Interviewing Thomas Sinnamond
How many years have you been tattooing?
18. I’ve been doing it long enough now that I can tattoo clients who weren’t even born yet when I ﬁrst began. That’s surreal.
What was your entry into tattooing?
I didn’t have any kind of formal apprenticeship or anything really. I was a piercer initially, transitioning from doing them on myself and friends independently. DIY piercing was pretty common then, seeing as reputable piercing studios were rare to non-existent in rural Pennsylvania back then.
Once I got settled doing that at a studio, the transition to tattooing was pretty simple When I partnered with the artists at that studio, I made it clear that my eventual focus would be on tattooing. They gave me equipment recommendations and some very very basic tips and I was off. I worked on friends and volunteers for maybe 6 months before tattooing walk-in clients. I kind of “fell into it”, in a way. I totally hated tattoos when I was younger. Simply because they all seemed so blurry and terrible. I assumed the medium had impossible limitations.
I started seeing interesting and well executed stuff popping up in the early 90’s though, and I was hooked. I hear a lot of other artists talk about the trials of their struggle to get into the industry and it sounds awful and very foreign to me. I can’t imagine tolerating any hazing or buffoonery. I was “fortunate”.
How did you develop your style? What inspired you and what keeps you on that path?
I think my current style developed somewhat under the surface or behind the scenes, in a way. As a tattooer, especially when establishing yourself and learning the trade, you are tethered to the clients requests. You really can’t get away with doing whatever you want, no questions asked. Whatever is popular at the time is going to have a lot of impact on what you spend your time designing. By default this has a lot of inﬂuence on your style.
But in the background, you pursue your own ideas. Along the way looking for opportunities to pull these things out and insert them into your clients designs. People start taking notice of these elements and asking for variations on them. The ball gets rolling slowly.
As for what inspires me, I am interested in all forms of art and media. I don’t really see any separation between them in terms of the aesthetic principles at work, so graphic design, industrial design, web designs and interfaces, architecture. These things are all really interesting to me. As is biology and the relationships between the micro and macrocosmos. Patterns that reveal themselves similarly on any scale.
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Asymmetry and unexpected elements factor in heavily for me. It really follows some of my beliefs very closely, the way I want to combine ideas, I mean. I actively practice disassociation. What I mean by this is that I try to constantly divorce a thing from its symbol or label. In doing this, I reclaim its essential nature and “see” it properly. I don’t overlook it and its beauty because it belongs to a category that exists to set it apart. Its akin to a sculptor who uses what others might see as rusty junk, and in restructuring or combining it with other elements, turns it into a thing of beauty. Beauty is in no way tied to meaning for me. If anything, I feel that the more “meaning” one attempts to assign to an image, the more tortured and encumbered it appears.
No one ever asks what a ﬂower means. Flowers aren’t beautiful because they communicate meaning. They are meaningful because they communicate beauty. They are reﬂections of the forces that shape them. They make seen the unseen. There is nothing “deeper” than that, in my opinion.
In Taoism I have heard it stated as, “description is distortion”. This is in reference to explaining the great truth of perceived reality. Words are inadequate for this task, even degrading. “He who speaks, knows not. He who knows, speaks not.” I aspire to create designs that illuminate beauty that is already present, thereby opening the door for meaning to emerge naturally. Not to consciously illustrate a narrative or bluntly point a ﬁnger at an event.
What do you see is the correct balance between the customer's vision and the artists?
I think this varies from artist to artist. Some artists aren’t fully developed and may need more guidance to land on something special. I can only answer that with regard to myself.
As bad as this may sound, I think it should be heavily weighted toward my vision, rather than the clients. Realistically, I am not the sort of person to just run away with it and do whatever I like, unless thats the request. My vision includes the clients by default.
In the end, the artists can only do what naturally arises from their own process and technique. Too much interaction becomes disruptive. Perhaps its like going to a concert and listening to a musician you enjoy. You don’t just decide that they need to use more vibrato and start shaking their arm as they are playing.
Again, each artists is different. I like to be trusted fully.
What would consumers really be surprised about tattooing and the industry?
Its nothing like “reality” tv. And we all HATE being asked if we’ve seen that schlock. Good artists respect each other and aren’t remotely interested in turning it into yet another spectator competition sport.
Are there any skin types that are harder to work on?
Sure. Mostly its for obvious reasons. Dry and/or tough skin is bad. Sun damaged skin. I like my Ginger-Goth clients best. Pale and well hydrated.
What body part is the most difﬁcult to work on that is most often asked for?
For me, the ribs. Its just a logistical pain for everyone involved. The clients posture and comfort, the elasticity of the skin and the contours of the ribs themselves. Breathing. Thumbs down. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll do it every time a client asks. I am just going to be a lot happier when I am done and the obstacles are overcome.
If you had one word of wisdom to impart to the customer, what would that be?
Well, I could probably offer hundreds, so its hard to narrow to one. That being said... Courage. Courage in the face of the pain. Courage to confront and convert others who might question your choice. Courage to accept the commitment and ﬁnality of a tattoo. I feel that this mirrors the essential human conﬂict of life itself.
In altering oneself permanently, you allow yourself an opportunity for a symbolic defeat of your mortality. I hear a lot of rhetoric in the tattoo community and industry about how tattoos are “forever”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tattoos are extremely ephemeral, lasting only as long as the ﬂesh itself. A human life is a glint of squiggling and fading electricity across the inﬁnite and unﬂinching monolith of time. Those who fear this impermanence are the most uncomfortable with the commitment of a tattoo. They say, “but its forever”. It reveals their misunderstanding, their denial of their mortality.
We wear this ﬂesh for just a short time. We will not be returning it to the dealership, no security deposit will be withheld for marking its surface. A few years ago, I had my throat and head tattooed. After these sessions, my head in particular, I felt an immediate and unforgettable sense of well being, as well as the distinct feeling of literally passing thru a doorway of some kind. I had left a former self behind, and in doing so, I had chosen to live a life more fully my own than ever before. This vessel is mine.
While it is in my care, I shall do as it requests. And I shall never look back with regret
To see more of Thomas Sinnamond thoughts, check out the post Thomas Sinnamond Interview on TheTattooTrade.com
Thomas Sinnamond can currently be found creating his work at TRUE LOVE ART GALLERY & TATTOO 1525 Summit Avenue Seattle, WA 98122 (p) 206.227.3572 See more of Thomas' portfolio at his site Nanomammoth.com