Jon Sanford

You have a lot of strong, bold work. How important is black to your palette?

Black is extremely important, for sure. The amount of black used can make or break the tattoo. I use a lot of black in my tattoos because I feel that it gives them a dark, solid, tough look. Not only is the look it gives important for aesthetic purposes, but a tattoo with a good amount of black used in the right places is going to make your tattoo hold up and look nice over time.

What do you like about traditional American tattoos?

American traditional tattoos are ones that have been popular for a very long time—and it isn’t a mystery as to why they got this way. The designs and execution of this style of tattooing have held up for this long because not only are they great to look at, but they’re tattoos built to last. The bold designs, heavy black, and bright color of American traditional tattoos caught my eye even as a person with little to no knowledge of tattooing.

Working in the traditional style, how do you try to update the designs of yore?

A lot of the original traditional images were very simple and often crudely drawn. The main thing that I find myself doing differently with my drawings and tattoos, in comparison to the older traditional designs, is putting more detail in them, making the composition a little more exciting to look at, and doing my best to modernize the style a bit.

What’s the tattoo scene like in New Hampshire?

New Hampshire is great for tattooing. It is close to Boston, New York, D.C., Philly—all great places for tattooing. Oftentimes a good tattoo scene comes hand-in-hand with a good music scene—New England is full of great music. A lot of friends in touring bands stop through to hang out and get tattooed. They get back on the road and show the work to the rest of the world. It’s a great way to get your name out there and encourage more people to make the trip to get tattooed. Tattooing in Portsmouth and being on the ocean, we get a lot of people from the navy and military coming in to get some of the designs that have been around for so long. So with the seaport and the large music scene, New Hampshire is a pretty booming place for not just tattoos in general, but American traditional specifically.

Do tattoos go into hiding in the cold weather of New Hampshire?

The summer is definitely a much busier time for tattoos here. Wintertime is generally a better time to get tattooed, since swimming and exposing your skin to too much sun generally isn’t good. Those who don’t know much about tattooing get their tattoo in the summer so they can show it off at the beach—and ruin it.

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