Ryan Smith Sullen Clothing
In this week’s Artist Spotlight we caught up with Ryan Smith, co-owner of Sullen Clothing and tattoo artist. Ryan and his business partner Jeremy started Sullen Clothing a little over a decade ago and it has grown to be one of the main cornerstones in the tattoo culture. Ryan Smith Sullen Clothing We had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Smith about tattoos, Sullen Clothing and what 2015 will have to offer.
We know that you and Jeremy Hanna were originally going to start a Skateboard Clothing company but changed your idea to a tattoo design clothing company. Looking back at that decision, everyone can agree it was the right choice. Anything you would have done differently?
We were raised heavily influenced with beach culture brands having spent most of our free time surfing or skating…also retail was dominated by action sports culture so we figured that’s what we had to be. Our designs were always dark leaning towards tattoo culture from the beginning but it wasn’t until we attended our first tattoo convention that we realized that we were doing it all wrong. In hindsight I’m thankful for those years spent making mistakes when they were survivable, kinda hard to be broker than broke so mistakes were easier to make. Everything you do in business is a lesson and I wouldn’t have changed our paths because through failure comes knowledge.
Any regrets in your decision?
You can’t regret anything in life, you just adapt and move on.
Sullen Clothing has become a cornerstone in the tattoo culture from your clothing line, your collective of top artists and sponsorship of events around the world. Sitting back in the dorm room did you ever envision this success?
To be successful you have to believe 100% that you are already there, because if not then the drag of the hard times will make you quit. Clothing is a tough business, something we are to this day still constantly trying to perfect. But again for me success comes to those who see the results far before they achieve them.
You had gone to college for art; how did you first get into tattooing?
I started drawing tattoos on friends at an early age so when those friends started getting tattoos they came to me to design them. A friend came to me and said a tattooer liked one of my drawings so I called looking for an apprenticeship, I was told the owner wasn’t in, so I called every couple days until I finally got the call to meet the owner. I showed him my portfolio and I was in….I apprenticed there for a few months and wasn’t learning anything so I left with another artist to go work for a new shop at the time in Tempe, AZ called Club Tattoo, Sean Dowdell welcomed me in, had me finish my apprenticeship under the supervision of the shop until I was considered a tattooer which took about a year. From there I was tattooing full time until I left to go study art at Art Center College of Design in California. I was allowed to guest spot for years while attending school tattooing my clients when I came back into town.
In the early days of Sullen Clothing did you do most of the shirt designs?
I did all of the early designs for sullen, we had no money so I did everything for the first 5-6 years. Once the brand started to pick up steam I was able to start reaching out and starting the collective.
How did you start to enlist other artists to share with your vision and join as an artist collective?
It started with Tom Berg and Carlos Torres submitting designs which were well received. I always loved the idea of collectively creating art and having like minded people contribute to the line. I honestly didn’t see it growing to what it has become but I think that has a lot to do with 1. we treat everyone with a great deal of respect and 2. word of mouth, we treat the artists like family and try in every way possible to give back to them and I think word gets out that we aren’t a bunch of outsiders trying to cash in but partners in promoting quality tattooing and the artists we see as leading that movement.
When we spoke to Jeremy back in February he told us your main avenue to advertise was pasting stickers all over town. With the changes in technology do you think social media would have changed the success of Sullen?
I think social media has been a great way for small businesses to connect to people. Instagram is an awesome way to find new artists pushing the limits of art and tattooing.
As a business owner when did you realize that Sullen was going to make it as a major player in the tattoo lifestyle?
I had no idea we would be a player in tattooing. Honestly we just want to put out the best art we can, I don’t really see us as anything more than that. I’ve made a lot of friends through tattooing and have been fortunate enough to travel and see the world through what we do.
You have a great collection of tattoos, which piece is your favorite? What artist did the work?
I think my left arm which Nikko did would have to be my favorite, I became good friends with Nikko who was instrumental into making Sullen what it is today.
You have access to the world’s top tattoo artists; how do you decide how will tattoo you? Anyone you still want to get a tattoo by but have not yet?
For me a tattoo starts with an idea or placement, then I think what style artist would be best to execute that idea in that spot. So for instance with my last tattoo I wanted a skull in the center of my chest so I figured Jeff Gogue would be perfect because his style is somewhat traditional and would blend well with with color realism sleeve and a black and grey sleeve…He does great color and black and grey and he’s fast which I didn’t want to be spending hours and hours getting my chest done…I wanted a couple long appointments (8hrs) in and out…plus I like Jeff and was looking forward to getting to know him better. I tend to do large pieces and take my time in deciding what I want and who’s gonna do it.
As an artist who were your major influences? Any artist in particular that pushes you and your creative process?
I think Paul Booth and Guy Aitchison were the first with art fusion in the mid 90’s. That’s what inspired the whole “Art Collective” thing. Many of the shirts where done this way although they don’t necessarily look like that when you see them. Jack Rudy was my biggest influence on my art and lettering. Bob Tyrrell is my biggest influence on being a good person. Big Gus teaches me how to laugh and have fun. Nikko taught me patience in tattooing. And Carlos Torres taught me how to spoon.
With running Sullen Clothing, do you still find time to tattoo?
I still tattoo once or twice a month.
The “Sullen Badge” has been tattooed on artists and collector around the world to show support for the brand; how does that make you feel to see your logo on people?
I love to see Badge tattoos, honestly it’s humbling. But the symbol is bigger than the brand and really stands for those who like art that isn’t soft. And when I see that I feel like those people are really saying I like tattoo art or art that’s tattoo related and I am proud that we’ve been able for the most part to me a positive voice to those who find this art appealing.
What can we expect to see from Sullen in 2015?
I’m always looking at ways we can help tattooers….in 2015 we are introducing a compression top meant to be worn under a tee that helps support your back. I have had back issues most of my adult life and I know many tattooers with the same problems so I’m hoping this top helps them tattoo a little longer.
Under The Skin – Ryan Smith | Part 1~ ☠ AnoTat2 ∴