By Crystal Morey
I met Sandi Calistro in Montreal last year and was struck by how sweet she was and by how amazing her business cards were! I went back to my hotel and pulled up her website that night. For someone so young her portfolio is very strong and it looks like she has really redefined the way artwork is translated onto skin. It has been my experience that many tattooers can't draw on paper, and many artists have a hard time satisfactorily tattooing their illustrations... Sandi not only works well in both mediums, but her work transcends and she brings her trademark ladies to a new level of distinction with each new piece. Suffice it to say, I am a big fan of both Sandi and her work...
CM: Let's start with your training... How did you get in the business? Did you do a formal apprenticeship? I remember you telling me about actually drawing and selling flash before you started tattooing... Was it classic flash imagery or did it resemble the artwork you are doing now? Your ladies are so specific and quite signature, I can imagine them floating around as flash...
SC: My parents were very supportive as soon as I decided I wanted to pursue tattooing. I started designing flash when I was about 19. Some of it was the more typical type of designs, suns and moons etc... Some of it was reminiscent of what my style is today. I think I ended up designing about 20 sheets of flash. I sold them all around Denver and Boulder when I was visiting my father, who came with me to all the shops (I lived in New Hampshire at the time). Rockstar Tattoo in Boulder was where I ended up apprenticing. I sold them flash and just kept harassing them until they hired me. My mentors name is Matt Victor, I had a two-year apprenticeship with him. I tattooed pig skin, which I purchased at the local butcher and carried it around in a cooler, it was pretty gross. I also tattooed grapefruit, cleaned the shop, made the needles and scrubbed tubes. I did my first tattoo a few months in and was shaking pretty bad, I was so nervous. Luckily that went away... Ha!
CM: It sounds like your apprenticeship was a positive experience. So now you co-own a shop and gallery called Kaze correct? Tell me a little about the shop and all the stuff you guys are doing there...
SC: William Thidemann and I own Kaze. We have been there for almost three years now. There is a large art gallery when you walk in and the tattoo stations are in the back area. We usually showcase local artists once a month. Occasionally, we will have and artist come in from out-of-state. The gallery is our way of supporting the art community beyond tattooing, kind of bringing it all together. Some of the people who come to these shows get to learn a little about tattooing and vise versa. The best thing about Kaze is that it is unlike any tattoo shop I have worked at, it's a very calming, mellow environment. Clients love that too.
CM: Let's talk about your artwork. I love it. You really have a signature style, yet each piece you create is delightfully fresh and brings something new and compelling to the table. The pieces that I have seen, both on paper and skin, are such a brilliant juxtaposition of delicate beauty and understated sadness. They make me smile, and also I want to drink bourbon in the dark all at once. Who influences you artistically?
SC: I think my style was initially inspired by Manga and other types of illustrations. I loved the big eyes and big heads, flowing hair and motion. When I became a tattooer I drew inspiration from the people I worked with. My mentor was a graffiti artist and a tattoo artist. His style was exaggerated, bold and colorful. After I left that shop and moved to Denver, I worked with about eight artists all having their own unique style. It was like being in art class. So many people to feed off of and they were all willing to help you grow. I started painting on a regular basis when I was at Twisted Sol as well.
The shop manager, Kevin Strawbridge offered to represent me, help get me art shows and manage my art. He has been with me for about five years now and has gotten me to where I am as a painter. Painting has also influenced my tattoo style, they feed off each other. I learn something through tattooing and can apply it to my painting. My favorite painters right now are Joe Sorren, John John Jesse and James Jean. Other than that there are too many to name, everyone I have worked with and been close to over the years, amazing talented people I have met traveling... I think the more somber feel of my paintings developed when I was going through a hard time... Painting and tattooing was my saving grace. I like to think someone could look at them and see the beauty in the sadness.
CM: Do many of your clients ask you to tattoo your paintings on them? How do you handle that?
SC: A lot of my clients will bring my paintings in as reference, but I usually change it up for the tattoo.
CM: Is there anything you are dying to tattoo on someone? Or anything you really don't like to tattoo?
SC: I'd like to do a back piece of my choosing. I don't know what it would be, but it would most likely involve a woman, some flowers, maybe some birds... Ha... I think I have lucked out as far as being fulfilled with the subject matter I tattoo. People give me free-reign almost all the time. They give me a vague idea and let me run with it. I haven't tattooed anything I don't like as of recently but when faced with a more challenging tattoo I tend to sweat a bit more... Something like tattoos of perfect circles on someone's stomach would be a nightmare.
CM: It's awesome that your clients have so much confidence in you. I think that definitely plays a part in what makes your pieces so striking. You have a discerning eye for embellishment, especially with your ladies, and I think that really only works when you are giving artistic freedom and control. How is your artwork influenced by fashion?
SC: Ahhhhh... I love fashion... I would say I am into a mixture of 20's - 50's style fashion with a bit of a twist. Pin-curled hair styles high-waisted lingerie bottoms, collared dresses and lace. Patterns! Sometimes I incorporate a bit of a Victorian flare... I love modern fashion too... Ha! I love designing all the clothes and hair pieces my ladies wear, if I could tap in to the industry I would love to get into fashion design...
CM: Very cool. What's the oddest request you've ever gotten from a client?
SC: I would have to say as of recently, one of the most interesting and fun tattoos I have done is a bearded transvestite holding a snake. I wish I could send you a photo of the completed version but it's not done, I'll send you the stencil!
CM: Yes please! I can't even imagine how you handled that one! Insane! So what does a person need to do to book in with you? Do you have any travel plans coming up or do they need to fly to Colorado?
SC: For booking I have a client schedule a 30-minute consultation, which consists of sitting down with the client and discussing their idea, then sketching it. From there we set up an appointment and I have them leave a $100 dollar deposit, which goes towards the price of the tattoo. As far as travel plans for work all I have locked down right now is Montreal. I am hoping to work in New York this summer and possibly Maine. I have a solo art show at Redefine Gallery in Orlando in June!
CM: Fun! Sandi can be contacted at:
3245 Osage St. Denver, CO 80211
(Crystal Morey works for Gomineko Books and is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. For more info on Gomineko Books please visit their website: www.gominekobooks.com.)