With over 13 years in the trade, Ross Hallam has forged an established career that has presented itself with numerous opportunities. Get to know him as our featured Tattoo Artist.
Full name: Ross Hallam @rosshallam
Shop: Handstyle Tattoos
Years tattooing: 13
Tattoo style: American Traditional, Japanese and fine-line black and grey
Hourly rate: R1200
Give us some insight into your career and how much has changed since we last features you in 2013?
I started working at Legacy ink on my return to South Africa from the UK in 2009 with Paul Collocott, we both later joined together with Matt Adams and started Handstyle Tattoos in 2010 with the first studio location in Emmarentia. We moved to our current location in Melville in 2015 and have hosted numerous international artists and have been home to some of South Africa’s finest traditional tattooers.
I’ve got to travel and work conventions at home and abroad and have travelled across Europe and Asia for guest work, I have been very fortunate to get to work with so many talented tattooers on my travels and to get tattooed and learn from those experiences. Travelling definitely influences your style and scope of information and exposes you to new challenges. I’ve definitely taken a more traditional approach to my work over the past 5 years and have moved away from the new traditional style work I was doing around that time.
How much do you feel the industry has evolved since then?
There has been a massive evolution in the equipment we use, from cartridge needles to battery powered rotaries. I think the equipment we use these days is relative to the style of work we’re doing, but I think the majority of advancements have been kinda figured out and it will be small changes to make the process of tattooing a little easier. Locally the level of tattooing has really exploded over the last few years with a massive difference in the level of artistry and how inclusive the industry has become. There have been massive transformations and we are lucky to have been exposed to so many talented international artists that have come out for the South African Tattoo Convention hosted by Waldo del Rocco from Cape Electric Tattoos, its definitely put South Africa on the map as a tattoo destination. I also feel that the industry has seen a massive change during the pandemic in regards to people opening more private studios and the creation of a council that represents the Tattoo industry to liaise with government and finally get some structured protocols in place. I personally hope people will get vaccinated so we can ease up the current lockdown protocols and get back to allowing walk-in clients as they make up a big part of a street style shop.
What have you been doing to ensure you have kept progressing as an artist?
I think social media has made it a lot easier to follow what trends are current, as they seem to influence the style of tattoos that people are getting. There is a big resurgence of 90’s style black work and fine-line tattoos currently. I try and draw and paint as much flash as possible and attend local art exhibitions to expose myself to different art forms. I also do a lot of research into the styles of tattooing I enjoy and try and travel as much as possible to work outside of the studio to keep myself informed and motivated. The lockdown also gave me a new perspective on tattooing, how much I appreciate every aspect of it from the client interactions and their experience to how much opportunity it has given me and how much I need to give back to Tattooing.
What first attracted you to the trade and spurred your passion for it?
I think my love for subcultures like graffiti, skateboarding and growing up in the hardcore punk rock scene first exposed me to Tattooing and the individuality it allows you to express. The sense of community as well as the rich history it has allowed me to be part of the beautiful permanence it brings to my life and those I have the honour of tattooing definitely spurs my passion for my trade.
Given the opportunity to tattoo any one person, who would it be and why?
I’d say both my parents. I doubt either of them would ever get tattooed by me but I owe so much to them for supporting me through my career as a Tattooer. My Mom for the patience and humility she taught me and my Father for the hard working DIY ethic he instilled in me. They are my two biggest inspirations.
What style of tattoo do you enjoy creating the most and why?
I’d say it’s a close toss-up between American Traditional and Japanese. I really love the simplicity, boldness and how well those styles of tattoos age. They read really well on the skin from a distance or up close, and allow for solid outlines, heavily saturated colours or the finesse of soft black and grey or hard whip shading. Both styles are really heavily documented so you always have a great reference point to work from.
I look of them appeals heavily to me, and both styles are timeless. That being said I approach every tattoo with the same level of commitment and level of professionalism it deserves, regardless of the style.
What does a day in your life usually consist of?
I usually wake up super early like 5am and go to the gym, followed by a walk with my dog “Rollo’’, a solid breakfast and then head to the studio to prep for my day, finalise some designs and then tattoo. After work I love to socialise, cook, game or do some painting. I find it’s a good balance and what keeps me happy.
Handstyle Tattoos has grown from strength to strength. What have been some of your main highlights of running your shop over the years?
For me it’s been the opportunity to work alongside so many talented artist’s and see them grow over the years, the successful careers, and standard of Tattoos they produce as well as the respect they have for tattooing. I’d not be where I am, or still doing this, if it wasn’t for those people and I would like to say a big thank you to Bigg Matt Adams, Len Sanders, Rocio Todisco, Wesley von Blerk, Luke Smith, Taryn Nissen, Ruan Haasbroek, Daniel Feineberg, Mercia Haas, Joy Smith, Phillip Wells and my current Team Natasha Moolman, Bianca Uyttenhoven and Liam Howroyd. The community in Melville for welcoming us, the numerous local and international guest artists who’ve worked at the shop. The prestige of attending conventions at home and abroad and every client I’ve forged a friendship with or I’ve had the honour of tattooing.
What plans and ideas do you have for the shop in the future?
A possible location change is on the cards, and I have been offered a Job in NY so the possibility of me moving in the new year. I’ll be keeping the shop open as I’m just exploring other avenues and good opportunities that I have been presented with. I’m pretty open to expanding overseas at a later stage, but for now I’m really happy with the shop and the fact that we’ve been able to navigate through this pandemic.
How would you best sum up the vibe of the shop and it’s artists?
Diverse – both in personality and style-wise. Which makes for a good family dynamic, professional and approachable. An inclusive and comfortable space filled with easy-going, fun-timers with a flair for a challenge.
For anyone wanting to book and appointment with you, what’s the next step? You can email the studio firstname.lastname@example.org or call 072 540 8368 to set up a consultation with me to discuss ideas, placement, etc. And then we design your piece and get you booked In.
Tattoos by Ross Hallam
Photos by Alexander Wolf Photography.