Sam Kuhn on graphic design, sleeping in, and Disney movies as tattoo inspiration
Sam Kuhn, aka Samazon, grew up drawing ponies and comic-book characters. Now she gets to transform that inspiration into tattoos for her clients. The Kansas native has been tattooing for four years, and currently works at Thick as Thieves Tattoo. Westword recently caught up with Kuhn to talk with her about leaving graphic design to become a tattoo artist, getting to set her own schedule and taking inspiration from Disney movies.
Photos courtesy of Thick as Thieves Tattoo
Westword: What made you decide to get into tattooing?
Sam Kuhn: Because it's awesome. I grew up listening to hair-metal bands with the tight pants and the big hair and tattoos all over, and I just thought that was the coolest thing in the entire world. When an opportunity opened itself up to me, I jumped at the opportunity to quit doing the graphic-design school I hated and doing all the things my parents wanted me to do. I decided to do my own thing for a little while, and it paid off, because I love it.
How is tattoo art different from graphic design?
Graphic-design clients stick around a whole lot longer and tend to be a lot more nitpicky, not as trusting. A lot of the clients I have now, I'm very fortunate that they trust me. I do think that art school maybe helped me get some of the designing elements down, as far as tattoos go, but I like tattoo clients more. They're more relaxed. They're always in a good mood when they come in. I meet amazing, interesting people every day of the week. It's really, really cool.
That seems like a unique thing about this profession, the connection you form with clients. Is that ever difficult?
Some people come in, they don't want to talk. And that's cool. I'm happy to work silently and listen to the music. Some people come in and they really want it to be some kind of a therapy session, which is a little bit unfair, because I don't know anything about that. But most people come in and they think we're cool; they want to know about us, so we get to shoot the shit, talk about all the weird little things they're into, see if anything overlaps. I've actually made some really good friends who I hang out with on a regular basis out of clients I've interacted with.
What are some other perks about the profession?
Everybody says you get to make your own schedule, and that's true -- but it's a hard job to have. Right now I'm working probably 65 hours a week, because I'm still kind of starting out at this shop. But it's nice that if I need a day, I can take a day. It's not a big deal. I never have to wake up before 11 a.m. if I don't want to. I get to hang out with some amazing, incredibly talented artists who inspire me on a daily basis to get better and to grow as my own artist. And I get to sit around and draw pretty pictures all day. What little girl doesn't want to do that when she's tiny? I draw ponies and unicorns.
What styles of tattooing do you like to work in?
I really love American traditional, though I didn't have your traditional upbringing. Every day I'm trying to learn more about where tattooing came from. I think there's many varieties of tattooing that are being done today that just don't look super-great. I like the bold lines, the bright color -- the tried and true, if you will. But I like to kind of bring my own stuff into it. I was very heavily inspired by comic-book art when I was younger, and Disney movies -- again, like every little girl. I like to do some degree of realism in there, but with bold lines and bright colors and some style to it, so it's not like a photograph on your arm.
You go by Samazon. Where did that nickname come from?
Some of my friends in art school started calling me Samazon, because I am proportioned like the Amazonians from Futurama. "Snu-snu." It stuck, I don't know. It's clever and silly, and you can remember it pretty easily, so I just went with it.
At what age did you start getting tattooed?
I went against the rules and started at sixteen and got some of the ugliest tattoos I've ever seen in my life that I got to spend lots and lots of money covering up later. Once I turned eighteen and I could sign my own slip, I was like, "Hell, yeah." I probably have thirty to forty hours' worth of work. But unfortunately, as far as tattooers go, I am not anywhere near where I need to be. I want to get covered. I have a lot of space to fill.