Society of the Seven Crowns Tattoo Interview

Posted by Anita On June - 19 - 20114,437 views

Seven Crowns Tattoo Artists in Sepia

This interview took place right before I got a tattoo from George Brown. You can see the picture of the end result right here!  And there will also be video of the interview posted so you can hear the whole story including the weird cassette tape conspiracy and me laughing at the “mountain climbing” answer. And now without further ado I give you the interview with the Seven Crowns Society tattoo artists George Brown and Matthew Ellis.

How did the Seven Crowns shop get started?

G: About 2 and half years ago we both decided we wanted to focus on the custom work. Doing things on our terms a little more… Not so much catering to the walk in crowd. We both had similar ideas about what kind of place we wanted to put together. And we decided working for someone else was for the birds as well.  So we put it together about 2 and half years ago now. And it’s been an exciting, fun adventure that’s actually worked out pretty well for us.

A: Alright, do you have anything to add?

M:  No he pretty much covered it all! We were working together in a street shop for over 10 years.

Anita's tattoo by George Brown from the Society of the Seven Crowns

G: What was it?                                                                               

M: (Mumbles)                                                                               

G: Way Cool Tattoos!

A: Yeah, I’ve heard of that place!

M: We used to work there and we left. And made our own thing so we could play by our own rules, make our own mistakes. And it’s worked out pretty good.

A: And how did you start as tattoo artists?

M: I went down to the crossroads, met a man, sold my soul…

A: (laughs) So what’s the real story?

M: The real story is very long but I’ll paraphrase, basically…once I was exposed to tattoos in the proper light I fell in love with the process. I was in school for art and it seemed like the most challenging media one could ever work in. I got hooked as a customer then I got hooked as an artist.

A: And what about you?

G: I was in school as an English major and a friend of mine was opening a shop and asked me if I wanted to apprentice. I jumped at the chance because it was something I wanted to do since my teens. And it fell by the wayside unfortunately because of lack of opportunity.  So when I had this opportunity with this friend of mine I said “yeah absolutely”. I picked it up and a university schedule is conducive to spending long hours in a tattoo shop so it worked out.

A : What do you like best about doing custom art?

M: Basically there are a lot of things but two of the main ones are the ability to express yourself artistically and put more of your art into it. Instead of doing the same old flash over and over again and doing things you may not necessarily like as a tattoo over and over again.  As well with custom work, it’s a bit of a double edged sword but you get more of a connection with your client. You spend more time talking about what the end result might be as opposed to picking something off the wall and slapping it on. That has its time and place and is very important in the world of tattooing but after a certain amount of time you want to explore the other side of it.

G: I would just add consistently challenging and bettering yourself to that. Trying to one up yourself, you know. It’s not to say the last piece you did wasn’t quality work, it’s just that you’re constantly trying to get better and better. You don’t really get that opportunity if you’re constantly doing lettering or butterflies.

A: So what would be one of the best tattoos you’ve done?

G: The last one I did! (laughs) The first one in my portfolio at present!

A: Which was?

G: An owl, a nice owl on the side…and that’s my favourite right now.

M: I tattooed time.

A: Time?

G: If I tried to explain it any further then that your head would explode!

A: A clock?

G: No. Literally time! Not 2D, not 3D, 4D!  It was a very difficult process.

A: Are there any tattoos you’ve rejected?

M: Not really, there are things that due to circumstance and schedules…like we have other people that work here. Sometimes people will come in and say “George I heard you did a really good job on my buddy’s piece! I need 3 letters.” And you can wait for it forever or they would take care of it in a much timelier pace. So it’s not a rejection necessarily, it just doesn’t work schedule-wise. When I was younger I’d stay away from the ‘isms like sexual violence, racism. But to be honest they don’t come to me-

G: Dumb-ism!

M: Dumb-ism…complete, utter I don’t understand-ism. I stay away from those. But to be honest, they don’t really come to me so I don’t have to deal with rejecting them too often. When it comes it isms I’m not into, say racism. Usually racist people will go to other racist people to get tattoos done. People that have a similar headspace for it..

A: And have you rejected anything?

G: Something that’s distasteful to me say, racist or horribly sexist that’s the kind of thing I’d reject outright.  Also I’m not wild about doing big fields of black colour so I might pass that on. Note too, our fabulous walk-in artists are also very capable of doing it and can do custom work.  They’re here to field some of the stuff we’re tired of doing. It’s the reason we came here. They’re the best of both worlds.

M: Or it’s not our forte.

G: Yeah, if I’m not going to do a great job on something I will pass them on to another artist. Preferably someone in the shop but if there’s someone in town that I know is very specialized in a specific style. Yeah… There’s enough work to go around, we’re not loaded rich but we’re not poor.

A: Not starving?

G: Yeah, so if someone’s going to do a really good job I’d rather see that happen. I don’t need to tattoo the world. I mean I’d like to but it’s not necessary.

A: So do you guys have a favourite style?

M: Not really.

G:  No, it bounces around so much. I have things that I’m into right now but a week from now I got another thing that I’d like to try my hand at. Really varied-

M: That goes in hand with what he said of striving to be better. Like if you stagnate within something, you’re not doing better.  And you get to personal high levels on one thing then you get interested in other stuff.  And that won’t be classified in one specific style; it’ll be in this other style. So it’s always changing.

G: That’s our approach. I mean there are artists that like to work specifically on one thing. I know that we tend to bounce all over the place. Part of that maybe we’re we came up, there was always different stuff coming in. It’s not always interesting but it’s somewhat varied.

A: So any weird customers? Any stories?

M: Every last one. Like we said versus being in the street shop where the majority of the work is smaller stuff like first tattoos with the larger custom work you get to know these people more and the more you get to know people the weirder they are. So every single last one.

G: Your knowledge is so increased by meeting and getting to spend time with so many different people. I mean, I’ve tattooed physicists, sociologists

M: Cab drivers..

G: And every time I’m talking to each of them and there’s the other thing, I mean you’d be surprised at what the construction worker would get.

A: What does the physicist get?

M: Nothing to do with physics! Because these people have lives outside of their jobs as well. And physicist when he goes home on the weekend may just be the best barbeque cook in the world so gets like a roast turkey crossed with a knife and a fork so it has nothing to do with his job necessarily.

A: What should customers never do?

M: Never piss off the tattooist. Don’t argue with them. Bring money that helps. There’s more a list of do’s then don’ts. Like bathe!

A: (laughs)

M: Oh you’d be surprised dear.

G: I think the main thing that bothers us is someone coming with an idea and saying I wanna go to Matt! I really love Matt’s work! And here’s my idea, I want it specifically like this, with these colours and no, no don’t draw it that way, draw it like this!” Like why are you going to Matt? I’d prefer someone to come in with a general idea and just let us run with it.

Go to the artist, give them a list of ideas, give them some reference, then leave them the fuck alone. And let them do what they’re supposed to do! I mean if someone’s hanging over someone’s back when they’re building a house it’s like, who are you? You know, this is our realm let us do it. And if not…If you want to be a control freak about it, draw it yourself. Make it your life’s project. Draw your tattoo!

 A: (laughs) So now let me ask you about this event you’re having. (shows flyer)

 M: This is our second annual charity auction which we do in the fall; it’s mainly for Canadian artists. We have artists send us artwork and we have an auction and party this year is called “Bold Will Hold”. And it’s at Six Degrees nightclub which is near the shop (2335 Yonge St, Toronto on Sunday Sept.18).

Last year we had an incredible number of artwork come in and we auction that off and the money goes to “Art City St. James Town” which is a children’s art program…It’s a really awesome party essentially; we have entertainment, food, drinks, your peers within the industry…

 G: And open to the public. (whispers) Come to our show!

 M: And this year is “Bold Will Hold” which is a celebration of the traditional tattoo. Which is something a lot of people have opened up to they’ve realized that though you can do so many styles with tattoos, the traditional styles are classic and hold well. There’s going to be a lot of art in that style, come on out, bring your dollars, it all goes to charity. And there will be food…

 G: And Social Distortion cover band

 M: Suicide Girls…George and I get a little tipsy which is entertaining on its own.

 A: Even better! Where did you get the idea for it?

 M: That dude at the crossroads.

 G: Philip Barbosa passed this idea onto us. Phil is essentially a fifth Beatle here.

 M:  If someone could harness his thought process we could solve the energy problem. The guy just comes up with the greatest ideas so the “Bold Will Hold” concept is his. The doing of this party I think that was something George and I came up with in the first couple of weeks of opening the shop and seeing the direction we wanted to go with.

 G: It was part of our mandate to bring the tattoo community together. We do it on a micro-cosmic level with people that we know in the city but having a big Canada wide was something we had planned right from the get go.

 A: And now a more personal question, what are your interests outside of tattooing?

 G: Mountain climbing.

 A: (laughs loudly)

 M: Interests? Or actually being able to do anything? Because being a tattooist especially a custom tattooist takes up a lot of time!

 G: I love music; I’ve put like 5 albums on my iTunes in the last two and a half years. This place consumes us, it’s very rewarding but oh my consuming. We don’t know anyone outside the shop anymore.

 M: I’ve walked the same L shape from my home to the shop in the last 2 and half years.

 A: So are there any songs you listen to while working?

 G: I’ve been listening to the same 5000 songs for the past 2 years. I’ve been getting into old soul stuff, kind of falling in to The Clash…

 M: All I hear from this room is Scissor Sisters 24/7! (laughs)  Yeah, though I like music; music is more of an alone time thing for me. Like I listen to music if I’m driving alone

 G: Drinking ripple!

 M: Drinking ripple on the corner…Listen, it’s called a Walkman, tapes! You might need to Google that!

 A:  (laughs) I’m old enough to know what that is! I still have cassette tapes!  (If you want to hear about the weird cassette tape conspiracy story watch the video online!)

A: Any advice for young people who want to become tattoo artists?

 M: Don’t bother.

 A: (laughs)

 M: No, at this point in time the industry is saturated with a lot of young people that are starting in or trying to get in. It’s really, really hard for young people to get in this business. Because in the last 5 years whether it is the influx of magazines, TV shows, more of an acceptance of tattoos in the work place. Everyone and their brother wants to become a tattoo artist. In school you can get co-ops for tattoo places which 10 years ago tattooing wasn’t even a viable option as a career.

If I had some advice it would be seek out a proper apprenticeship, don’t go the cheap route, and don’t try to do it yourself. I had sort of an improper apprenticeship and I feel it took me much longer to do things properly then it should have. That I should be way further in my career then I am because of that.

Also in guilt, logistics way, you can scar someone badly or you give them a disease…

 G: Or you can give them crappy artwork.

 M: Just because you can scribble neat little spirals when you’re on the phone with your mom does not mean you should tattoo anybody.

 G: In short though, no body bother asking any tattoo artist for an apprenticeship right now because the books are closed for at least 5 years.

 A: Really? Wow…5 years!

 G: I’ve declared it right now!

 M: Because once you teach somebody you have to give them a job. It’s your piece of the pie getting smaller so if you’re working hard to get by and you take on someone else and teach them…a lot of people have this preconceived notion that taking someone on and teaching them, “Oh I’ve got somebody who will mop the floors for a while or scrub the tubes for a while and then I got somebody who’s going to make me money.” It doesn’t necessarily work that way and you’re just putting more and more people that know how to do the job out into the public. And you’re making your piece of the pie smaller and smaller…Actually fuck it! I’m gonna take all that and throw it out the window. Become tattoo artist! Especially you that can’t draw and don’t give a crap about scarring people up because I make a lot of money doing cover ups so we’re good!

 A: (laughs) Alright! Thank you for the interview!

One Response to “Society of the Seven Crowns Tattoo Interview”

  1. Anita says:

    Hello guys! Here’s the video I mentioned! This is the first part..enjoy! : ) http://youtu.be/JFYxW1kdNWw
    Cheers, Anita

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