Michael Pinto on the changing tattoo industry, respecting the art form and teaching the craft
When Michael Pinto opened Thick as Thieves Tattoo in 2004, he wanted to create a place for people like him. A self-proclaimed misfit, Pinto has been immersed in the lifestyle since he was a teenager, and has been tattooing professionally for fifteen years now. Westword recently caught up Pinto, who shared his thoughts on the changing industry, preserving respect for the art form and teaching the craft to an apprentice.
Photos courtesy of Thick as Thieves Tattoo
Westword: How did you get introduced to the tattoo culture?
Michael Pinto: My first introduction to it was bikers when I was a kid. I would always look at their tattoos and thought that was real cool. And then punk rock in the '80s, that was just the thing to do. It seems like I've been interested in it forever. It used to be a lot harder to become a tattoo artist, in the late '80s and early '90s, than it is now. It took me the better part of eight or nine years of trying and trying to find the right spot. When I finally did, that was it.
How did you decide to open your own tattoo shop?
I'm kind of a misfit. I didn't really fit in with one group of guys here or another group of guys there. I kind of had a vision of what I thought a tattoo shop is supposed to be like, what it's supposed to look like -- kind of romantic images in my head from times gone by, when tattoo shops were a little more dangerous or a little more scary. Maybe not dangerous or scary, but taboo. When you went into a tattoo shop, you felt like you were doing something cool, like you have a special place, this magic little world. It seems like some of that has been lost. People expect to be spoiled. It has changed a little bit. We have to be a little more customer service-oriented than in the old days. But I really think that doing good art should speak for itself. If your tattoo artist is a little gruff or a little gray, which most of us are -- I call it my home for wayward boys you got a bunch of guys in here and attitudes can fly a little bit, but I think the artwork speaks for itself. Everybody who works here does first-class tattoos. We all put real effort into being the best artists can we can and doing the best job that we can. I guess the question started with why I opened the shop. I wanted a place where guys like me could come and do work that matters.
Is it hard to balance being and artist and running the business?
Yeah. For a long time, I ran this place like a pirate. I didn't really keep track of much, let my guys come and go, and I still do that to some extent. But I had a baby about a year and a half ago, and when I found that I was going to be a father, I spent like a year expanding the shop. I added three new stations, got an accountant, a lawyer, stuff like that. I've done a pretty good job of trying to find a system where it kind of operates itself, but it took me two years to get there. Fatherhood takes more of my time than anything, and then art comes second and the shop is all tied in. I think running the shop is kind of like an art, too.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Michael Pinto.