Scarification Interview with Brian

  • How did you get into doing scarification?

    Essentially, it was a progression in modification from piercing.  If my drawing ability was more enhanced on a technical level I may have given tattooing a try, but alas, it isn’t.  My first introduction to scarring was from a photo of Jon Cobb in a Savage Tattoo magazine, of a piece done by the late Keith Alexander.  The design was a simple starburst on his forehead made up of a series of straight lines.  I absolutely fell in love with the look and idea of it right away and began to research it more.  Being around 8 years ago, the cutting designs I saw were mainly built from basic lines and the drawings never got overly complex that I couldn’t sketch or copy something.  Even the more intricate pieces people like Garza and Lukas were doing at the time were still pretty flat and obviously one dimensional pieces with limited detail.

    The first piece I ever did was a small kanji on a friend’s arm.  I started really shallowly, but got a feeling for the way the skin opened really quickly.  It felt so natural to me right from that first piece (which is still in my portfolio), and I was lucky enough to have him and a bunch of friends, and friends of friends, lend pieces of their skin for practice.

    How did you learn and refine your scarification work?

    Like I said, I was very fortunate to have people who learned about me doing this new thing that nobody else around me was doing that would let me experiment on pieces of their skin.  I’m very much self taught with nearly everything I do, actually, but am always careful to know what my limitations are at my levels of knowledge.  I never watched anyone else do cutting work and was timid about asking for information and advice at that time.  Little by little I would do larger pieces and designs with smaller, tighter curves and corners, but it still all made way too much sense to me, I think.   Just like with anything, the more you do something the better you’ll get at it and I was just lucky to have people to let me expand with implementing my ideas on a fairly regular basis.

    As I became more “known” for my work it became much easier for me to talk to other practitioners about their methods to exchange ideas and such.  What I think I learned mostly from the older timers was the way different areas tended to scar on different skin types, especially when crossing muscle grains. That mainly helped me decide how deep or wide I wanted to make a line based on the type of scar the client and I were aiming to achieve, but it primarily still came down to trial and error.  Even now, I always start very shallowly, which helps me get a good understanding of how a particular person’s tissue will open in different areas on the body.  That’s how I taught myself and it makes it much harder to mess up, so I just stick with it.

    What types of scarification do you do?

    I mainly do cutting scarification, including skin removal, but I’m also confident with  “strike” branding.  It’s more of a tap and drag method, actually.  I’ll heat a steel rod, generally between 2mm and 3mm thick, with a torch and tap it and remove it from the skin quickly enough that even if the person moved I’d have the steel off the skin already.  The taps are done pretty steadily down the line, which tend to deaden surface nerves, so when the heat dissipates the client gets a chance to breath while I’m re-torching the steel.  Next, I basically drag the rod down the dotted, mostly numbed, section I’ve just created deeper and more uniformly.  I’d never heard of anyone branding like that, but it seemed right for me.  I’ve tried out traditional striking and just couldn’t get confident enough with hitting the lines perfectly where I wanted without the client moving at all.  I’ve watched Blair do them and have talked it over with him plenty, but I think it just comes down to my confidence with the “you get one chance at this” idea and if you fuck it up there’s no going back.  I find I get pretty similar results with my style anyhow, so why rock the boat, right?

    What is your artistic background? How do you do the designs?

    As I said before, I have no real artistic background when it comes to drawing.  I’m not bad at coming up with illustrations by collaborating different reference materials, but it definitely takes me awhile to do.  Awhile meaning days, not hours, so I’m a bit doomed to working by appointment unless the scar is from a pre-existing drawing by the client or copied from reference.   Luckily, it’s not as much a spur of the moment idea as a piercing or even tattoos, sometimes.  I’m pretty decent with making patterned, ornamental type drawings, though.  I like to have a little time to draw them up anyhow, but if I’m in a bind, I can come up with something the client and I are happy with quickly enough.  I love working from photographs mostly.  It’s really easy to hide my lack of visual vocabulary by tracing out basic outlines of a random tree or animal from a National Geographic and adding light sources with scratch shading.   Hell, I know enough tattooists who get away with that everyday J Often enough, however, I do seek out friends who are better artists than I am to help with the designing.

    Which types of scarification, and which types of images, do you most like doing, and why?

    I love doing realistic style pieces.  Designs with dimension that include several approaches of line cutting, removal, and chop scratching.  Wildlife, portraits, tangible objects…..I like to be able to vary the thicknesses of lines to add more weight to certain parts.  It’s a lot of fun pushing the limits of what people THINK can be accomplished with a scalpel and what actually can.  I have a lot of pieces in my portfolio now that people always think are tattoos when they see them, and sometimes don’t even believe they aren’t after I explain what it is.  The concept of shading in conjunction with scarification is a fairly new one, which I credit fully to David Gillstrap for the commencement and technique, but I’m not ashamed of biting at a great idea.

    Why do you think that most scarification artists come from a base of piercing, rather than tattooing?

    To be completely honest, many of the tattooists I know are technical artists, but are terribly put off when it comes to blood.  They’re always interested in what I’m doing on a primitive level, but they never wanna get too close and almost always tell me how crazy it is, and usually gross, too.  There’s a lot more need for physiological understanding of the tissue when working with scarification, and maybe tattooists would rather concentrate more on the detail of the art than worry about those things?  Honestly, though, I’ve always wondered the same thing.  Hell, I even wonder why there aren’t people who ONLY do scarification.  I don’t think any explicit form of body modification relates enough to another that it should be placed in a hierarchy of learning anymore.  In the past, there was much less public information regarding the more extreme levels of modification, scarification included, so practitioners could advance their art as they discovered newly pioneered work.  Nowadays, everyone just wants to learn everything all at once.

    Do you do scarification commercially, or just on people you know? Why?

    I advertise and offer scar work as openly as any tattoo artist and approach potential clients with the same manner most reputable tattooists do.  18+ only, of course.  I’ll go over the full procedure and answer any questions for anyone who shows interest.  I understand the permanency of scarification, being at a higher level than tattooing, so if a person isn’t 100% sure about what they want they’re gonna have to wait until they are.  If someone who isn’t financially stable with no visible modification wants a facial, neck, or hand scar they’re gonna need a good rationale for me to agree to impede on future, professional prospects.   In the end, I don’t believe getting a scar from me is any more painful, nor dangerous, than getting a tattoo, so I see no real reason to restrict it more-so. 

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    April 3rd, 2011 | Pure | No Comments |

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Pure Body Arts

PURE is a friendly, high end shop offering the most unmatched quality jewelry available, as well as the most extensive sterilization guidelines around. All piercing will be done using 100% sterile techniques, and we’re well versed with any piercing related procedures, including surface and genital piercing. We offer world renown scarification and modification work that you won’t find anywhere else in NYC.

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