Ink enthusiasts have another enclave in the neighborhood: A new tattoo studio has opened at the former Park Life gallery space on 22nd and Shotwell streets.
Called Form8, the studio’s name is meant to call to mind the creative process. “We wanted something that was really abstract and modern, edgy sounding,” said tattoo artist Ben Volt, who co-owns the business with colleague Matt Matik.
The studio specializes in custom “blackwork” tattoos that primarily employ monochromatic images and geometric patterns. It’s a different approach from so-called street shops, which thrive amid heavy tourism and offer immediate, predesigned tattoos to passers-by.
On a recent Tuesday Ian Sander, 26, popped in to Form8. Matik stenciled a pattern onto Sander’s shoulder, put him in the chair and started inking along the temporary guidelines.
Sander, who moved to San Francisco in early December after getting a job in information security, said he liked the juxtaposition of the blackwork’s sharp lines on the human body, which is a conglomeration of rounded edges and irregular terrain. But it took some convincing to get approval from his mother, who curates a museum in Pasadena.
“I’m her only child, and you know how moms are,” Sander said. She changed her tune after seeing the tattoo’s prototype. “She said, ‘I guess that can be considered art.’ ”
Matik’s and Volt’s intricate works result from extensive planning and conversation with their clients. An initial consultation can last 45 minutes, followed by weeks of drafting a design. The tattoo itself might require as many as 10 sessions to complete. The duo expect almost all their initial business to be appointment driven, and they’re already booked for the next few months.
They plan to hire a third tattoo artist to work exclusively with walk-in clients, Matik said, whom they currently refer to nearby Scholar Tattoo. That studio also specializes in blackwork, and it’s where both men worked there before opening their own place.
Matik is looking forward to growing into the new studio and, within it, evolving as an artist. He wants to hone his skills at layering tattoos to make them appear three-dimensional, he said. That’s difficult when his pallet contains a single color, though he said he might deviate from black if the client requested it.
Matik’s work often contains trees, leaves and root structures, as well as animals and bones. Sometimes the images are heavily detailed and composed only of tiny dots, and other times they are minimalistic outlines or silhouettes.
What he doesn’t draw can be just as important as what he does: “It’s not just using black, it’s using the negative space of the body,” said Matik, who is also trying to refine how he incorporates the client’s physicality into his designs.
One of his current projects, covering his client’s arm, depicts a solar system with a black hole at its center. “As it’s spinning and coming down the arm, it turns into these blocky, solid elements,” he said. He plans to build a third feature into the image, and possibly a fourth.
Volt, on the other hand, said he prefers to create abstract images. “I don’t like literal pictures of things.” He tends to style his patterns and thick lines after “indigenous motifs,” he said, and sometimes he imbues his art with science-fiction themes.
It can be especially satisfying, and challenging, to position visuals so that they interact with the body’s movements, Volt said. “You have to be strategic.”
Matik, 35, described his long path to Form8. When he was a child, his family relied on food stamps to survive as his mother put herself through school. Later, he paid his way through college and obtained an associate degree in business.
Around 2010, Matik started his own sign installation company, NorCal Sign Installs, to cover his bills while he apprenticed to become a tattoo artist. For about three or four years, he recalled, he worked every day at NorCal from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then learned his craft from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. at 2Spirit Tattoo near San Francisco’s Duboce Triangle area*.
The lifestyle “ruined some of my relationships,” he said. “There’s people I loved and pushed away, because I made work number one.”
Now construction on Form8’s interior is almost finished. The walls and countertops are mostly bare, but soon they’ll hang artwork and adorn the space with plants from Mission de Flores, a block away.
Volt wants the new studio to set a mood, giving clients the same feeling that they get when they look at their own finished tattoos. The shop itself “is like a concept piece,” he said.
*Update: 2Spirit Tattoo is now located in Los Angeles.