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North East ink that’s proving a career breakthrough for art student

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Published on 15 April 2019

Adam McDade
Adam McDade

The multi-faceted role of the tattoo artist is taking centre stage for one PhD student who is turning his passion into a career.

University of Sunderland student Adam McDade is combining working in a North East tattoo studio with research into the production and design of the art he creates on people’s bodies.

Adam, 29, is himself no stranger to tattoos, having much of his own body covered with ink.

“I think I was 14 when I got my first one,” recalls Adam, from Barnes in Sunderland. “It was a Scorpio sign on my bicep – I got it covered up when I was 18.”

“I’ve now got tattoos on my feet, ankles, legs, calves, thighs, chest, arms, hands and fingers.

“I have always been interested in all types of visual medium; I used to draw quite a lot. It just so happens that tattooing is the form I am now working on.”

Adam himself has been tattooing other people professionally for the past 14 months at Triplesix studios in Fawcett Street, Sunderland; experience which he is now using as research for his PhD.

He said: “I really enjoy the physical process of the work and I get to utilise it as part of my research.

“I also like the fact that it’s not just me who gets something out of this – it’s a collaborative process with someone else. You can see instant reactions to your work, the response they give is automatic.”

Adam, a former pupil of St Aidan’s School in Sunderland, is currently in his second year of his six year PhD, which has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

The practice-based PhD means Adam is able to work in his area of research, although this can be quite demanding.

He said: “I’m working seven days a week and it’s quite hard to support yourself financially through all of this research.

“But I have always been very creative, whether it be through music or literature or tattooing.

“I like the way every tattooing job is different, the way each individual comes with a separate set of requirements, different budgets, and different skin types. It’s all fascinating.

“The brief is dictated by the client and the requirements change from person to person.

“My research is about enriching both academic understanding and professional practice of contemporary western tattooing. While tattooing has been studied within an academic context from a social sciences and historical perspective, very little is understood of the discipline from the perspective of design.”

Adam did a Foundation year in Art and Design at the University of Sunderland before going on to successfully complete both a BA and MA in Illustration and Design


Tattoo facts

A long time ago, to mix tattoo color, urine was used sometimes.

Your skin is pierced 50 to 3000 times per minute by the tattoo machine when you get a tattoo.

The philosopher Confucius was against tattoos because he propagated that the human body is a gift. However, China’s stone sculptures depict men with tattoos on their faces as early as the 3rd century BC.

The most popular tattoo images are angels and hearts.

A tattoo is etched in the second layer of the skin, the dermis. The cells of the dermis are more stable than those of the epidermis.

‘Tattoo’ is one of the most misspelled words in the English language.

‘Holiday’ is the name given to the area where the color of the tattoo has faded.

Laser surgery is the most effective tattoo removal technique. Black is the easiest color to get rid of as it absorbs a greater number of laser waves. Green and yellow are the most difficult to remove.