The strip of Sunset Boulevard that runs through West Hollywood seems like an odd place to find Sean Williams, a.k.a seanfromtexas, who is well known for his dark illustrations and unconventional tattoo methods.
The clientele of this neighborhood’s luxury car dealerships and Botox clinics might not be tattoo averse, and some might even have some ink of their own; a classic anchor or a ship, or a design sourced from Tumblr — the kind of traditional American fare Sean cut his teeth on in New York for 10 years. But that’s not what he’s dishing out these days. Sean’s dark, disturbing hand-poked tattoos have garnered a cult following, and Format Magazine got the chance to sit down with him to talk about why it’s important to bend the rules as both as an artist and a tattoo professional.
Sean has been making his own tattoo machines since his childhood in Texas, but was shocked to learn, upon entering the professional realm of tattoo, not many of his fellow artists shared the same impulses.
“Growing up in the industry, I thought it was crazy how many of them had never done a stick and poke, or how many think a stick and poke is just done with a tattoo needle by hand. Usually, you would use a beading needle, or just a staple stuck into an eraser. Back in pre-internet Texas, when you had to just figure out a way to do things on your own, I took apart our family hair clippers and made it into a machine — that was my first tattoo gun. Professionally I’ve only been tattooing for about 10 years, but if you add in all the homemade stuff I did out of my kitchen and house, it’s been nearly 20."
I respect the old mentality but things have changed so rapidly that you have to evolve with the times.
Now that he’s a decade into his career, Sean has realized that tattooing is more than just a practice—it’s an art form, and art needs to stay relevant.
“Here’s the thing. When you’ve been tattooing for a while, you change. You change as an artist, and (usually) you get better and you grow. I went through the same stages as a lot of these other kids. For a while I was bent on just doing traditional tattooing, keeping the code, using bright colors and solid lines, and a holding a “this is how it’s supposed to be done” attitude. I did that for 10 years.
But I was tired of doing designs that didn’t have any relevance for modern times. My original art, that’s always been the basis of me getting into tattooing: the art that first got me kicked out of my parents’ house. At first I wasn’t confident enough as a tattooer, but after a while you become more open minded, and you just don’t give a fuck about rules. I respect the old mentality but things have changed so rapidly that you have to evolve with the times.”
I know that I can’t just do the same thing over and over, for myself and for anyone who sees my work.
You’re always the person responsible for your own success, or lack thereof—and there’s always more that can be done.
“I consider myself successful. I’m really happy with my job and I take it extremely seriously. If I don’t do something perfectly, it really takes a lot out of me. I think it’s good to have a drive like that so you’re constantly pushing yourself. I’m not just trying to pass the time here—I’m trying to do something with my work, and my life.
A lot of tattooers don’t appreciate where they are in terms of being able to work on people. They complain about how shitty things are, or how they can’t make any money—but there’s always a better way to pass the time, whether that’s getting your name out there or working on your drawings. You’re the only one to blame; it’s always up to you.”
Even now, when he’s gained acclaim for his unique style, Sean is never afraid to challenge himself to keep growing as an artist.
“I know that I can’t just do the same thing over and over, for myself and for anyone who sees my work. I do a lot of the same tattoos now because people see my work on the internet and they want the same design, but I always try to change it—do something a little different for each person. If you’re an artist who’s aware of that need, [stagnation] is never going to be a problem. I don’t worry about trying to please or entertain anyone. I draw and tattoo because I’m having fun."