ZUMBROTA — Deep in the Old Testament is a piece of Ezekiel that inspires Nick Sinclair.
"O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord," the Bible states in Ezekiel 37:4.
The chapter and verse – and several of the verses that follow – are a rather pointed foreshadowing of the resurrection of Christ, and what that pivotal moment means to Christians. It also lends the name to his shop, Dry Bones Ink, a tattoo shop at 305 West Avenue in Zumbrota.
Faith in Christ wasn't always so important to Sinclair, but he met a girl, and through her he found Christ in his life. And now Christ is an important part of what he does – and what he won't do – as a tattoo artist.
While Sinclair points to his wife for encouraging his faith – his father-in-law is the pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in town – he said, "Christ made me a better man."
Incorporating faith in ink
Because of his faith, he honors the Lord by making sure nothing he does as an artist contradicts his Christian faith. That means, on occasion, turning down work he sees as being at odds with that faith. He won't do include items from other faith traditions – mandalas (Hinduism and Buddhism), dream catchers (Native American), unalomes (Buddhism) – or any deity figures such as Greek or Norse gods. He also refuses to ink anything that would be considered Satanic, having to do with sorcery or magic, or any images that represent hate.
"I don't know anyone who will do something that promotes hate, like swastikas," he said. For other items, like Norse gods, that he won't do, he'll refer customers to other artists who create those images.
Sinclair said he wasn't always as focused on his faith as he is today. Growing up Catholic, he said, he only went to church at Christmas and Easter or for weddings and funerals.
What he was focused on as a teen was art. He was constantly drawing, he said, everything from Ninja Turtles to hot rods, first learning to outline images, then focusing on color and inking in his drawings.
After high school he spent a year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and at the now-closed Brown College in the Twin Cities. He studied graphic art, something that has helped him as a tattoo artist.
But changes came to his life when he met his wife in 2012. Not long after, he started in apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist, but quit that and began working as a youth minister at Our Savior Lutheran Church. He worked at the church for a few years, but his calling as an artist led him back to tattoos.
New business in town
He opened his shop in February 2020, "About three weeks before the (COVID-19) shutdown," he said.
Right away, he got creative to earn money, selling designs that he would schedule for inking once the pandemic restrictions receded. In a sense, it was robbing Peter to pay Paul, but he needed to keep the business going. It helped, Sinclair said, that his in-laws own the building where his business is located. He also qualified for some Payroll Protection Plan funding, which helped tide him over until he could reopen his doors in June 2020.
"It's been busy ever since," he said. "People have money to spend, and they just want to get this done."
He's booked out to October, he said, which is good though not as much as some artists.
The job is satisfying in many ways. First, he said, "You can actually get paid to do art. It's hard to sell paintings."
Second, he loves meeting people. They come from all backgrounds, from lawyers and doctors to auto mechanics and just about anyone in between.
He consults with them to create the image he'll ink on their skin. Most people, he said, have a vague idea and maybe pictures of examples they like. As he said, occasionally a customer comes with an idea that conflicts with his faith. But those instances are rare. Mostly, he can work with a concept and create an image then schedule a time to ink it.
Custom tattoo work
More often than not, the biggest concern when consulting are placement of the tattoo – will it show when wearing normal clothes or not – and what a person's pain threshold might be. As part of that consulting and creating process, he gets to know his customers.
"It's fun to hear people's stories," he said.
Part of that includes videos and stories of people talking about their faith in a blog section on his website, www.nicksinclair.art.
Looking through his portfolio of images, you'll find a lot of skulls – "I don't see them as demonic, though they can be portrayed as demonic," he said – most intertwined with flowers and plants. But he also has plenty of Minnesota-based images; outlines of the state surrounding fishing hooks or lake scenes.
Looking at his own arms, covered in ink, he said there might be a few images he wouldn't do again, but there's nothing he'd cover from before his life focused on faith that conflicts with his Christian beliefs.
"I don't have any regretful ones," he said. "Nothing I'd cover up, just a few where I'd probably make a different decision."