« Learn To... | Main | History and Ink: New Kings Avenue NYC Tattoo Shop on Bowery »

Jinxi's Interview with Neo-Traditional Tattoo Artist Jim Sylvia

Sometimes you meet someone and can just tell from their demeanor and attitude that they love what they do and what their talents are able to give to the world around them. This definitely radiates from tattoo artist Jim Sylvia. He was meant to be an artist and has always known it. In fact, he can’t even remember a time when art wasn’t a part of his life, explaining that he used to “draw his toys instead of play with them.” Now if that isn’t the sign of a creative maestro, I don’t know what is.

Not only does Jim love what he does, but he’s exceptional at it. With a forte for Neo-traditional tattoo designs, a romp through his portfolio will leave you WOWed at the clean lines, bold colors, and bursts of imagination that he weaves through each piece he inks. And tattoo collectors agree, because the clientele he has earned and pleased throughout the past decade since he began tattooing, has only continued to grow and flourish with time.

Jim apprenticed under Khoa Nguyen of Skin Art Studios in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was raised, while he simultaneously earned a degree in Art & Design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Working hard to learn his craft and utilize his natural talent, he continued to excel while helping to keep Boston skin colorful. Then in 2007, Sylvia made a big decision when he packed up his world and drove cross-country to settle down in Los Angeles, California. This choice proved a wise one and Jim says that California has “been very kind to me and my career;” while I’m sure that tattooed dwellers on the West Coast are particularly pleased that he is close by.

Jim loves the classic timelessness of old school and American traditional tattoos and his commitment to brilliantly working within the genre and keeping the spirit of the artwork alive is evident to all who view his tattoos. It was such a pleasure to speak with this talented artisan and I hope you enjoy getting to know Jim Sylvia a little bit better today, while catching a glimpse of his beautiful work to boot.

It’s so cool that art has always been such a huge part of your life and I love that you say you used to “draw your toys instead of play with them” as a child. How was artwork first introduced to you? Were you encouraged to create and draw when you were young or is it something you were just always drawn to and sought out?

It’s true, I still have the sketchbooks with a bunch of toy drawings. Once I ran out of toys, I started drawing the neighbors’ cars. To tell you the truth, I really don’t remember how art was first introduced to me. I know that is was at a young age, around five or six. The funny thing about it is I thought it was something everyone could do; no clue it was a skill. I was completely encouraged by my family and they are still very supportive. I think my mother still wants me to draw for Disney though (ha ha).

You have worked hard to learn your craft. Can you tell us about some of the classes you have taken and your art education background, including your degree from Massachusetts College of Art? How did these prepare you for what you now do on a daily basis?

Well, I guess my art education really started in elementary school. Hands down, my favorite class was art. Somehow I was able to skip reading classes and spend more time with the art teacher. This might explain why I am a terrible reader now. I started taking extra classes in the summers and after school. I was attending college classes at MASSArt while I was still in high school. Then going to college full-time while also doing a tattoo apprenticeship. I think the education has really helped my tattooing and just drawing on a daily basis; but then again I don’t know otherwise.

You began designing for skateboard and clothing companies many years ago. Do you still do this type of work and do you enjoy this creative process? Who are some companies you have worked for or currently design for?

I have been working on a few projects. It’s something outside of tattooing that I can do to keep myself painting and drawing. Teaming up with Atticus and Atticus Black on a few collaborative shirts. I think those will be available this summer. I also have done something with Sullen, but I don’t have any info of when or if that will be released. TNS Industries and I made a skateboard a couple years ago. I would definitely be interested in doing another board. Currently, I don’t have too many projects lined up. I am sure that will change soon. I am always looking forward to the next thing.

Where did you learn to tattoo? Did you have a formal apprenticeship? If so, can you tell us about this time in your life and how it prepared you for all that you do now?

I did an apprenticeship at Skin Art Studios in Cambridge, MA. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from those guys. It was more of a street shop vibe there. Doing walk-ins and tattooing many pieces a day. It was a great learning experience and definitely prepared me for what I do now.

In addition to your creative skills you are also a musician. Can you tell us about your drumming and music? Even though you chose to follow a tattoo career, do you still play the drums?

Drums and I have a weird relationship right now. I haven’t seriously played in about a year or so. I wish there was a perfect balance between tattooing and music. Maybe in the future I will find a way to do both. For now I am very happy with what I am doing. I still get to see all my musician friends and every now and then I will go back out on tour.

In 2007, you moved cross-country and relocated to Los Angeles, California. How was this transition important to you career? Do you think you will stay in Cali?

Made the move cross-country. I was has been a great decision so far. Los Angeles has been very kind to me and my career. I am surrounded by so many talented artists and continue to learn from them. I can see myself staying in Cali for a bit. At least until the end of the world or until it falls off into the ocean. Whichever you believe (ha ha).

Your Neo-traditional work is so stellar. I love that you utilize the classic style of traditional work, but always add a special “Jim Sylvia” twist to your pieces. How did this style develop?

Thank you. I was talking to a friend about style just the other day. I feel like I don’t have a style or maybe I just don’t see it. It’s something that just developed over time. I am just trying to make cool tattoos. I feel fortunate that people let me draw on them for a job.

Were you always drawn to the traditional genre? What inspires you when you create your designs?

Traditional and Neo-traditional have always been my main focus. I am not sure if it was a product of living in Boston or just because it’s so timeless. There is something very cool about a bold, bright tattoo that just catches the eye. The imagery and designs have been around for decades and will continue to be for many more.

Your understanding of color theory and usage of bold, brilliant hues is exceptional. Do you have favorite inks and colors that you commonly use when you set up your palettes?

I have only been using Eternal Ink for many years now (shout out to Eternal -ha ha). It’s something I am comfortable with and I know how the colors will work with each other. I do have a few colors that I enjoy using a bit more than the rest. I am sure you can tell which ones just by looking at my recent stuff.

You have built up such a loyal clientele. What is your waiting list like right now and what is the best way for a collector to make an appointment with you?

I do have the best clients, no complaints there. It’s a situation where we see each other every couple of weeks. They keep coming back, so that must mean I am doing something right. Right now the waiting list varies. Sometimes it’s only a few weeks, but there are always openings for new clients. I work six days a week trying to get everyone in sooner than later. The best way to set up an appointment would be to stop by the shop (Unbreakable Tattoo). Emailing and by phone is good too.

Do you have plans to do many conventions this year? Where will you be and do you have any appointments still available?

I don’t do many conventions or shows; maybe one or two a year. I have a couple planned for 2011. I like to leave the days open for walk-ups; kind of an old school way of doing it. First come, first served. But I may schedule one appointment a day. I will post all the travel dates and conventions on JimSylvia.com/blog

In addition to your tattoo work, you are also an excellent painter. How often to you find time to work on non-tattoo related artwork? What are your favorite mediums to work with?

Excellent? Not that good yet. I enjoy painting; it’s just hard finding time to do it. I think I just lack discipline or inspiration. It’s number one on my list of things to improve upon this year. The artists at the shop and I are scheduling painting homework for ourselves. Every couple of weeks a new piece is due. I hope these due dates will kick my butt into gear.

What are some of your goals for the next year?

There have been a lot of new changes for me so far this year. In January, I made the move up to Unbreakable Tattoo in Studio City. Loving the new place and the great crew here.

I hope to do a bit more traveling. I need to do a couple of guest spots on the East Coast. I’ll be around Europe this summer for a bit.

What are some of your favorite things to do when you aren’t tattooing?

Eating (ha ha). No seriously, now that I am in a new city, my girlfriend and I are hunting for new restaurants. So far I haven’t had much luck.

I try to go out to as many concerts and shows as I can. There have been a lot of great art shows in and around LA lately. Right now I am spending time with some friends in town from London for a few months.

Can you tell us about your ‘54 Chevy Bel Air? What plans to you have for that baby?  Is it your daily driver (or will it be)?

Oh man, the ‘54! Right now it is in the shop having a little bit of work done. I started off wrenching on it myself, but now I am having an awesome mechanic get it all ready for me. It’s looking beautiful and running well, hopefully in the near future it was be a daily driver. Looking forward to rolling to a couple cars shows.

What one word best describes you?

“Rock-n-roll” (do hyphens count?). I don’t know if that really describes me, but I thought it would be funny to say.
What one word best describes your work?

One word to describe my work? Hmmm… “Colorful,” I guess. That’s what I hear most from clients.

Any final thoughts for Jinxi Boo readers?

Thanks for taking the time to feature me on your site. It’s very much appreciated.

To view more of Jim's excellent work, keep up with his accomplishments, and to book an appointment, be sure to visit his website  www.JimSylvia.com