Ryan Jacob Smith is an artist. His work has a timeless artifact quality to it, like paintings on stained, brittle old paper found a generation or two after being made by your scientific, artsy great uncle (the uncle with an eye patch). Ryan has shown in galleries like Upper Playground (San Francisco), Giant Robot (Los Angeles), Land (Portland), the Belfry (Seattle), and Cinders (New York). He has successfully navigated the commercial art world without becoming a tool. So I was surprised and excited to find out he started doing tattoos. Heck, I wanted one!
I’ve seen artists over the years get out of the feast-or-famine lifestyle with normal steady-paying jobs, like a musician giving up their music to become a tax accountant. But that’s not the case with Ryan. As a tattooer, his hands are constantly busy creating art. This isn’t a departure from making art—it’s his art growing in a new direction.
Ryan’s tattoos are inspired by traditional tattoo folk art (hat tip to George Burchett, Amund Dietzel, and Bert Grimm), mixed with modern urban folk art (chin up to Wes Lang, Margaret Kilgallen, and Barry McGee).
His tattoos are all black. This style keeps the design simple and works on all shades of skin. It’s all about strong line work, solid shading, and classic artwork that will age well with your body.
Ryan tattoos moths, leaves, skulls, hands, roses, and other organic things. “You could draw a rose a hundred different ways and it’s still a rose.”
Words by Justin “Scrappers” Morrison