Ryan Jacob Smith is a tattoo artist based in Portland, Oregon. His tattoos look a lot like his drawings but on people’s body parts. I asked him to share some images from his sketchbooks and answer a few questions.
PLUMB: What kind of notebooks do you use?
RYAN JACOB SMITH: I use the blank 5-by-8-inch Moleskine journals that come in a pack of three. They travel really well and the size is perfect for me. It doesn’t take very long to finish one. Some journals are too big and have too many pages, and I don’t really like working in the same journal for very long. I just really like the feeling I get when I’m done with a sketchbook and starting a new one. It’s like starting a new chapter, or a new season. I save the finished ones in a milk crate.
PLUMB: Have you lost one? Did it matter?
RYAN JACOB SMITH: I’m not sure if I have lost any of them. I have definitely searched and searched through boxes and boxes looking for one sketchbook, for one drawing I remembered doing years ago. I usually end up finding it after a long search. It would kind of suck to lose one. If I did, I probably forgot about it or I don’t know I lost it yet.
PLUMB: What’s the difference between drawing in a sketchbook and making a tattoo on somebody?
RYAN JACOB SMITH: There is a huge difference. Tattooing is permanent and you need to be precise. There are a lot of factors to be aware of while tattooing: the stretch of the skin, how the machine is running, your hand speed, the needle depth and much more. Drawing in a sketchbook there’s no pressure and very low stakes. I use drawing in a sketchbook like a warmup exercise leading up to designing a tattoo and cool-down exercise after working on tattooing. I draw in my sketchbook to pass time and draw with no intent or no plans and very little to think about. Just drawing stream of consciousness. Just drawing weird shit.