Animal Nitrate - Scott Olive

Published: 15 November, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 205, November, 2011

Scott Olive. The name may be unfamiliar to some, but to others it will already be etched into the memory as somebody to nail down, just as soon as he sets foot on UK soil that is…

Scott’s work is basically, incredible. Each can be seen as a masterpiece in this style, turned up to 11 and then some. Thankfully Scott didn’t brush me off as a crazy stalker when I got in touch with him with maybe a little bit too much enthusiasm recently. Within minutes we were talking all things tattoo. So without further ado, here is what he had to say about how it all started:

“I have always been drawn to art. My father was always a talented drawer. He never painted much but he kept sketchbooks, drew on my paperbag lunches and would occasionally draw a picture for me or paint something on my bedroom wall.

“I have been painting longer than I have been tattooing and I think the thought had crossed my mind that I would like to be a professional artist one day… but I’m not sure how serious I took myself at the time. I got into art while at college but I hated every class I took and couldn’t decide on a major as all I wanted to do was to take art classes. The problem was, that the school I was going to, you had to be an art major to take art classes, so I switched my major to art. This helped me buy some time to figure out what I wanted to do.

“Once I started taking the art classes, I never looked back. I loved doing art and consumed myself with it. I sucked but I wanted to be better and couldn’t always figure things out, and that challenge had me hooked. I have always been drawn to painting and I like how experimental I can be in a painting, something that I feel I can’t do so much in a tattoo. I usually either paint with oils or acrylics on canvas. I have messed with watercolour and a few other mediums but I always go back to oils and acrylics.”

So with a serious artistic base to work from, what saw Scott decide to get into the tattoo world when he could have just as easily have been a successful painter? Especially when he explained just how hard that step was going to be, being raised in the household that he was.

“I was never really around tattoos much as a kid; I was raised somewhat conservative, so I never really saw any family members with tattoos. It wasn’t until I was 18 and had left the house that I started slowly getting tattooed and showing an interest in tattoos. My parents, at first, were definitely not super stoked when I started getting tattoos. They were even less thrilled when I told them I wanted to become a tattoo artist.

“We had a few ‘discussions’ about it and why it was not a good idea. This was all before I actually got an apprenticeship, so I was encouraged to go to art school and maybe try and become a commercial artist, but I kept my focus on eventually tattooing. Once I got started tattooing though, they saw how passionate I was about it and have since warmed to the idea. They have always stood behind me, even though they may have not always agreed with me, and that support helped a lot when things weren’t always up.”

But fate was going to step into Scott’s path to push him in a new direction and just like a lot of artists out there plying their trade today, it started with just one sitting in the big chair!

“My first tattoo experience was when I was 18. I had wanted a tattoo for a while but I didn’t know much about tattoos, especially custom tattoos. One day in my friends garage, I decided that I wanted to get tattooed the next day and went into a head shop where they did tattoos and got a tribal design on my upper back… looking back knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have chosen that same image and I would have researched artists a little more, but I was young, dumb and anxious! I didn’t know what I wanted at the time so I just grabbed a design I saw. Getting a tattoo of anything was more important to me that getting a specific image that meant something to me! I just wanted a tattoo. Luckily I walked away with a pretty clean one. It was done fairly well, so I have that to be a little thankful for.

“At this point, I had no thoughts of becoming a tattoo artist or even wanting another tattoo. It wasn’t until a year later when I decided I wanted a half sleeve it hit me that I wanted to start pursuing becoming a tattoo artist. I think this happened because I had to make multiple trips to the tattoo shop and eventually got to know people that worked there and saw that, ‘Hey I could do tattoos one day!’ When I went in to get my first tattoo, I was pretty nervous so I was in and out of the tattoo shop pretty quickly.”

And here we hit the crossroads that a lot of artists face in the beginning; the ink is in the skin, the fire is alive – what to do next? Pursue a life of the commercial artist or dive into the world of tattooing? Thankfully for us it turned out to be a simple choice… get tattooing.

“Yeah, I began showing an interest in getting into the tattoo industry. I started asking tattoo artists what I needed to do to become a tattoo artist and they told me, ‘put together a portfolio and look for an apprenticeship’. I began drawing and drawing, and finally I had a portfolio to take around to a few local shops, where I was constantly being told ‘no!’ I would go back and do a few more drawings and take a few old ones out and head back to the shops. And once again all I heard was no.

“After about three years of looking and taking some art classes, and a few moves to different cities, I finally ended up in Sarasota, Florida where I met Travis Franklin at Oddity Tattoo. He eventually agreed to apprentice me mostly because I was persistent and had lucky timing. He happened to be opening a new shop with a better location and said he could use someone to help paint walls and get the shop up and running. That was about four years ago in 2007.

“My apprenticeship with Travis had some old school and some new school aspects. I was responsible for cleaning toilets, answering phones, setting up and breaking down stations, cleaning floors. The apprenticeship began a couple months before the shop was open so I was painting the inside of the shop and the outside in the summer months in Florida. I had to run and get coffee and food for months. I never had to do anything too shitty though. Travis showed me tons of respect while still being very firm with me. Because of the way he treated me with respect, I have been very loyal to him and continued to work with him for the past four years. I have never tattooed myself, even better, I had a bunch of crusty punk rock friends who were down to get free tattoos so I had plenty of people to practice on which made it easy to get time in the skin.”

So credentials firmly established, both on canvas and on skin, via Travis’ apprenticeship, we get onto how Scott ticks artistically. How does he approach these two mediums that are so different, yet so similar?

 “My process for paintings is really dependent on how much fun I want to have or if I have a rush to finish it. Sometimes I’ll jump straight to the canvas without a drawing or a sketch. This is the most fun because I have no idea what the result will be and I can stay looser since I have no expectations. This usually takes a little longer though because I usually have to change my drawing with the paint. Sometimes I’ll do a drawing of a piece before I start and this process usually goes a little quicker, but I find I get disappointed if things don’t go the way I want them to go. Either way I choose to start the painting, I usually settle on a colour pallet that evokes the mood I want and start layering the paint on the canvas until I’m either happy with the painting or am so over painting it.

“My process for a tattoo usually begins with a consultation with the client. I discuss basic ideas with them and find out how much freedom I can have with the piece. If someone wants something super specific, I’m not usually the best artist for that because sometimes when I draw accidents happen for the better of the piece. After we discuss a couple things, I sit down about a week before the appointment and work on a couple thumbnails and rough sketches. Once I have a rough sketch I like, I work on a tight sketch. Sometimes this leaves me areas I still want to work out; maybe I’m not happy with the hands of a creature or the facial expressions or something. So what I’ll do is put a piece of tracing paper on top of my sketch and trace the areas I like and work out the areas I’m unhappy with. Sometimes I’ll even put my sketch into Photoshop and move things around to really push proportions. After I get the sketch finalized, I’ll usually work out a colour study on Photoshop with an Intuos tablet. When the colours are worked out, I’ll do a line drawing and get the stencil ready.”

And that’s it folks, Scott’s path to the present. But more importantly to you collectors out there, what about the future? Are we going to see Scott stick to his needles, or chase the brushes and canvas?

“I’m not really sure. I see myself tattooing at least another 15 years unless something changes in the industry, making tattooing no longer what it is. Tattooing itself is more important to me than painting. It’s how I make a living and it’s permanently affecting other people’s lives. Painting for me is more fun because there are no rules. I don’t have to worry about someone else’s life so I can let loose. But, it can also be lonely, painting. Being by yourself for long hours is nice sometimes, but I don’t know if I’d want that at my age; tattooing lets me socialise with other people, but it is much more stressful. I love both and they go hand in hand with me right now.

“I would love to travel more but sometimes that can be hard. I just started a family and my son is too young to leave. We also have two English Bulldogs that have a separation anxiety disorder and we miss them just as bad as they miss us when we leave for a convention. Also the shop that I work at is amazing. Travis has put together a top notch place. I sometimes don’t realize how spoiled I am there. I have a great group of clients and all that combined, makes it a little hard to leave. Plus, Travis has always treated me with respect and for that I will always be loyal to him. As far as travelling goes, well, Jesse Smith just opened Loose Screw Tattoo in Richmond, Virginia and I will be doing the occasional guest spot there. I’m open to some other guest spots, but that is the only place I have immediate plans for.”

1778 Main Steet
Sarasota, FL 34236


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Scott Olive