Photo by Craig McDean. 

scott campbell is doing free, mystery tattoos this weekend

i-D talks to the artist about the pressure of blind tattooing before his pop up event at the Marc Jacobs store on Madison Avenue.

by Nicole DeMarco
29 March 2019, 4:32pm

Photo by Craig McDean. 

Scott Campbell describes the first tattoo that he gave Marc Jacobs as “a little sweet drawing of his dogs on his arm.” That was fifteen years ago, and, as we’re all quite aware, there have been many colorful images inked onto the designers body since. “I'm either to credit or to blame for what he looks like naked,” Campbell adds, laughing. The two have been friends for many years, and have matching wrist tattoos that proclaim: “BROS BEFORE HOS.” It’s only fitting that this weekend Campbell and Jacobs will team up to host a blind tattooing event called "Whole Glory" at the brand’s Madison Avenue store. From March 29 to 31, visitors to the shop can enter a drawing to win one of six spots each day and get a mystery tattoo. Winners will put their arm through a literal hole in the wall. Campbell sits on the other side, where he carries out his designs without even seeing who he's tattooing.

While the concept of surprise tattoos sounds pretty terrifying, Campbell has been labeled a “celebrity tattooist,” and has inked many of New York’s art and design elite over the last couple decades. He’s tattooed the likes of the late Heath Ledger, Josh Hartnett, Orlando Bloom, Helena Christensen, and Penelope Cruz. Campbell owns and operates Saved Tattoo in Williamsburg, though he currently resides in Los Angeles, where he takes appointments at a rate of $1000 an hour. But this weekend, Campbell’s tattoos are totally free, and custom Scott Campbell X Marc Jacobs hoodies with custom embroidery are available for purchase. i-D caught up with Campbell to see how it’ll all go down.

Scott Campbell tattoos

I saw that you first started tattooing in San Francisco. How did you get into it?
I started tattooing mostly just because I couldn't do much other than draw pictures and had to figure out some way to feed myself. I was running around with a bunch of punk rock kids and I was the one that would decorate everyone's jean jackets or leather jackets, just drawing 'Misfits' logos on the back of everything. I was always drawing and then I started tattooing a couple of people out of my apartment. And more and more people started showing up at my door to get tattooed. My landlord kept banging on the door each month for rent, so I just decided to start charging money and called it a job.

And you’ve been tattooing ever since?
Since ‘98. Twenty one years.

Have you done blind tattooing like this before?
Yeah, I've done a few of them. I did one at the Garage Museum in Moscow. One at Milk a couple of years ago downtown. I did one at Art Basel Miami. I've done it a couple of times. It's never a dull moment.

Scott Campbell tattoos

How do you prepare for something like that?
Well, it's interesting. In the beginning, I thought I would plan it all out ahead of time. I tried to do all my homework. Like okay, I'm going to tattoo twenty people, so here's twenty drawings. First one I'll do this, second one this, and third one this. And then every single time I tried to plan ahead the same thing would happen. I'd get the drawing ready, the arm would come through the hole, I'd shave it, and then I'd sit there and meditate on it a minute and be like, ‘No, it doesn't feel right.’ This one needs something different. And so I ended up collaging or putting together something last minute each time anyway. Which is interesting, because it just showed me that even with no verbal interaction or even seeing them — just kind of touching someone's arm — it's still not anonymous. Call it intuition, call it whatever. I mean, I don't want the responsibility of calling myself a palm reader. But when this arm comes through the hole I can't help but imagine who the person is based on what little information I have. And so I do kind of design these tattoos to accommodate who I imagine these people to be.

Then there will be times when I meet the people afterward and it's kind of like when you go to Disneyland and all the characters take off their masks and they're just people underneath. You know? It's like, ‘Oh hey, you're Gary.’ I had made up this whole story about who I thought you were. But then it's interesting to see how accurate it is.

There's something just so personal about getting a tattoo anyway. Then with that added element of perception, you’re trying to figure what they want or what they need.
It's a fun experiment. I first did it because I fantasized about a situation where I could do tattoos and I could work in this medium, that my hands know how to do better than anything, but with total freedom. And without the pressure of having this person right there. What I didn't realize until I started doing it is that when I tattoo them in this dynamic, with the blind tattoos, it actually puts more pressure on me. Because if you walk into a tattoo shop and say, ‘Hey, I'd like an eagle,’ and I put an eagle on you, if it's not awesome it's half your fault. Because it was your idea in the first place. With this, because they have no say in it, I'm totally responsible so it actually pushes me harder to make them as great as I can. And kind of make the message convey as universal a truth as possible so that it can apply to anyone.

Scott Campbell tattoos

I imagine that the people that show up are really into your art anyway.
Yeah. I think anybody who signs up for it embraces the notion that regardless of what the mark on their arm is when they walk away, they'll at least have a really great story about how they got it. I feel like half, maybe more than half of any tattoo, is the experience associated with getting it.

How did you end up collaborating with Marc Jacobs?
Marc's been a long-time dear friend and I've always loved anything that has his hand in it. So we're doing these limited edition sweatshirts that have some designs based around the project. People can pick [them] out and embroider [them] on sweatshirts on the spot. So, the garment side of things has a sense of spontaneity as well. I just love Marc so much and I've been wanting to get into their new space on Madison and do something over there, so it just seemed like the right time to do it.

How many tattoos have you done on Marc?
I've done most of his tattoos. I think there's only like two or three that he's gotten that I haven't done. But yeah, I'm either to credit or to blame for what he looks like naked.

marc jacobs
Scott Campbell