Body of Work

How a local artist—turned rocker—turned tattooist— is making a beautiful, lasting impression at Liberty Drive Elementary School
Aug. 27, 2014 @ 08:30 AM

Justin Sams was destined to be a star.  In his 1950s rockabilly clothes, he has the striking good looks of a young James Dean and heart-melting charm of a well-mannered southern boy. And if that weren’t enough to carry him through, when it comes to natural ability and talent, Sams suffers from an embarrassment of riches. Not only does he paint and draw effortlessly, he also sings and plays a variety of musical instruments so well that it landed him a spot as the lead bassist and backup vocalist for the internationally acclaimed Christian rock-band, Philmont that toured throughout the United States and Europe before breaking up in 2012.

But if you ask Sams, some of his greatest artistic accomplishments are those he’s created for a very small audience. Small in stature that is.

“I love painting colorful murals for the kids at Liberty Drive. I hope it gives them as much joy to see them everyday as it gave me to create them,” said Sams, standing in front of his larger-than-life rendering of a map of North Carolina that adorns one of the school’s long hallways.  “I remember how much I loved the murals at my own elementary school and the impact they had on me as a student. I can’t help but believe they inspired me in some way to become the artist I am today.”

Sams, who works as a full-time tattoo artist at Rocket Roy’s Tattoo studio in downtown Thomasville, was asked by Liberty Drive’s principal, Elizabeth Snyder, to help add some color and life to a few of the school’s bare walls. He has completed three murals so far and hopes to create more.

While he is comfortable working in a variety of mediums from pen and ink, to paint, to a tattoo gun, Sams approaches each of his canvases — be it a blank wall or bare skin — with reverence and humility.

“I grew up in church, so I have a very strong faith and that carries over into everything I do,” he said, “I am very blessed to make a living doing what I love. I know that God gave me my talent and I am thankful. So, anytime I can share my art with others, especially kids, it makes me humble.”

The walls of Sams’ workspace at Rocket Roy’s are lined with photos of his wife, Elizabeth, along with detailed sketches of everything – human eyes, robots, pocket watches and delicate flowers. He is always sketching, tweaking or creating new, one-of-a-kind tattoos for his clients.

“Having a natural ability to draw definitely helps,” Sams said. “But I like to think my work is inspired by the fact I am really grateful for all the good things in my life and all the good things that are hopefully to come.”

Do you know an interesting person who is giving back to the community or kids though their unique talent? Email your story idea to lward@tvilletimes.com.