Local Artist Ray Atwood on Tattoos, Kitbashing, and Narrative

By Ayano Hodouchi Dempsey

Ray Atwood has worked many jobs in his life so far, but tattooing is the one. “This is the first job I’ve held for more than three years,” he says. “It’s stressful; you might put in 16-hour days for weeks on end, but when you’re passionate about something, that cliche is truelove what you do and you won’t work a day in your life.”

A graduate of Lakehead University with degrees in fine art and education, Atwood was living in Geraldton when someone gave him some old tattoo equipment. He’d had a keen interest in tattoos all his life, getting his first one by the owner of Underground Ink, Fenton Gilbert, when he was 18. He started tattooing on himself and his friends and eventually called up Gilbert to ask if he could help around Underground Ink to watch and learn. Gilbert later gave him a room as his studio and Atwood started working as a tattoo artist.

That was five years ago, and now he is fully booked for 2019. Time for smaller projects can open up, but large projects such as a full sleeve are time-consuming (about six full-day sessions spread out over six months) so he can only book a limited number a year.

He also hopes to save a little time for himself to work on other creative outlets, such as painting and a new interest, kitbashing. Kitbashing is a newer trend where artists take pieces from model kits and combine them with other things to make something original. Atwood’s first one is of a robot sitting on a part of a moose skull, cradling a dead bird in its arms. “Just imagine all these little robots, running through the bush, hiding from people and picking up poor little dead birds,” he says. “Super fun!”

He has paintings on the walls at Underground Ink and one at Def Sup’s juried exhibition, Untamed (until January 12). He approaches painting the same way he approaches tattooing; focusing on the narrative and giving it depth. “You know there’s something more to it,” he says. “Like my little robot guy. He looks kind of sad holding the dead birddid he kill it? Is he mourning? Something to make you ask questions, and keep looking.”

Atwood says it’s bittersweet when he completes a tattoo. “It’s this art form that’s permanent, walking around, living on people, but then it’s gone. You take a bunch of pictures and hope they come back.” When Saskatoon tattoo artist Chris Wenzel recently died and asked for his skin to be removed from his body to be displayed, Atwood thought that would be awesome. “If someone’s interested in having my tattoos, it would be like donating an organ. What a cool way to live on!” It would be even better if one of his clients asked him to do it with one of his own tattoos. “I’d be pumped!”

To see more of his work find him on Instagram at @rayatwood.