Timeless Sam(urai): The Japanese tattoos of Sam Yamini fuse beauty, power and badassery into classic artwork
Episode 11: Talking ink with the Japanese traditional maestro of the Rockies
He’s a talented glass blowing artist, he creates resin casted 3-D art, does sculpture and even bronze casting — but Sam Yamini’s traditional Japanese tattoos are undeniably his forte. Like the samurai of his art, Yamini approaches the discipline with dedication. He is doggedly devoted to the form of his craft. With every new tattoo, he dives into references, research and meaning — crafting each piece to perfectly fit and reflect the client it’s for.
Yamini likes to go BIG with his pieces, too — like, Yakuza-big. He’ll often do full body suits, huge back-, or full chest-pieces. And it doesn’t matter what the Japanese subject is: dragons, flowers, samurai, tigers or koi fish, Yamini approaches it with an attention to detail and a respect for the artform that comes off in every finished product. They’re bold, they’re clean, they’re colorful, powerful, legible and above all, they’re extremely badass.
Check him out at Dedication Tattoo in Denver.
How did you get into tattooing and how long have you been at it?
I was super into graffiti when I was young. So I developed a healthy fuck the system attitude. This made me look for anything and everything I could do to support myself that wasn’t college and a square job. While learning to make pipes in my local head-shop I met the guy who gave me my first tattoo. He quickly started tattooing in the back room of the head-shop, and I was immediately hooked on everything about tattooing. Been at it ever since. I started tattooing in 2000. So, 21 years.
What drew you to Japanese style tattooing?
The power. There’s no arguing with the impact of a Japanese back piece, or body-suit. The way the colors pop against all the black in the background, the way the tattooing fits the body, and moves with the person, just can’t be achieved in any other style.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Japanese tattoo?
The in-depth meaning of the subject matter: every element plays a role in telling the story of the image. The discipline required. Just like all big change, you have to embrace the fact that it’s an incremental process. And doing such large-scale work, I get to be part of people’s lives, and part of their transformation. Large scale Japanese tattooing is a journey. When it’s complete You’re not the same person you were when you started.
Do you ever feel constrained by all the rules/nuances of the style?
No, the ideas that are available are pretty limitless. The structure makes some of the most lasting and timeless tattooing you can get. And the challenges of laying out sleeves, backs and bodies are always fun to unwravel.
What is your favorite japanese subject to tattoo (dragons, koi fish, samurai, etc.)?/Why?
Definitely Dragons. They’re always a challenge to draw, they can fit any body part, they can be tough or playful, and always powerful.
Who wins in a battle: the samurai or the dragon?
The question feels like a metaphor to me. So I say, the Samurai. We all have the power to overcome whatever challenges fall before us.
What is the process like when you're designing one of your pieces?
After a consultation with the client to discuss the idea and map out the area and do an initial sketch, I do some research on the subject and find some references. Then I just draw my face off until I get it right!
What do you enjoy most about being a tattoo artist?
I get to help people become who they really are.
Anything else you want people to know about you?
I’m not nearly as serious as I seem.