Tattoo designs that push aside our concept of what a tattoo SHOULD BE, instead replacing it with what COULD BE, elevates my pulse. Thomas Sinnamond’s portfolio of work exactly follows this ethos. His work and approach is thoughtful; working to balance the customer’s parameters and his artist’s vision. However, in my opinion you would be better served by leaning heavily towards the latter. Many would classify Thomas’ work as geometrics, and yet his intentions are not specifically geometrics. It’s more in the exploration of design, space, nature, and the human perception. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time having long conversations with Thomas and found an intelligent, “Think before you ink” mindset. You will see this in my following Thomas Sinnamond Interview .
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.
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 think is critical for a consumer to know and do when wanting a tattoo?
Research. Patience. Look for real quality and creativity. Reward it by waiting in line for months if need be. Getting it today, or next week, is not a priority. Like everything else in this consumer culture, you vote with your dollar. The client holds all the cards when it comes to the future of tattooing.
What do you want a customer to bring to the tattoo consultation?
I am going to answer that the way I “answer” so many things. By ﬂipping it. I am far more concerned with what NOT to bring to a consultation.
Unrealistic or rigid expectations. Be open. Truly open. Don’t show up trying to get the tattoo that you saw and loved in my portfolio. It’s great that you love it, but that piece belongs to someone else. Someone who was open. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t put it in my book or post it online.
A piece you will love gets made by being ﬂexible. Stiff controlling clients get stiff controlled pieces. Its a law of nature. Roller coasters are more fun when you just throw your hands up and ride.
What does the consultation conversation between you and your client look like?
I really just do my best to engage each person on their level. I encourage them to explain their ideas as a beginning point, then I offer my insights and opinions from there.
Some people are more “prepared” in the sense that they can articulate their idea more precisely up front. Others aren’t as talkative or conﬁdent in describing visual ideas with words. I evaluate each person’s disposition and tailor my approach to ﬁt. More questions for some, very few for others.
In the end; everyone is different. I just do my best to get inside their head and not let either of us overthink things. I take notes. Its pretty simple. Just an open discussion.
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.
If the artist and customer don’t see eye to eye when the ﬁnal design is revealed what should be the next steps?
Humility on both ends. Nobody gets offended or shies away from honest communication. If your artist throws a tantrum because you don’t share their vision. Walk. Otherwise,you just regroup and reconsult and move ahead.
What is one thing customers don’t understand that would go a long way to help the process?
Tattoo artists are not vending machines. We are human beings with personal lives. Sounds obvious, but it is often overlooked. We can’t make 5 variations of a design for you. We just don’t have the time or energy, nor are most of us independently wealthy. We need to work and we work hard, often on our “off” hours. Be patient.
You can’t click our refresh button every 3 seconds and get an updated design. This is a craft. It’s hard. Especially when your artist is trying to be original and thoughtful. Be sympathetic and not in a rush.
What is your favorite thing about being a tattoo artist & tattooing?
I hate “normal” jobs. I consider dress and appearance codes demeaning. Arbitrary rules made to discourage the need for critical thinking skills make me squirm. Yeah. I like tattooing because it affords me the right to remain an outsider.
What do you hate about the work?
Back pain. Eyestrain. Headaches. Flavor of the month walk in tattoos based on whatever miscellaneous mainstream girl of the moment has on her ribs or hip or wherever really.
What is your biggest challenge when tattooing?
I’d say its a mixture of managing distractions and protecting my body from repetitious stress. These are the things that get in the way of deep focus. I really want to fall into the work, but its ultimately a social job, you always have a least one spectator.
You need to care for the clients needs without losing your thread. That and constantly varying your posture so you don’t go home with back spasms keeping you up all night because you’ve spent the last 4 days hunched over and with your head tilted to one side.
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.
What makes or breaks a good tattoo?
A proper answer to this could go on forever. Nutshell: Clarity. Not just, or speciﬁcally, visual clarity, like line consistency or readability. Clarity in the sense that the piece doesn’t try to accomplish too much. Less is more. In my opinion.
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.
How do you think customers should manage the pain?
Just like every stress in life. Breathe. Give in. Don’t ﬁght it. Pain is a great teacher and a pathway to better understanding of the self. Its not something to be avoided when its connected to a goal. Confront it with acceptance. Some say, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
What ink brand do you use?
Primarily Eternal Ink
What kind of tattoo machine do you use and why?
I use coil machines, as opposed to rotary. I’d like to try some more rotary machines, but I get so many conﬂicting opinions about them that I just haven’t been able to make a decision and commit to them seriously. I’m operating under an, “if it ain’t broke, don’t ﬁx it” philosophy with it at present.
What is the biggest mistake tattoo artists do?
Ironically, I think too many tattoo artists are afraid to take risks with their work. Too safe. They’re too afraid to stand behind their own ideas, so they just cop someone else’s style and churn out standard fare. Its a snooze-fest out there. A rut.
What is the hardest kind of tattoo to achieve?
Another question that could be answered endlessly, so I’ll just say this. One that truly looks good from every angle. Working in 2D on 3D is tricky.
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.
Do you prefer customers to chat with you during the tattoo work or keep silent?
Honestly, I prefer silence. Not total silence, mind you. I want to get feedback about their comfort and mood, and be available emotionally to them. But the quieter they are capable of being, without that making them uncomfortable, the better for my focus. I am pretty ﬂexible though. If you can’t manage to be present with a client during the process, you shouldn’t be in the industry. That’s just part of the complex skill-set an artist needs to be proﬁcient at this.
What makes a good tattoo sitting?
Flow. Ease. Mutual excitement for the result.
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
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