Westword: How long have you been in Colorado?
William Thidemann: I've been here since '97. I originally moved out here and started working at Boulder Ink; I was there for about three years. Then I came down to Denver and I helped start Th'ink Tank, and I was there for about eight years and then I went to Kaze. I've been tattooing about 21 years.
Is the industry a lot different now from when you started?
Yes. It is much, much, much different. It's about fifteen times the size, number one. There's a lot more artists. There used to be like a handful in each town, so you used to have three or four shops, and now you have ninety, which is crazy. And of course it's more public now, with people being tattooed all over the place.
What drew you to tattooing in the first place?
Well, I had my first tattoo when I was like thirteen, a little hand-poked thing on my finger and on my arm. That was interesting to me. I was a little punk-rock kid, so it was natural. And then I started playing with bands and what-not, I went to art school, the whole time I had tattoos. I had my forearm tattooed when I was probably a little too young as well, one of those hand-poked tattoos. And I just happened to be around some really good people, too. I got to be around this guy Crazy Eights who was a big guy in Virginia back then, who ended up moving up to Canada, and this guy Bernie Luther was there, and I got to meet him way before I got into tattooing. And so, since they were big and famous and what-not, it kind of piqued my interest. And eventually a roommate of mine who was a tattooer, he kind of suggested I jump into it, so that's how it started.
Do you think having gone to art school helps you be a better tattoo artist?
It's 50-50. Having a crew of people around, if you have a good crew, is helpful. But if it's just the skill set -- sometimes art school is a little, I don't know, they're not classical enough in their training. They're a little too wishy-washy and feely, like, "Oh, man, this big turd on a canvas is really valuable because I feel something about it." It becomes so not about technique. There are some people in art school who are super focused on technique. The printmakers, I found them to be really pragmatic. And I was lucky enough to have some teachers who were like, "You need to do it this way before you break the rules." Tattooing is so graphic that it was lot more direct than art school. Overall, it taught me more about drawing, to be honest. But the art school thing, in my experience, yeah, it helped out a little. If nothing else, it was kind of like a self-identifier, because the new wave of kids was like the black T-shirt-wearing punk kids going to art school and tattooing at the same time, so it identified me as being part of that genre.
Your art has a lot of cool imagery, like people turning into trees. What are some themes you explore with your art?
Life out of death, regeneration, coming into being, things like that -- transformative kind of things, which also relate to tattooing. People get that kind of stuff as tattoos as well.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with William Thidemann.