The Creators of NYC: Tattoo Artist Virginia Elwood
Josh Wool spent a decade as an executive chef, opening restaurants across the south. But all that changed in 2010, when the carpal tunnel in his hands meant he could no longer work. To keep from going stir crazy, he picked up a camera and found his next calling. Two years, thousands of portraits, and a move to New York later, Wool is documenting the people who inspire him on a daily basis. Welcome to Creators of NYC.
Tattoo artist Virginia Elwood has been plying her craft for the last 12 years and has made a name for herself at New York Adorned as one of the top talents in the industry. I first saw her work several years ago, and I bumped into her on the G train in Brooklyn shortly after I arrived in New York. After almost a year of exchanging emails, we finally sat down in her Carrol Gardens home.
When did you figure out that tattoo art could be an actual career?
When I was a little kid, I remember wanting to be either a scientist, a ballerina, or a garbage man. I don’t think I had a definition or reference for “art as a career.” I set out on my own at a really young age and drifted from one random job to the next … a career in fine arts was not a realistic or practical goal at that time. The idea that a person could actually get paid to draw didn’t occur to me until I fell head over heals for tattoos as a teenager in the 90s.
Which came first, drawing or tattooing?
I was always drawing and making shit as a kid, but I have very little formal training in art. It might be more fair to say that I have none! Everything I’ve learned about drawing, composition, color theory, et cetera comes from working with really talented and generous tattoo artists over the years.
Stylistically, is there a big difference in mediums for you?
I think of tattooing mostly (but not exclusively) as a craft. An incredibly creative, sustaining and inspiring — but extremely strict — craft. And by that I mean it’s possible and necessary to apply your own creative sensibility to your tattoo work, but you should never sacrifice the fundamentals of good tattooing to accomplish your own, or your clients’, weird artsy goals. Someone has to wear your experiment for the rest of their life.
Has living in New York affected your work as an artist?
I don’t think you could live in New York City and not have your work be affected. On one end of the spectrum, you may be overwhelmingly crippled by the fact that you’ll never ever be as [insert adjective of your choice] as [insert person of your choice]. On the other end, you might be equally as crippled by the heart-wrenching beauty of all that creativity. Most days I aim to wake up somewhere in the middle so that I can actually function.
The tattoo world has come into the limelight in recent years. Is that a double edged sword?
I got into tattooing on the tail end of the pre-internet days, and even though it wasn’t that long ago, it was really different. Tattooing was, is, and always will be fucking awesome regardless of what the current mainstream trends are. It feels a bit wrong for me to talk about tattooing’s past (even it’s most recent past) and future because I’m still dumbstruck that I get to have this job. I just have too much respect for the tattooers who came before me to pretend as if I’m qualified to speak of days past. I feel lucky they even let me in the club.
What’s a normal day for you entail?
Coffee, dog, draw, draw, draw, more coffee, draw, email, emails, bike ride, tattoo, tattoo tattoo, food, more dog, maybe more coffee, draw, paint, write, read … with some eatin’ and lovin’ thrown in the mix.
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