Skateboarding, tattoos, and art have been culturally forged together through decades of avant garde contrarianism, a blunt questioning of societal norms, and a passion for personal expression. The relationship between skateboarding and tattoos can be seen everywhere from board graphics to the amount of ink on the archetypal skater’s body. As skateboarding, art, and tattoos weave in and out of each other’s existence they leave lasting impressions on one another. In Atlanta, none have done that more than Ambush Board Co., Craig Foster, Jules Woods, and Skinwerks Tattoo.
Craig Foster has been in and around skateboarding since 1983. As a young skateboarder growing up, Craig became enamored with the art that adorned the bottoms of skate decks in the 1980s. He still remembers his first few boards: a Schmitt Stix Lucero, Schmitt Stix Grosso, and a Vision Gator. To this day, Craig still drops by the shop regularly to take mental inventory of the latest graphics. The parallels between skateboarding and tattoo artists are apparent though they may not be obvious. Skateboarding has always been about the skater, his board, and what he does with that board. Creativity, style, aggression, and personal expression are hallmarks of a great skateboarder. It’s what sets skateboarders apart and makes you watch the latest web clip over and over again. The same can be said for a tattoo artist and his tattoo gun. A great tattoo artist can put all of his emotions into a design that is inspired by all of yours.
Craig’s personal love affair with art and skateboarding hit a crossroads in 1995 when he started tattooing full time. With a family to support and his only means of making a living laying in his ability to use his hands, Craig put down the skateboard and started focusing on his craft. When you’re a tattoo artist, a broken wrist can put you in the bread lines. It was this unescapable fact that motivated Craig to push his art to greater heights. It was then that Craig began to make a name for himself in the Atlanta tattoo scene.
Ambush and Craig first crossed paths in 1997 when Craig inked up Ambush shop rat and team rider, Chris Delarm. Craig drew a more realist adaptation of Mike Vallely’s Elephant design on the back of Chris’ shoulder. He quickly became known as THE guy to get a tattoo from by nearly all those affiliated with Ambush. Over the years, Ambush employees Brent Houle, Paul Lizon, Charles Chatov, Alecia Sundberg, Cameron McLane, and John Turnbull have all had work done by Craig.
Jules Woods got his first tattoo at the age of eighteen by an artist named John Mihalic. As so often happens in the intimate setting of getting a tattoo, John and Jules became friends. Jules was making art on his own when John asked him to learn the tattoo trade and apprentice under him. Jules’ skills developed quickly and within four months of graduating high school, and less than a year after getting his first tattoo, Jules began tattooing full time.
Jules bounced around tattooing in shops in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee before making his way to West Georgia. In his thirteen years as a professional tattoo artist, Jules has worked in twelve shops picking up influences along the way. Craig and Jules met through a mutual friend named Josh Prentice before he passed away in 2007. Craig and Jules became close while working at a tattoo convention in Richmond, VA shortly after. The shop Jules worked in at the time put on the convention. Their budding friendship became a professional partnership when Jules moved down to Carrollton and became part of the Skinwerks team in February of 2010.
Whereas Craig’s tattoo style in undeniably new school, Jules’ work is more neo-traditional. Jules likes to stylize conventional tattoos with more realistic characteristics. Ask Craig to ink you up with a old-style pirate ship and he will flat out refuse. Request that from Jules, and you’ll get a more realistic and detailed version of a grimy, haunted clipper.
Jules’ philosophy is simple: make art that would look good as a tattoo and make tattoos that would look good as art. After walking around Jules’ workspace, it’s easy to see how he blurs the lines between a living room piece and a chest piece. Craig may be the innovator, but Jules definitely has the talent of a classical artist with a penchant for the gritty.
Craig’s art is a modern nod to a simpler time when tattoos didn’t necessarily have to mean anything. It’s great for tattoos to tell a story, but only if that story isn’t chock full of BS just to pick up chicks. Craig’s tatts incorporate “whimsical characters” that “laugh with a bit of sarcasm”, bold colors, and a strong light source. If you know Craig’s work, you can spot it on a swath of skin from across the room.
It was Craig’s memorable style, ability to perform under pressure, and a recommendation from Jesse Smith (Inkmaster Season 2) that landed Craig a spot on Inkmaster Season 3. Craig’s dichotomous experience on Inkmaster was replete with both Yin and Yang. As you might expect, reality TV is not exactly real. If a producer needed Craig to have a bad day, they would send in a client to intentionally push him to madness. The producers sculpted reality into the outcomes that they felt would make for good TV through editing and creating situations from nothing. Craig’s goal in agreeing to do the show was to open viewers’ eyes to what a genuine tattoo artist was actually like. Knowing from watching the previous season, Inkmaster was, either inadvertently or by design, portraying tattoo artists as obnoxious, cocky, hot headed, Jersey Shore types. Craig wanted to show America and beyond that this was not the way he viewed the tattoo industry and wanted you to experience his world through his actions on the show. The producers eventually saw the wisdom in his approach and let him do his thing.
Since Inkmaster, Craig has been continuously bombarded with appointment requests. In the months after the show aired, his waiting list exceeded 200 people. At one point, Craig had to stop taking on new customers.
Craig had always had a creative itch that seemed like it may never be scratched. It’s not often that clients offer up their skin to your personal ambitions. Most customers micro manage the tattoo process to the point of nausea for the artist. Craig needed an outlet to do something fun and on his own terms. What came out of it was Snactoos. Snactoos is a playful mix of junk food and comic book characters. In Craig’s mind, sushi is always possessed, ice cream and corn dogs are maniacal, and doughnuts want to be your best friend. And those quirky Snactoos characters have caught on making a nice little side business for the Inkmaster. He has even put a few on some people’s skin.
So, in celebration of our two distinct yet congruent brands moving in harmony with one another over the years, we announce the Ambush x Skinwerks collaboration. Craig Foster has created a signature Ambush Board Co. Snactoo to go along with his Mr. Yellow Tail design. Both are featured on a pair of Ambush skateboard decks and matching tee shirts. Jules laid out his Torch art on a baseball tee and his Skull piece on a tee shirt. Both have complimenting decks as well.
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