needs to be better and wanting to push myself. It’s the artists curse I suppose though, it shows I care about my work and results. I’d be worried the day I don’t have that anxiety. What keeps me motivated, is seeing the achievements I have made so far in my work, and receiving praise and encouragements from clients, colleagues, friends & family and of course my wife.

Q: What did you learn about yourself during all these years working as a tattoo artist?
A: That Rome wasn’t built in a day, hard work, time, effort and patience are the key to reaching your goals. Before, when I first started learning how to tattoo, I’d look at magazines and artists portfolios and got envious thinking “how are they SO good?” It’s humbling to know that when you go way back and see how they started the tattoo journey, with their first tattoos - that nobody is perfect from scratch. I love seeing now and then tattoo comparisons, which proves hard work really does pay off.

Q: Nowadays artists travel for guest spots and conventions. It is really nice to see so many great artists, sharing the knowledge, having fun, and if lucky win an award too. It's also really cool seeing live tattooing either solo or multiple artists working on one big tattoo. It's not only attention grabbing but very interesting. Do you think these types of events help young artists to learn about this industry and guide them in the right direction just in case they want to be part of it?
A: Absolutely. Tattoo conventions are a window into the world of tattooing and its culture. They’re great for breaking away the stigma of old stereotypes, by showing how diverse and expressive this art form can be. It’s a good chance for young artists to see and meet tattooers of all ages, stages and styles. I remember before I was a tattoo artist, I spent my time around these conventions, taking it all in. They definitely cemented my believes in following my path and hopefully one day I would be lucky enough to work one of these shows.

Q: You were lucky to be a part of the Scottish Tattoo convention and judge on the panel for small black and gray tattoos. How was the feeling?
A: One of the conventions that I attended as a member of the public before my tattoo career began, was the Scottish Tattoo Convention. It’s an amazing event showcasing the UK’s finest artists. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the UK tattoo scene. I never thought for one second that I would be lucky enough to work the show once, let alone four times now! When I got the opportunity to judge on the panel for small black and grey, I was unbelievably happy. It was an amazing experience, one which I hope happens again!

Q: How much the recognition from the fellow artists and the people there means to you?
A: Being at the Scottish Tattoo Convention and having people that I’ve looked up to, and admired their work for many years, come up and acknowledge my work and giving me praise and positive kindness and compliments means everything! We share knowledge about our work, be it needle configurations, the type of ink we use, to techniques we’ve learned over the years to better ourselves. It’s very humbling knowing these people are people I looked up to and still look up to, to this day.

Q: Do you like where the tattoo industry is going? Globally, locally?
A: The tattoo industry is art, and like art, it’s constantly evolving. All manners of new styles are being discovered and old styles being reimagined daily. It’s a great time to be in the tattoo industry. Nothing is off limits.

Q: Do you feel like social media is bettering the industry or there is a negative side too? Like too much saturation and fake stuff, unfair "competition" negativity, and often times zero authenticity?
A: I feel the social media aspect has both helped and hindered the industry. It’s brought to light talent that years ago would go undiscovered had it not been for the exposure of social media. It’s an amazing way to connect with millions of people all over the world, clients and artists alike. I'd say the negatives of social media can be the over-glamorisation of tattooing. People forget the hard work and dedication to the craft, under all the time lapses and filters.

Q: Where do we draw the line? So the clients will make a better judgement when choosing a tattoo artist?
A: When people bring me in an example of something they would like that they’ve seen on TikTok or Instagram and it’s so filtered and unrealistic. It’s always worth  explaining to the client that the final product is the healed tattoo, and being the artist you want to be, the one to inform them of making the right decisions for the best outcome. What looks good in a insta photo or a fancy reel, won’t necessary look good in 5-10 years time. You want to be clear so the client is happy with the tattoo for many years and also as it represents myself as an artist.

Q: What are the good ethics and values of a professional tattoo artist in your opinion?
A: I think above all, honesty and transparency are very important ethics to have as a tattooer. I believe you have to have a drive and hunger to succeed in all aspects of life. I believe that to get results you’ve to put the work in, you’ve to do the prep work on your days off, you’ve to go in early to set up, you’ve got to stay late to finish a tattoo. This isn’t a 9-5 job. More times than not, your work does follow you home. The results you get from that will always be worth it. Part of getting tattooed is the experience, being in a positive welcoming safe environment, surrounded by warm friendly professional artists, that understand that people do get nervous, and people don’t want to feel judged. Having coworkers that I get on with and remain professional brings together this experience.

Q: We have so many seminars, books, courses, the conventions... I think there are a great source of inspiration. Aspiring artists can learn a lot. Seems like it's easier to get into tattooing today than a few decades ago. If you were starting today, what would you do differently?
A: In some aspects it would appear easier to get into tattooing, social media videos, viral content. I also believe part of it would be a bit more difficult when starting out. The tattoo industry is getting bigger by the day, so having the motivation and drive to stand out in the crowd is essential. I stand by my morals, if I was to start again today, I would just dig down, continue to be and do the best of my abilities as much as I can in the hope that the clients leave with work that they are happy with and I am able to build a career out of that.

Q: The American tattoo scene is very diverse and continuously growing. Would you consider moving to the USA? That would be a great career highlight!
A: As a kid growing up, watching movies and tv shows - the US is always represented as the land of opportunity! For decades, people have travelled overseas to expand on their artistic freedom. In the 1930s, it was the film industry, in the 1960s it was music acts, and now I feel there is another wave coming of artists, be it all forms, looking to broaden there scope of the possibilities within their realm in the States. It’s an exciting movement and one I would very much like to be a part of. I think it would be a massive career highlight.

Q: Do you have any favorite artists you would like to work with?
A: I have loads of artists I look upto, all varying styles. I like what Kindamo & Antonio Macko Todisko are doing for the Chicano scene. Carlos Torres & Ivano Natale’s black & grey are all exceptional. Nikko Hurtado for colour realism also.

Q: In free time, what do you do? Any interesting hobbies?
A: I make the most of my free time, by spending it with my wife and my wee dog Charlie going on adventures exploring places and trying tasty food. I spend my evenings going online with my friends trying to get a win on warzone. I’d love to say in my free time I’m more creative, but sometimes you just need to switch off.

Q: This job is very time consuming and requires full dedication. Do you have the support from your friends and family?
A: 100%. I’m very lucky to have my wife, family and friends who are always understanding when the work comes home and supportive/encouraging when I have days that I doubt myself. It’s very important to have people like this in your life.

Please write down your contacts, social media links, and studio location. Also let us know if you are available for bookings.

Name : Ross Irvine
Instagram: @rossirvineart
Studio location:
Empire Ink, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK EH39BH
Available for bookings from June onwards :)

Ross Irvine's Accomplishments:

Best Small Black and Grey - Big North Tattoo Show
Year 2019, Newcastle, UK.
Atlas Tattoo Cartridges
Ink Doctor Tattoo Care Ltd
Conventions attended
Scottish Tattoo Convention 2018
Scottish Tattoo Convention 2019
Big North Tattoo Show 2019 -
Won best small black and grey award
Star Wars Celebration London 2023 -
Official Lucasfilm licensed tattoo artist.
Scottish Tattoo Convention 2023
Scottish Tattoo Convention 2024 -
judged small black and grey competition

Read our first interview with Ross Irvine on this link.