Adam Rose came to Colorado for the outdoor sports. But two decades later, he spends most of his time indoors, running a tattoo shop and focusing on his artwork. A native of Santa Cruz, California, he still draws inspiration from nature, though, and his love of adventure is evident in his art. Rose has been tattooing for ten years and is now the owner of Fallen Owl Tattoo. We recently sat down with Rose to talk with him about growing up in a family of artists, creating tattoos that make him laugh and surfing in Panama.
Westword: How long have you been in Colorado?
Adam Rose: I got out here nineteen years ago. I came out for a winter and I just never left.
The mountains grabbed you?
Yeah. I competed in snowboarding for a while. When I first got here, there were more contests and that kind of stuff going on out here.
So you were into sports growing up. Were you also artistic?
I've always done art. Actually, all of my grandparents were artists. My mom is still an artist. My dad is an engineer, but still has that art in him. So I got it from pretty much all sides of the family.
Any other tattoo artists in the family?
No, I'm the only tattooer.
How did you get into the business?
I started getting tattooed pretty young and I've always been into art, so at some point it just kind of made sense to put them both together so I could actually make money doing art.
Did you ever consider any other career paths?
I did a lot of stuff. I was a bar manager for a long time. I worked in groceries for way too long. I've always been in some form of management since I was about fifteen. I started tattooing about ten years ago. It's good to have the business background, especially as a business owner. It's definitely helped. I think if I hadn't worked all those jobs that I didn't like, I wouldn't appreciate tattooing as much as I do now.
Do you remember the very first tattoo you ever did?
First tattoo as an apprentice, yeah. I tattooed stars on one of my friends. They were horrible.
Was that first experience scary?
Terrifying. Especially coming from an art background, where I can make a pencil work for me and I know what it's going to do. The first time you hit somebody with a needle and the needle starts jumping around, it's unlike any other art form I've ever done. Continue reading for more with Adam Rose.
Where do you get inspiration for your artwork?
I spend a lot of time outdoors. I do a lot of florals and nature and that kind of stuff. I like doing dumb tattoos, so pretty much anything that makes me laugh I try to draw some inspiration from.
What are some examples of funny tattoos you've done?
I just did a condom choking out a sperm recently. I did a gerbil coming out of a toilet paper roll on somebody's ass. I did butter wrapped in bacon. Stuff like that makes me laugh. I have fun doing that stuff. But pretty much anything that's big and colorful. I like to do stuff that really stands out across the room.
What made you decide to open your own business?
I used to be at a shop right across the street. The owner wanted out, so I bought him out. As soon as I bought him out I closed that and moved locations. Like I said, I have the business background, so working for myself was definitely something that I was aspiring to do.
Do you find it hard to balance owning a business and doing your artwork?
Oh, it's horrible. [Laughs.] I'm very fortunate with the crew I have. This place pretty much runs itself. It took me a couple years to get to that point, but right now I can see how it's really easy to blur the line between business and tattoo. I really prefer being on the tattooer side than I do the business side, but you need to have both for a solid business.
Do you work in any other media?
I paint in acrylic, watercolor, oils. Lately most of my artwork time has been mostly focused on tattooing. But I do have an art show actually hanging right now at Highland Tavern through the end of February.
Do you think there are some misconceptions in the media of what it's like to be a tattoo artist?
A ton. The TV shows don't show the hard work that goes behind tattooing. I've been here since ten o'clock this morning, trying to draw to keep up. Twelve-hour days aren't uncommon. We go home and draw at night. There's a lot of work that goes behind tattooing. The TV shows portray the glamorous side of things; I don't think it actually shows the work that goes behind it.
Anything else you want to mention?
We just passed our five-year mark. I'm very proud of the staff we have working here. We have a lot of talent under one roof.
I've also been focusing a lot of time lately on tattooing internationally. I've been tattooing all over Latin America. I just got back from Asia. I've tattooed coast to coast here in the States, from New York to San Francisco. I really enjoy traveling and trying to learn as much as I can from working with other people, different cultures. We tattoo a lot differently here in the United States.
What are some differences you've found?
We have a lot more people to learn from here. There's a lot more shared knowledge, which is nice. So getting the opportunity to actually learn from so many people here, I think you appreciate it a lot more. When I go and travel to other countries, there's more of the old-school supplies. We don't have printers, we don't have stencil machines, we don't have the access to a lot of stuff that we have here in the States. I think it's good. It takes you back to a lot of the fundamentals of where tattooing started.
What's your favorite place that you've traveled to?
Solo Ink in Bocas del Toro, Panama, is my home away from home. I love that shop. I get to go surf, then I tattoo, I go home, surf some more and then I go tattoo some more. That's pretty much my daily routine down there. Beautiful, tropical, wonderful place.
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For more information, visit Fallen Owl Tattoo's website.