As we continue to watch the metaverse take shape before our eyes, more artists and organizations are figuring out exactly what that means for their work. Whether it’s a luxury brand looking to feature up-and-coming web3 artists or traditional artists looking to digitize their work, the mainstream leap to web3 continues to build. One of the world’s oldest art forms, tattooing, is hardly being left behind—and tattoo artists are actively taking steps to redefine what their craft will look like in this new world. Leading this transformation is Scott Campbell, who—with the help of Josh Hubberman, the co-founder of CTHDRL, a digital studio focusing on web3 projects—is redefining the tattoo industry as a whole using NFTs to create even more meaningful connections between the artist and collector, the art and its canvas. We sat down with Campbell and Hubberman to talk about SCAB SHOP, their genesis project which is rethinking the ritual of tattooing by placing the artwork in the digital realm.
Can you tell us about the name SCAB SHOP?
Scott Campbell: A scab shop was kind of just tattoo world slang for the old street shops in the ’80s and ’90s where people would kind of stumble in drunk and get tattooed. It is a tattoo industry term, or a term from tattoo history. Tattoo artists were called scab vendors and they worked in scab shops and it was just kind of like a casual way of referencing what we do.
How does that translate to what you’re doing?
Josh Hubberman: I think this whole idea that comes back a lot is bridging this new digital world and being truthful to the art form. So as we were going through naming, [this] resonated so much because it’s really truthful to Scott and tattooing as an art form—but also just feels good to say.
What led to venturing into web3 and creating a new standard? How are you approaching this in terms of creating something totally out of the ordinary?
SC: I guess in concept it could feel like this is a new thing, but really this is me doing the thing that my hands can do better than anything else. It’s kind of like me going back to tattooing for the reasons I fell in love with tattooing. I’ve done all these collaborations and I’ve done all these different design projects, but all of those have been me earning credibility and respect by doing tattoos. Because the medium of tattooing is limited, I have to take that credibility and reputation and rub it on other things in order to resonate further in the world.
I’m learning about web3 and NFT collectors, but what I’m most fascinated with is just that the mechanism of NFTs solves a problem I’ve struggled with for 20 years, which is the limitations of the medium of tattooing. Now I can create images and put images out into the world first so some people can fall in love with, and actually own, my artwork that then can be tattooed. But that artwork can now be traded and invested in like fine art in a way that tattoos couldn’t before. And there’s a permanent record of the original art that exists beyond the life of the person tattoo’d with it.
It doesn’t take away from what we’re doing; it adds another layer to it
What are some of the other artists that you’ve enlisted for this? How open were they to this new space?
SC: The artists I’m working with are all artists that I’ve had relationships and conversations with about how we grow in this medium. Dr Woo, Mr Cartoon… Cartoon’s been at it longer than I have and he’s one of the leaders in what tattooing can be. I’ve always looked up to him. Woo and I have talked a lot about how we grow as artists and how we share this medium with the world in new ways. It’s all people who are hungry to give their work a larger life and a lot of those conversations—when I sat down and laid out my vision and hair-brain scheme—were like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do that.” Because it doesn’t take away from what we’re doing; it adds another layer to it. We’re creating these artworks and this just gives them a larger life and a larger audience.
How has your mentality shifted when you’re creating something now that’s going to be for this project versus what you’ve done in the past?
SC: I’m creating something that’s not created for one specific person, but there are universal themes and emotions that drive people to get tattooed… like love and loss and hope. The emotions behind the designs are timeless emotions that I’ve just experimented with new ways to resurrect.
What could some of your holders of SCAB SHOP expect once they mint?
SC: We’re not doing roadmaps because we’re not trying to build a culture—we are a culture. We have communities already and it’s just a deeper way of engaging with those communities. This is not some type of strategy that we’re trying to figure out. We’re working with people that already know and follow our work.
Shop passes are a way for us to have a deeper relationship with people. Obviously the pass is necessary for people to have access to the artworks, but it also is a way for me to have a more intimate communication with my audience. I’m opening my books to new clients for the first time in seven years. Having a community of people that are into my work and not having to broadcast that across all of Instagram is exciting.
And there’s an IRL event that will be announced later: tattoo events where SCAB SHOP members can come and get tattooed for free or around different themes or different things that our artists are doing.
Can you tell us a little bit about the mechanics of the launch? How are you building this out? What is that looking like?
JH: We’re doing a mint of 5,000 shop passes, those are the keys to the community. Holding the shop pass allows you to use it on Season One Genesis artwork. And the Season One Genesis artwork are all one-of-ones that come with an appointment with the artist of the NFT. Then we have a mechanism built into the smart contracts where once the NFT becomes rendered to skin—so if you choose to take that appointment and get a tattoo—the artist signs the wallet transaction that alters the state of the NFT. It no longer has an appointment and becomes rendered, but then the NFT also holds the wallet hash of who got tattooed on. It becomes an interesting permanent part that not only has this NFT been rendered to skin, but the NFT now carries with it, who it was applied to.
The whole platform has been designed around a whole gallery. The way we’re going to drop season one art is really focusing on the stories around the artists and each piece. It’s really important to understand what is behind the art. So we’ve sort of built the first season of launches to focus on those stories. I think an interesting piece for that is just knowing that our digital artworks will travel with our digital cells as well. That element of it, bridging the physical and digital world and knowing that this thing is going to move around and potentially become part of our digital curation itself just gives another interesting addition as we grow SCAB SHOP.
With an audience all over the world, how does that impact purchasing? If someone lives in another country, do they have to come to LA for the tattoo?
SC: Part of what this project does is it shifts the value from the application process to the actual artwork. So if you own that Mr Cartoon NFT, you own that artwork. If you want to have a Cartoon rendered on you, that comes with the NFT. If you live in Hong Kong and you don’t want to make that flight, we’ll have artists in different parts of the world that we have relationships with where you can take it to them and we trust them to render it in a way that’s true to the artist’s vision.
Given your general misgivings surrounding traditional social media, how do you like web3 so far?
SC: To be honest, as an artist, I feel really vulnerable with Instagram owning my connection to my audience. And for most tattooers, Instagram is their biggest way of kind of reaching their audience. I’m so hungry to diversify that and to branch out and not be so reliant on Facebook-owned media. I want to have more intimate conversations and more honest communication with an audience. I think that’s really exciting because I know myself and other tattooers have noticed a lot of censorship and filtration of the content that we’re putting out there. I think that’s the point: art is to push boundaries and to kind of be unconventional. I don’t feel like Instagram is a medium that supports evolution and creativity.
What does reinventing digital rituals and permanence look like?
How do you hope that this will change the industry?
SC: The most well-designed things are designed selfishly. I’m not putting this out there to accommodate other people’s needs; I’m doing this because it solves problems that I have. And there will be a community of tattoo artists that relates to that and sees this as a way to expand their art form and there’ll be tattoo artists that it doesn’t apply for. For me, it makes so much sense and it’s an evolution to my craft that is long overdue.
JH: The only thing I can add to that, on the flip, it’s just this idea of why we get tattooed and these rituals and permanence. I think for us, the interesting narrative is really thinking about that heritage and take that that to “What does reinventing digital rituals and permanence look like?” I think we have this really beautiful opportunity to bridge that and extend this cultural force.
Hero image courtesy of SCAB SHOP