It may seem obvious to some that dotwork tattoos could be seen as a metaphor for the greater connectivity of humanity, but the lovely thought remains. One dot alone may make a certain statement, but many dots together form a fantastic, and perhaps stronger, design. Sebastian Kandinsky's creative output, and even his personal philanthropy, stands as an emblem to this allegory. In this interview, Sebastian Kandinsky talks about acts of kindness for those who need it most, DIY principals, and hopes for the future of tattooing.
I’d love it if you could talk a bit about your background and how you came to tattooing.
I used to live a very regular life when I was teenager in Lyon, my hometown. But because of some unexpected events, I had to leave school, and was homeless pretty early. At this point, I started to live basically with DIY principals. I wanted to get tattooed but had no money, so I bought a very cheap tattoo machine on the internet and did the job by myself. I was living in a squat, so I tattooed most of the people there too. The work was very bad, but no one - me included - looked for a perfect tattoo, we were just playing and marking some moments on our skin. I improved pretty quickly though, because I was practicing a lot.
How has your style developed over time? Who, or what, inspires you?
When I got my first job in a tattoo shop in England, I started doing ornamental and dotwork designs. I did this for about two years before I started to draw something new on paper. I really wanted to do some traditional work at that time, and since my line work wasn’t the best I decided to mix negative dotwork technique with some traditional motifs. The outcome worked pretty well. From the day I completed the double sleeves of roses I did on Susie, I was booked pretty much only for that style. Since then, I've been developing and improving placements and details that I put in my pieces. I’m also tattooing only freehand for the last 3 years. I’m inspired by so many tattoo artists to be honest, but if I had to choose one I’d say that lately Fibs is the most inspiring to me. I also love abstract paintings for the 20th century.
What have been your greatest accomplishments and struggles over the years?
Being able to make a living from tattooing is already the first big accomplishment in my life so far. Being able to work on unique projects that I really like every day makes it even better. The biggest struggle was to make my style known well enough to be able to fill up my books only with people asking me for this particularly; also I'm trying not to repeat ideas, and always make the style improve. But it's an everyday struggle.
Currently you have a really awesome project where you donate some of the proceeds of your artistic output to homeless shelters. Can you talk about why this is an important facet of your work?
I’m moving to San Francisco now. I've already been there a few times and noticed the incredible amount of homeless there. I've been homeless myself, and I know that when you’re in that situation it's a kind of vicious circle. I had the chance to get some help from a few friends, to start tattooing and make money out of it. Because of that, I was able to make plans, projects, and find a good situation to better my life options. But without any help it's nearly impossible to get out of it. I’m very grateful about the situation I have now and it seemed natural to me to help people, now that I’m able to do it.
Many artists these days are, like yourself, self-taught, but this is getting pushed back from a lot of old school traditionalists. How do you feel about the DIY aspect of the industry these days? What is your advice to artists diving into tattooing by themselves?
I feel like it's just a phase you have to go through when you’re self taught nowadays, not only in tattooing but in many disciplines. The path is longer and harsher than the classic way. I think this is why most people give up before becoming a tattoo artist, too. Few people succeed but the ones who do are usually really dedicated and good at it. I always encourage people to try and do it by themselves, so they can see if the job fits them. It's better than to clean shops and make coffee for free for years before even touching a tattoo machine.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I’m very confident about the future of tattooing. There are more and more customers now, and more and more good artists doing different things. The Internet made that possible. It really pushes the level and the creativity forward. Since it's an industry growing very fast, many people saw that it was a good opportunity to make big money, so sometimes unfortunately it became their only motivation for tattooing. I think only people who basically really love tattooing can keep it authentic, instead of making it mainstream or commercial. Otherwise I think everything should stay the same as it is now, to be honest. I've mostly met amazing people during my trips and amazing customers, who have a lot of respect and are very fun.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only have one book, one toy, one movie, and one record. What do you choose?
I’d say The Catcher in the Rye, my tattoo machine, Apocalypse Now, and Grateful Dead’s American Beauty.
Any upcoming projects, events, life advice, future plans, or special insights you’d like to share?
Besides the big move to settle down in San Francisco, I’m currently working on my biggest project ever, which is a bodysuit on my partner Aurore. I can't wait to show it when it’s done!