Out of The Inkwell

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Scott Campbell
Scott Campbell
"If you walk in here, you've been looking for us," says tattoo artist Scott Campbell by way of a welcome to his Brooklyn-based operation, Saved Tattoo. The greeting could be a nod to the shop's nondescript Williamsburgian warehouse exterior or to the nature of the studio itself. Far from your garden-variety Pick-a-Comically-Generic-Tattoo-Off-The-Wall shop, Saved is an open-concept studio that feels like an unconventional art gallery with added antique touches. Cool, comfortable . . . and busy. Not only do Saved's five resident tattoo artists get booked quicker than a prime table at Per Se but the shop is also home to Campbell's newest commercial design venture, Mama Tried Inc.

As creative shops continue to look high and low in the hopes of uncovering new visual inspiration and ideas, their quest often tends toward the low—street artists and tattoo artists are increasingly tapped for brand work of a certain ilk. What started as a few extracurricular projects captured Campbell's attention and motivated him to dedicate most of his time to the pursuit of commercial work. From a custom car for Maserati to a branding campaign for Camel, Campbell saw the potential for transitioning his talents to a new arena. Since borrowing from the classic Merle Haggard tune to name his new company, he's worked with Nike, Comcast, Volkswagen and other brands.

Campbell has been a devoted and influential tattoo artist for eight years, but he acknowledges that commercial work perhaps allows him to etch his cultural mark more permanently. "There's a romance to tattooing, in that every drawing you're putting on someone is then going out and living a life. But while there is that beauty to it, it also gets frustrating because you find that after tattooing for years, what do you have to show for it? I've got a few pictures and that's about it. Sometimes, as an artist, you want something tangible; to say, 'I made this' or 'I designed this.' In commercial artwork, it's nice because I spend the same amount of time and energy designing something but it ends up resonating so much louder and hits the world in a much bigger way."

Last year's campaign for Camel Wides provided Campbell a canvas to showcase his talents for hand-crafted typography and ornamental design to a much larger audience. Philadelphia-based agency Gyro Worldwide tapped Campbell for the Camel work after working with him on its Sailor Jerry brand. Sailor Jerry, the man, who died in 1973, is widely considered the father of traditional American tattoo design, developing that signature "sailor" style of pinup girls, tall ships and more.

Outside the realm of tattoos and tattoo-inspired design, Campbell is in the midst of a collaboration with Gyro on a new whiskey brand for an unnamed distillery. "A lot of the stuff we do here is history- and heritage-based," says Gyro president Steven Grasse. "But if you're conveying that in the wrong way, nobody cares because it just looks old. Scott seems to have the same sense that we do about working in a traditional style, yet it's got something that's hard to pin down, that's very now. Scott's an artisan in the old sense, and his work reflects that vibe."

Campbell sees Mama Tried not only as a design resource for commercial clients but also as a barometer for youth culture in general. "There are a lot of clients that might not hire us because they don't like the idea of a design firm/tattoo shop," he says. "But there are a lot of people that appreciate it. You can have a bunch of guys uptown hypothesizing about what the downtown New York cool kids are doing, but in our office you can just open the door and ask them—they're sitting right there getting a tattoo. It definitely allows us to have a much better finger on the pulse of what's going on, and the vitality of the tattoo studio feeds our creativity."

There is an obvious risk for Campbell, and by extension the Mama Tried crew, to be pigeonholed as "those tattoo guys," but Campbell maintains a deep commitment to detail and diversity in design. "I feel with every pitch you have to clear the slate and give something unexpected," he says. "I'm not going to walk into a company and say, 'Here's a version of those Camel ads I did, but with your logo in there.' I want to show them something amazing, something they weren't expecting. I want to catch them off guard." Which is something he wasn't really able to do before. "Yeah," he laughs. "With tattoos, you don't really want to catch the client off guard so much."
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