Tattoo artist Sam Rusk

Meet our Community Curators: Sam Rusk

To celebrate the opening of our newest exhibit Tattooed and Tenacious: Inked Women in California’s History, we will be highlighting the work of local female tattoo artists who helped curate the exhibit.

Today, we are highlighting Sam Rusk. Like many of our other artists, Sam has always been drawn to art. As a kid she was always drawing. She took art classes in high school, community college, and at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. She has worked as tattoo artist for about seven years and currently works at El Toro Body Shop in Morgan Hill.

Did you always see yourself becoming a tattoo artist?

Sam: As a kid I was drawn to anything involving the arts, I don’t think tattooing came in to my mind then though. As I got older, my parents got tattoos when I was about 12, and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and became a little obsessed with tattooing. After high school I knew it was something I definitely wanted to pursue.

What was the first tattoo that you got?

Sam: I got a peacock feather on my forearm from Marty, the owner of El Toro. I had actually been working in his shop before I got any tattoos. I remember being really excited to get it. I’d had the image I wanted planned out. My grandma had this peacock that would chase me around on her property, so the tattoo reminds me what an influence she is and how special she is to me.

Do you have a favorite type or style of tattoo?

Sam: I really like Art Nouveau designs, with thick lines and thin lines together and bright colors and flowy designs. I also really enjoy the kind of traditional style of tattooing, but I think I tend to like a little bit of everything.

What changes have you seen in the tattooing field and culture?

Sam: I haven’t been tattooing a super long time, but it seems like tattoos have become more acceptable generally. I remember when I got out of high school, shows like L.A Ink were coming out and got really popular and made tattooing a really cool thing. Now, it seems like everyone has a tattoo, and you are kind of a rebel if you don’t have a tattoo.

Tattoo artist Sam Rusk at work

Is there a tattoo you’ve done that sticks out in your memory most?

Sam: Yeah, I did a really big sleeve for a client that took close to six months to finish. He already had a dragon on his arm that was a little messed up, so we fixed up and made a whole sleeve out of it with a dragon, koi fish, water, and other stuff. That was one of the first super big projects I got to work on consistently. He would come in every two weeks and I would work on it, so I think I learned a lot from that. It came out really nice and he was a very nice guy, so it was just a really cool six months of my life.

How do you think tattooing might change in the future?

Sam: I’m not sure, I think now it seems like it’s continuing to grow more popular. Tattoos are a permanent thing on your body — it’s not like a pair of shoes you can toss out. I think it’s something that’s always going to evolve, but I think people will always have some sort of tattoos or something to kind of mark themselves. I’m not sure what direction it might go in, but I think tattooing will always be a thing.

Stay tuned for more interviews with local women tattoo artists. Check out their work in our newest exhibit Tattooed & Tenacious: Inked Women in California’s History — opening Sunday, March 20, at 12:00pm in the Leonard & David McKay Gallery at the Pasetta House in History Park.

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