Artist Scott Ferguson talks about the tattoo experience and lifestyle

Colorado native Scott Ferguson has always been an artist, but what drew him to the tattoo industry was the rugged lifestyle. Ferguson has been hanging out a tattoo shops since he was a teenager and tattooing professionally since 1996; he currently works at Thick as Thieves Tattoo. Westword recently caught up with Ferguson to talk about the tattoo lifestyle and giving his clients a good experience.

See also: Michael Pinto on the changing tattoo industry, respecting the art form and teaching the craft

Westword: How did you become interested in tattoos?

Scott Ferguson: I got interested in it when I was a kid. I started hanging out and getting tattooed at Richard Romano's shop. He had a shop over on Havana and Colfax, American Tattoo. I was a young kid and Rich never carded people, so I started getting tattooed when I was really young, about fourteen. Back in those days it was more like you had to fight through bikers and convicts to get tattooed. It wasn't quite as accepted as it is now with the television shows and all that. It was fun. You'd go to those tattoo shops and you'd never know what was going to happen. You always came out of there with a really killer story.

Did you have a passion for art before that?

Yeah, absolutely. I was always really good at art in school. I think my mom would say I came into the world with some crayons in my hands.

What about the tattoo lifestyle drew you in?

It was real gangster, you know what I mean? I'm not the sweetheart of tattooing who says, "I got into it because I went to art school," or anything like that. I was more into the rough and tumble kind of thing. I liked the idea of being an outlaw, whereas nowadays young kids get into it because they see it on television. We see people who are like, "Let's go have brunch and I'll interpret your dreams for a tattoo." Fuck that shit, you know? Come down and give me a couple ideas, give me a couple days to mull those over and I'll draw you up something spectacular. I don't need to know your feelings, I'm not that guy. It's all pretty cut and dry. It works in my favor. I have a lot of great clients who appreciate what I do. It's a lot of fun, you get some really neat stories, punk rock music, tattooing. You come to me for that life experience.

What style of tattoos do you like to work in?

I do a mixture of a lot of black and gray, a lot of Japanese. Also a lot of people want real gangster kind of shit, OG, Chicano stuff. I do a little bit of everything. I do spend a lot of time on my stuff. I do a lot of studying.

Do you do a lot of art outside of tattooing?

Yeah, totally. This is how my life is, not in any particular order: I tattoo, I work on old hot rods and lowriders, I go to baseball games, go out drinking on Saturdays -- I try not to do anything during the week because my clients deserve a lot better than me with a hangover and a head full of bad memories -- other than that I spend a lot of time with my dog and my girl. I live a pretty free and pretty fun lifestyle, that's for sure.

Does that come with the profession?

No, not necessarily. I know a lot of cats that have a straight back -- bad relationships with their old ladies, aren't working at a good shop. Our shop and maybe five other shops in the Denver area are full of artists that have been around. Just even in this room, Mike [Pinto] has been tattooing for sixteen or seventeen years, I've been working eighteen, Jeremy [Barber]'s got about twenty. So just in this room alone you've got sixty years experience. There's a couple shops that are like that, that are really on cue. There's a lot of other shops that are just straight garbage. If you're working at a dead-end shop, that's a horrible experience. I think I'm pretty lucky. I get to work with my best friends everyday, I get to drive cool cars and goof off, I've got my own schedule, I'm at a great shop. The way we have it, we set it up that way. It's hard work to get to where we're at. I enjoy it, but I also understand how I got it. These young kids see it on TV and they think it's a glorious lifestyle. It's really not, unless you've really got your shit together.

What are some things you tell your clients to consider before getting tattoos?

I've been rather lucky, man. Most of my clients know exactly what they want. Every once in a while I get somebody I have to coddle a little bit, teach a little bit. To be perfectly honest, when you have clients like that you have to let them feel like they discovered that sense of how they want to approach their tattoo. You can't tell them that. But once you start getting your clientele base -- they're super-intelligent, they know what they want, they've already seen my tattoos. You don't have to sell them. It's cool, I think we have some of the best clients in the world here. They start off as clients and they end as friends for life. They're just great people.

For more information, visit Thick as Thieves online.

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Nathalia Vélez
Contact: Nathalia Vélez